A not-so-carefree surfer

In a world where change is eminently necessary, activism can seem daunting. Not for documentarian Kyle Thiermann though. In fact, he says activism can be fun.

At the age of 22, Thiermann’s pro-surfing career has allowed him to surf the waves of some of the most exotic places in the world. With the support of sponsors Clif Bar & Company, Patagonia and Sector 9, among others, Thiermann created the short documentary series Surfing for Change. Through the series, he challenges the stereotype that surfers are carefree, addressing global issues including the effects of plastic pollution and the hazards of nuclear power plants.

“The reason I tie surfing into it [activism] is because that’s what I’m really passionate about,” says Thiermann. “I surf professionally. If I can go on a trip and it’s actually fun for me to be there, even though we’re uncovering some really heavy information, it’s great. I try really hard to do that.”

Thiermann shows people that our world is more linked than we think. Surfing for Change aims to “connect these dots for people, [and demonstrate] the power we have to affect the world in a major way through the decisions we’re making.” The epitome of this, says Thiermann, is to realize how much we can change the world through where we bank.

Thiermann’s stepdad and mom, Foster and Kimberly Gamble, whose 2011 documentary exposé, Thrive, releases many controversial findings, taught him to be bold about what he does. When he was 18, Thiermann began a short documentary about a coal power plant in Constitución, Chile, which he discovered was funded by Bank of America. During his TED talk presentation, half-naked in a wetsuit, Thiermann explained, “Banks rely on us for our money, and corporations rely on banks to move forward with projects. So we’re actually the ones in the driver’s seat.”

He says that instead of depositing your money in centralized banks, you can choose local banks that keep the money rotating in your local economy. Sounds simple, eh? Thiermann says why he over-simplifies such issues in Surfing for Change.

“My goal is to distill [the problem] down to a few simple points. We make short documentaries for the people that wouldn’t sit back and watch the hour-and-a-half documentary.”

In his most recent documentary, Travel Guide to Nicaragua, Thiermann features a project called Wave of Optimism (WOO) in a town driven by the fishing and surfing industries, called Gigante. The project is led by a group of surfers who are creating an economically sustainable model of tourism. However, the American surfers are not imposing their view on Gigante’s development. Instead, they are facilitating community discussions on what Gigante’s citizens would like their future to look like. Just like Thiermann, these young activists are fostering change through their passion: surfing.

Thiermann, via Skype from his hometown of Santa Cruz California, says that one of his main goals is to show youth that they have power. He knows it sounds cheesy, but it’s the truth. Not only does he advocate, but he also follows through. As Chris Carter, creator of The X-files and previous Surfing Magazine editor, says, “At first I looked at Kyle’s goals as audacious, but he accomplished everything he set out to do. He’s a bold activist.”

Thiermann’s next project is in Indonesia, which also happens to be his favourite place to surf. To check out this project and his other work, visit surfingforchange.com.

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