Surfing Kauai

My first paddle out on Kauai’s south shore reminds me of the difference between surfing coral reefs and the sand bottom beach breaks and points I have surfed most of my life.

At this coral reef, waves come of nowhere, bendover the reef and slam in front of me. I can’t quite figure out what is going on.

The wave is a classic A-frame breaking on a shallow reef a couple of hundred yards from shore. My sons, Israel and Daniel, are surfing a left down the beach. Another wave that is even hollower breaks just a bit west.

Surfers paddle around me as if I am not there. As a first timer to the reef, I am  just in the way.

I catch a few rights and remember the sound advice given to Israel by South Bay Union School District Trustee Dave Lopez before we departed.

“You have to really paddle over that hump to get into the wave. You have to be committed,” said Dave,who is an excellent surfer and lived in the islands for years.

My strategy at this particular spot is to sit inside the main crew, a tight group of older surfers (okay—my age—fortysomethings) who surf very well and have the lineup dialed. A younger core group of rippers sits inside and snap everything up the older guys can’t get into.

What I fail to realize is that the current sweeps across the reef. When a set comes I am smack in the middle of the impact zone.

Three surfers paddle for the first wave of the set. All three take off.

Normally I would have been okay. In any other location three surfers would not have dropped in on the same hollow wave breaking over a shallow reef.

The guy closest to the whitewater, who should have had priority, doesn’t see me inside of him. I hope he will decide to go left to avoid me.

No such luck. He is heading straight for me. At the last minute I bail my board and dive deep. He completely runs me over.

After bouncing around underwater I emerge and see his board but there is no surfer to be seen. After what seems like eternity, he emerges from the foam. Luckily we are both okay and our boards weren’t dinged.

And then two more set waves hammer me.

Welcome to Hawaii.

The boys and I surf with only a few other people each morning. The locals know there is no need to dawn patrol. The trade winds blow sideshore-offshore all day, everyday.

A couple of days later the surf picks up again. I notice a group of surfer girls paddle out at the left where Israel and Daniel  are out surfing.

One of the girls, a tall blonde, has an odd way of paddling. It is as if her arm is tucked below her board.

Photo by Noah Hamilton

Image via Wikipedia

It is Bethany Hamilton, a professional surfer and the subject of the film Soul Surfer. When she was 13 and in the waters of Kauai’s North Shore, she was bitten by a 14-foot tiger shark and lost her arm.

Bethany Hamilton

Image by Kanaka Menehune via Flickr

When I saw her she had just recovered from an injury she received while surfing in Indonesia.

By the way Bethany rips.

What most impressed me about our time on Kauai was the passion locals have for the ocean. The old guys are ripping on short boards. The young guys are shredding.

People are paddling into critical waves, paddling their outriggers outside the lineup and everyone seems to have a smile on their face.

One evening just before sunset, a local paddles out at the reef. He looks like a UFC fighter, ripped, arms covered in tattoos, with long bleached hair.

This is the local I’ve been dreading. The one who is going to look at me and tell me to leave.

But as he enters the lineup he is grinning and warmly greets his friends, and smiles as he paddle by me.

I smile back as the heavy local paddles hard for a wave but doesn’t quite make it. “There will be another one brah,” he says to me. “There will be another one.”

Blue Hawaii

Duke's board that he traveled with and surfed in Hawaii on. From the Bishop Museum, Honolulu.

I’m on a family trip to Kauai and Oahu in Hawaii. It has been a great opportunity to enjoy ocean recreation and culture. There is no place like Hawaii to experience real ocean culture and people who are so passionate about their relationship with the sea.  Historically, the people of Hawaii  had one of the world’s most advanced ocean cultures.

My son Daniel with a 19th century alaia surfboard from the Bishop Museum. These boards were thin and about five feet long. The original surfboard and required a native surfer to have an exceptionally high surfing ability.A shark hook and other fishing hooks from the Bishop Museum.

A traditional sailing canoe from the Polynesian Cultural Centeron Oahu.

Traditional shark and fishing hooks displayed at the Bishop Museum.

A replica transoceanic saling canoe built by the Hawaiian studies program at BYU. Students and their teachers take the canoe out to learn traditional sailing methods.

A sign at Poipu Beach on Kauai about protecting native Hawaiian monk seals. It is great to see Hawaiians take pride in protecting these nearly extinct seals. Hawaiian seems to cherish their ocean wildlife rather than fear them as in La Jolla where residents seem to relish assaulting seals and fear a wild ocean.

A sea turtle conservation sign at Poipu Beach. It has been great to see how sea turtles have become an icon of Hawaiian ocean culture. I have surfed and swam with some really big turtles here. Awseome!!

My eldest son Israel surfing a wave on Kauai's south shore. I am always reminded of the power of the oean in Hawaii and the complexities of surfing coral reefs. Very different than surfing the beaches and sand-bottom points I grew up with and am used to.

Just another day in Kauai. Blue Hawaii.

Haleiwa on the Oahu's North Shore is quite a scene--even in the summer. Packed with tourists and surfing is really sold. But it is still a cool place. Equivalent of a ski town in Colorado.

The Threat to Baja’s Underwater Rainforest

My friends and colleagues Homero Aridjis and Roberty Kennedy Jr. wrote this op-ed in the San Diego Union-Tribune on the need to preserve Cabo Pulmo.

By Robert F. Kennedy Jr. & Homero Aridjis

Coral reefs, often called rain forests of the sea, shelter a quarter of all marine fish. In February, the most detailed scientific assessment ever undertaken of these spectacular ecosystems revealed that fully 75 percent are under threat – the most immediate being local pressures for coastal development.

Cabo Pulmo Bay in Baja California – home to one of these underwater “rain forests” – is facing one of those threats. Among only three living coral reefs in North America, it lies 40 miles north of San Jose del Cabo, on the eastern cape of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. John Steinbeck described this 20,000-year-old reef as filled with “teeming fauna” displaying “electric” colors. When decades of overfishing threatened the reef’s existence, the local community convinced the Mexican government in 1995 to protect it by declaring the area a 17,560-acre National Marine Park. In 2005, the reef became a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Fishing was banned inside the park, and today Cabo Pulmo Reef’s recovery is considered a prime example of marine conservation in the Americas. It provides refuge for 225 of the 875 fish species found in the Sea of Cortez, including marlin, manta rays, giant squid and several kinds of sharks. Whales, dolphins, sea lions and five of the world’s seven species of endangered sea turtles frequent its waters. Indeed, the coral reef hosts the highest concentration of ocean life within this 700-mile long arm of the Pacific Ocean that separates Baja California from the Mexican mainland. Ecotourism (diving, snorkeling, whale watching) is thriving among the 150 residents of the coastal town surrounding this spectacular marine park.

But now Hansa Baja Investments, a Mexican subsidiary of the Spain-based real estate development firm Hansa Urbana, plans to build a massive resort complex directly north of the National Marine Park. The developer has proposed what amounts to a sprawling new city on the scale of Cancún: 10,000 acres including 30,000 hotel rooms and residential housing units, at least two golf courses, 2 million square feet of office and retail space, a 490-boat marina and a private jet port.

The construction of the Cabo Cortés project would bring in close to 40,000 workers and their families. This fragile region of desert, dirt roads and traditional small communities would be overwhelmed. Cabo Pulmo Reef would die, killed by saline effluents from the planned desalination plant, chemical fertilizers whose runoff causes eutrophication, and the city’s pollution flowing south on ocean coastal currents straight toward the reef.

In early March, Mexico’s secretariat of the environment and natural resources gave the go-ahead for much of Hansa Urbana’s proposal: not only the marina and land developments, but also a 10.5-mile-long aqueduct and 324 acres of roads and highways. The energy-intensive desalination plant – which would discharge 500 liters per second of salt water – and a sewage treatment plant to deal with an expected 39,000 tons a day of solid waste once Cabo Cortés is going full tilt are not yet authorized, but it is considered only a matter of time, as is permission for the pending jetties and breakwaters.

The government’s approval came despite the company’s woefully inadequate environmental impact statement, which claimed that pollution from the development wouldn’t affect the reef because ocean currents flow only from south to north, away from the reef. Recent studies show the area’s currents move in multiple directions, largely depending upon the season.

In a region of water scarcity, Hansa has been granted a concession of 4.5 million cubic meters per year, meaning it will suck dry the Santiago aquifer, depriving the local population of resources it has depended on for hundreds of years.

In authorizing the deal, the government is violating its own laws, disregarding the rules governing environmental impact assessments in Mexico and ignoring its zoning plan for the entire region of Los Cabos.

It is up to the Mexican government to stand by its 1995 decision to protect this flourishing and irreplaceable marine nursery. The government must cancel its authorization of the Cabo Cortés development. Only then can the Cabo Pulmo coral reef remain a stellar example of ocean conservation and sustainable ecotourism. For Cabo Pulmo and its people, it is wreck or rectify. How does Mexican President Felipe Calderón want to be remembered?

Kennedy is a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council and president of the Waterkeeper Alliance. Aridjis, a poet and novelist, is the former Mexican ambassador to UNESCO and founder of the Grupo de los Cien environmental organization.

Cabo Pulmo in the Huffington Post

Cabo Pulmo National Park in Baja California Sur, Mexico.

Here is a photo essay/article I wrote for the Huffington Post.

CABO PULMO, Mexico – By the 1990s, decades of overfishing the waters of the Sea of Cortez left the coral reef at Cabo Pulmo, in the East Cape region of the Baja California Peninsula, almost void of life. To reverse this process the local community convinced the Mexican federal government to establish a marine protected area at Cabo Pulmo in 1995. Ninety-nine percent of the 17,560 acre Marine Protected Area that was established is ocean.

Today the Cabo Pulmo Marine Park is one the most successful examples of marine conservation in Mexico. Fishing was banned inside the park and local residents, along with the Mexican government, helped to bring the reef back from complete destruction.

Unfortunately, development pressures along the East Cape now threaten the fragile beauty, abundance, and diversity of the marine species for which it is famous.

Photo: Octavio Aburto

“Coral reefs are very fragile ecosystems, explains Dr. Octavio Aburto Oropeza, from Scripps Institution of Oceanography and an Associate of the International League of Conservation Photographers. “They are nurseries essential to populating the oceans. Cabo Pulmo is estimated to be 20,000 years old, and is home to 226 fish species”.

Yellowfin tuna are being fished as a replaceme...

Image via Wikipedia

A Spanish company, Hansa Urbana, plans to build a tourism mega-development on 9,875 acres adjacent to the marine park. If the development goes through, the sleepy and white sand fringed Cabo Pulmo will be joined by 40,000 new residents in a complex that will include hotels, condominiums, a 490 slip marina, two golf courses, and shopping centers.

Mexican environmental authorities had already given the green light to the Spanish company but eight months of legal and media pressures by a coalition of local residents, non-profit organizations, and researchers have made the Secretary of the Environment reconsider the project. It has temporarily revoked Hansa’s building permits pending new evidence on the impacts of the development on the coral reef.

Badly planned marina developmet at La Ribera near Cabo Pulmo. Photo: Ralph Lee Hopkins

The director of the Cabo Pulmo National Park, Javier Alejandro Gonzalez, told the media in an interview that the National Commission on National Protected Areas (CONANP) found that Cabo Cortes’ environmental-impact statement “was vague in several points” and contained figures that “had not been validated”.

“We have spoken with experts, such as Dr. Octavio Aburto Oropeza, from Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Dr Ezequiel Escurra, and others, and they all warn of dire consequences if the resort project is not cancelled’, says Fay Crevoshay, communications director of WiLDCOAST, and part of the coalition called “Cabo Pulmo Vivo!”, that is trying to raise public awareness about the threats to the reef.

Enrique Castro, whose family has lived for five generations in the small community, says, “fifteen years ago we stopped fishing and started taking care of the reef. Today we offer tourist services such as diving, snorkeling, boat rides, sport fishing [outside of the park], and lodging. And now they are going to kill the reef and what about us? Tourists will not come to see a dead reef.”

“Following 15 years of protection the Cabo Pulmo coral reef has recovered from overfishing, becoming the marine area with the highest concentration of fish in the Sea of Cortez,” said Serge Dedina, Executive Director of WiLDCOAST and author of the forthcoming Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias.

Photo: Carlos Aguilera

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