Top Five Ocean and Surfing Stories of 2012



From Hurricane Sandy to the return of big-wave paddle surfing to the crowning of Parko as ASP World Surfing Champion, 2012 was a pivotal year for the ocean and for surfing.

1. Hurricane Sandy and Climate Change. This “Frankenstorm” slammed the Eastern Seaboard like a bomb, leaving a path of destruction and loss of life in its wake. Sandy’s storm surge radically changed the coastline, destroyed entire communities, and reminded us how vulnerable beaches and coastal cities are to sea level rise. Due to Sandy, 2012 was the year that will be remembered when policy makers, politicians and the public finally took climate change seriously. It remains to be seen if President Obama will have the political courage and conviction to address the very real threat of climate change that is altering our planet.


2. The Return of Big Wave Paddle Surfing. With two days of epic conditions at the Cortes Banks just before Christmas, the world’s best big-wave surfers including Greg and Rusty Long, Mark Healy, Shane Dorian, Peter Mel, Twiggy Baker, Jamie Mitchell and Derek Dunfee, paddled into blue monsters and forever changed big-wave surfing. Those sessions followed another early season paddle session at Jaws on Maui in which veteran surfer Shane Dorian (among many) displayed his mastery of the sea. After the Coast Guard airlifted veteran big-wave charger Greg Long to a San Diego hospital after a multi-wave hold down at the Cortes Bank, we were also reminded about the very real limits to riding giant waves in the middle of the ocean.


3. New Marine Protected Areas for Southern California. With the establishment of new Marine Protected Areas or MPAs, our most iconic coastal and marine ecosystems in Southern California–including Swami’s, La Jolla, Point Loma, Tijuana River Mouth, Laguna Beach, Catalina Island and Point Dum–are now protected forever. The establishment of MPAs in California is a globally important conservation initiative that will help to foment the restoration of our marine ecosystems and fish and shellfish stocks as well as provide recreational opportunities for our growing population. California now has 848 square miles of protected area, supporting ecosystems from Oregon to the Mexican border.


4. Parko Wins the ASP World Title and the Changing of the Guard. After four years as ASP runner-up, Joel “Parko” Parkinson was finally crowned ASP World Surfing Champion after a brilliant performance and victory at the Billabong Pipe Masters. Parko, one of the most stylish and popular professional surfers, narrowly edged out Kelly Slater for the ASP title. It remains to be seen if Slater will return for the 2013 ASP Tour (most likely he will). But 2012 was a seminal year for professional surfing. With great performances by Josh Kerr, Kolohe Andino, Gabriel Medina, Julian Wilson, Ace Buchan, John John Florence, Yadin Nicol, Mick Fanning, and Dane (will he return full-time to pro surfing?) among others, the ranks of pro surfing is thankfully undergoing a much needed changing of the guard.


5. James Cameron Explores the Marianas Trench. Earlier this year Oscar winning filmmaker and ocean explorer James Cameron proved his technical skill, oceanographic prowess and courage by taking his “vertical torpedo”, the Deepsea Challenger, down to a record depth of 6.8 miles or 35,803 feet in the Marianas Trench southwest of Guam. Ironically, we  seem to know more about deep space than we do about our own oceans, but thanks to Cameron and a new generation of ocean explorers and oceanographers, we are on the cusp of uncovering some of the mysteries of the origins of life.

SANDAG sand project 2012 in Imperial Beach

SANDAG sand project 2012 in Imperial Beach

Other worthy events include Hurricane Isaac, the loosening of federal restrictions on the movements of sea otters in California, the warming of Antarctica, the SANDAG sand replenishment project, the ending of La Niña, the expansion of federal marine sanctuaries in Northern California and the increasing acidification of the ocean.

Of course the most important ocean and surfing events in 2012 were those special days when we enjoyed the beaches and waves with our friends and family that belong to us all and are our responsibility to care for.

The 5 Best Ocean Films of all Time

I am attending The Blue Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit this week in Monterey. In attendance are some of the world’s best ocean filmmakers, explorers, researchers, and conservationists

Oscar-winning Director James Cameron is here, along with explorer Don Walsh, filmmakers Greg and Shaun MacGillivray, oceanographer Sylvia Earle, NOAA Director Jane Lubchenco and Jacques Cousteau’s son Jean-Michel Cousteau.

There is something about ocean films that bring me back to my childhood. Maybe it was my love for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island or being mesmerized by Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Add the wonderful memories of watching The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau on television with my family and I’m a sucker for anything to do with the sea.

In honor of the Blue Ocean Film Festival, here is my list of the top five ocean films of all time.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

1. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) 

A highly eccentric homage to Jacques Cousteau with a little bit of Fellini thrown in, The Life Aquatic features Bill Murray as washed up ocean explorer Steve Zissou who searches for the elusive Jaguar shark to revive his career and avenge the death of his longtime friend and partner Esteban. The film also stars Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Angelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum and cult favorite Bud Cort. The cast partakes in an underwater odyssey and madcap adventures on Zissou’s research vessel The Belafonte. In The Life Aquatic, director-producer Wes Anderson creates a funny and unique film that is a love letter to our romance with the sea. Mark Mothersbaugh, formerly of Devo, provides the ultra cool soundtrack.

famous poster

2. Jaws (1975)

With Jaws, director Steven Spielberg launched Hollywood into an obsession with action-packed high-concept blockbusters and furthered the legend of the Great White shark.

While the mechanical shark doesn’t hold up, who could ever forget the dazzling brilliance of Robert Shaw as the maniacal sea dog Quint. The suspenseful scene in which Shaw tells the tale of being surrounded by sharks after surviving the sinking of the USS Indianapolis during World War II while Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss listen on and the shark silently closes in is still riveting. Based on Peter Benchley’s bestselling book of the same name, Jaws destroyed any opportunity to educate the public about the critical role that sharks play in maintaining the health of ocean ecosystems and made the ocean a scary place for people who don’t know better.

Cover of

3. The Cove (2009)

The Cove is Ocean’s Eleven meets Flipper, an action-packed, emotionally charged, caper film that is so well made it received an Oscar for Best Documentary. Director Louis Psihoyos tells the tale of dolphin trainer turned ocean activist Rick O’Barry as he tries to uncover the brutal and unnecessary slaughter of dolphins in Tajii, Japan. Unfortunately the massacres in Tajii continue, but Psihoyos and O’Barry with The Cove provide a clear understanding of why the world needs ocean conservationists.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

4. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

In Master and Commander, Australian director Peter Weir does an incredible job of translating Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey series of books into a wonderfully romantic and epic ocean film that deservedly received an Oscar for Best Cinematography. Russell Crowe stars as Captain “Lucky Jack” Aubrey who commands the HMS Surprise to pursue the French privateer Acheron around the New World. The scenes of exploration in the Galapagos Islands are breathtaking, and the depiction of field surgery and the travails of trans-oceanic sailing remind us of how lucky we are to live in the modern age. This is an intelligent and beautifully made film suitable for the entire family. An added bonus: a boat used in the film, HMS Surprise, is part of the San Diego Maritime Museum.

Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian in a screens...

5. Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

Has there ever been an actor more magnetic than Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian and a villain so unlikable as Charles Laughton’s William Bligh? Laughton’s depiction as Bligh is a precursor to Darth Vader—a brilliant, flawed and evil servant of the empire. This Ocar winner for Best Picture tells the story of the HMS Bounty’s two-year voyage to Tahiti in 1787. The 1935 version of Mutiny of the Bounty is a romantic and classic example of old-school Hollywood at its best.

What are your favorite ocean movies? Share in comments.

Other notable ocean films include: Titanic, The Abyss, Das Boot, Hunt for Red October, The Big Blue, The Little Mermaid, Pirates of the Caribbean, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Wind, The Secret of Roan Innish, White Squall and Captains Courageous.

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