Steve Hawk's Environmental Vice

By Steve Hawk

April 6, 2015

The author, a long, long way from Waikiki

The author, a long, long way from Waikiki. | Photo by Art Brewer

When Sierra interviews news makers, we often close by asking, "What's your environmental vice?" The crimes vary. A veteran journalist once revealed her indifference to recycling. In this issue, filmmaker George Miller confesses to loving long, hot showers.

Here's mine: I surf.

I realize that the act of riding waves, in and of itself, is about as ecofriendly as a sport can get. Once we're in the water, surfers are propelled only by arm strength and wave energy, and we leave no trace beyond wakes.

But our overall carbon footprint makes me wince. Surfers do a lot of driving, and we yearn for distant shores. I've hunted waves in Peru, Indonesia, France, South Africa, Tahiti, Alaska, and beyond. I once spent a few weeks with some surf buds nosing around the Antarctic Peninsula in a steel-hulled, gas-guzzling ketch.

I'm sure some Sierra readers are already crafting angry letters. They routinely condemn us for preaching about the need to cut CO2 emissions while simultaneously promoting overseas travel. To them I say: Go buy a good wetsuit and jump in the ocean. 

If not for surfing, I might never have become an environmentalist. The rush of spearing through a backlit breaking wave—the blue-green curl, the bracing cold, the salty smell and taste of it—connects me to the natural world in a way that no walk through the woods ever will. So please forgive me if I burn a little fuel to immerse myself in the thing I most want to protect. I promise to keep the showers short.