Surf activist’s new video makes a splash—just in time for holiday shopping
Unlike many 20-year-old guys who view shopping as an experience to be avoided at all costs, local surfer and activist Kyle Thiermann sees Black Friday and the weeks that follow as an opportunity to help the local economy and make his voice heard on issues like third world working conditions and environmental sustainability.
Since 2007, when he released his first short film, Claim Your Change, Thiermann has continued to focus on finding simple economic solutions to challenging environmental problems. Among other achievements, he received the 2010 Peter Benchley Blue Vision Youth Award and was the keynote speaker at One World Children’s Fund.
A look at Thiermann’s new four-minute video, Buy Local, Surf Global, takes viewers from a Santa Cruz surf shop to a Sri Lankan clothing factory where Thiermann traveled in August 2010 to investigate the working and living conditions of the employees.
“I was surprised to learn that the factory I went to had improved a huge amount because of consumer pressure,” Thiermann says. “It was an eye opener to see how, as far away as Santa Cruz, we had the power to affect someone’s life in Sri Lanka.”
Visiting the factory gave Thiermann a whole new perspective on shopping.
“Being able to choose where you buy your clothes is actually a privilege,” Thiermann says. “Most Sri Lankans are poor; they don’t have that privilege.”
Instead, most of the Sri Lankans Thiermann met were more concerned with survival. The factory workers shared their life stories with Thiermann, who stayed in the country for 18 days. In between surf sessions at the perfect right point breaks Sri Lanka is becoming known for, the young surfer heard a mosaic of life stories, revealing an optimistic country recovering from a 26-year civil war and a devastating tsunami.
“Visiting the clothing factory was really cool,” he says. “Workers weren’t being treated like machines anymore, they were actually being treated like people. To me, that’s a lot more inspiring story than just another guilty sweatshop. We actually are making a difference.”
Supporting responsible companies is one of Thiermann’s “Three Easy Steps” for making a positive difference in the world, as listed on his website,.
“It’s not like you have to become a full-time activist,” Thiermann says. “But you can start becoming part of the solution.”
The second and third steps, he says, are to shop and bank locally. “These are the two most important things you can do to help your local economy,” he adds.
Back in California, Thiermann interviewed “The Story of Stuff” producer Annie Leonard and learned that for every $100 spent in a locally owned store, 45 bucks stays in Santa Cruz. That’s compared to the $13 that stays local if consumers choose to shop at “big box” stores like Target, WalMart or BestBuy.
It’s thought-provoking facts like these that have steered Thiermann’s surf career toward global environmental activism, while keeping the focus on local action. His other video projects, BP, You and Me, and Claim Your Change, show how money kept in multi-national banks, such as Bank of America or JP Morgan Chase, is leveraged to finance environmentally harmful projects all over the world, like BP’s offshore drilling or the construction of a coal-driven power plant in Constitución, Chile.
Today, Claim Your Change, has been viewed by more than 9,000 people on YouTube and led to more than $110 million worth of bank lending power to be moved to local banks.
Money is power, and Thiermann hopes that his new video, Buy Local, Surf Global, will open people’s eyes to the impact they have on the world as consumers and as savers.
In his short film, a curious Thiermann takes a road trip to Southern California to chat with his like-minded sponsor, environmentally-conscious company Patagonia, about their responsibilities to the global community and the environment.
He interviews E.G. Fratantaro, the co-founder of Sector 9 Skateboards, who reveals that he was inspired by Patagonia founder Yvonne Chouinard to make sure that Sector 9 products were environmentally friendly. Today, Sector 9 skateboards come only from sustainably farmed trees. The company’s T-shirts, beanies and other clothing are made from organic materials, recycled plastics and hemp.
It’s changes like these that give Thiermann the motivation he needs to continue to work at reaching out to the Santa Cruz community and beyond by sharing what he learns in his travels.
“You have a lot of power every time you buy something,” Thiermann says. “Every time you buy a T-shirt, you’re sending a message to the industry that you do care or you don’t care.”
For more information on Kyle Thiermann visit kylethiermann.com.