If a Brazilian pro surfer falls in the Amazon, does anybody hear them?
You must have been living in a parallel universe to have not heard about the devastating fires laying waste to large parts of the world’s rainforests of late. And in the wake of all the destruction, the usually deeply patriotic and rambunctious Brazilian pro surfers were eerily quiet on the subject when one considers just how close to home the Amazon rainforests are to them, their families and their livelihood.
Beyond the odd repost on an Instagram story here and there, the silence was deafening, with no real opinions being voiced. Do they care? Were they scared to voice their stance on issues at a national level? Or were they offering reach arounds to the far right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro, whom like Trump believes climate change is a hoax? And of all the Brazilian pro surfers, the one closest to Bolsonaro carries the most sway and global influence. So why then didn’t 2X World Champion Gabriel Medina use the opportunity to rally up support and awareness from his considerable public following?
Looking beyond the absolute devastation in the Amazon as well as the current state of the world’s oceans a question goes a-begging: Should pro surfers -as public figures- be environmentalists? Or rather, should they be using their ‘influence’ on social media to communicate climate change, thereby helping to push a greener agenda? From our perspective, it’s a hard yes! The ocean gives us so much, without it we’d have no option but to resort to something as banal as cycling. Just imagine sitting square-shouldered on a bike, sporting some speed dealer sunnies, with an excuse of a seat wedged between your calloused cheeks in a glorified leotard? I’d rather juggle live piranha and eat glass, thank you.
Cycling blisters aside, the use of social media is an important area within climate change communication. Just stop and take a minute to think about where you get most of your news from? Instagram, Facebook, Twitter et al can be used to reinforce a greater knowledge of global climate change issues and create a space for discussing said issues that frame various topics and give them the attention they deserve. Look at the WSL for example and how they are aggressively campaigning for change regarding the use of plastic, becoming carbon neutral and restoring coasts. You’d have seen another example of this if you tuned in to the Tahiti Pro regarding their ‘glowing, glowing, gone’ campaign which aimed to shine a light on the issue of coral bleaching.
Last year WSL CEO Sophie Goldschmidt said in a statement:
“The WSL is incredibly proud to break new ground in sports in the urgent battle against climate change and ocean pollution. We believe it’s our responsibility to be ‘all in’ in the efforts to protect the ocean and beaches amid the devastating climate crisis we all face. We invite everyone who cares about our ocean to join us.” You can find more info about it all and how you can pencil in your own personal pledge here. Alternatively, simply activate that scrolling thump, hit the gram and check out #stoptrashingwaves
There is a wide range of roles social media influencers have in affecting positive outcomes in the face of planet changing events, in the case of this article, professional surfers, can have a far-reaching influence on climate change that goes beyond the ocean.
An athlete like Gabriel Medina with his massive fan base (7.9m followers on Instagram) has the ability to use social media to positively influence opinion, knowledge, and behaviour around almost anything. On the flip side, the same can be said around encouraging the solidification of already existing beliefs regarding the ‘nature’ of climate change.
Amongst the top tier of surfing’s elite, one man has put his hand up – The GOAT.
“I think when a surfer becomes a surfer, it’s almost like an obligation to be an environmentalist at the same time.” Kelly Slater’s business deals are environmentally and socially conscious. His brand, Outerknown, is committed to a completely sustainable supply chain and his Wave Pool runs off solar power. He’s actively used the influence he has to foster positivity, something that should be looked at as the rule, not the exception.
Simply put, once you have an awareness around something that affects you, you change immediately. People in seats of ‘power’ should act altruistically. There is a sense that professional athletes have an obligation to pass on positivity, whether that’s about the environment, how you act towards people or the choices you make. Kelly Slater does this better than anyone on the CT as well as the world stage.
When all is said and done, surfers are interacting with the natural environment. We’re literally and figuratively immersed in it. If anybody should be aware of how special and unique and, in many ways, fragile our earth is, it’s us. It doesn’t take a CT Surfer or Freesurfing Guru to draw that conclusion.
Social Media, from its onset, has been a platform for celebrities and the common citizen to raise their voices against any global or national incident. It has become a part and parcel of the present-day lifestyle.
With the advancement in industrialization, science, technology, and globalization various environmental issues are taking place locally and globally. It’s, therefore, a no brainer that surfing’s heavyweights should utilize their individual platforms as a tool to promote sustainability, stewardship and responsibility as they’re able to do so in a much faster way and to a large audience within a very short time frame.
If a 47-year-old Kelly Slater is leading the charge in how to best use your social media influence to affect positive change for the planet, then it’s fair to say that at 25 years old Gabriel Medina and his generation have all the time and, more importantly, all the followers to make a difference that goes beyond their popularity.