60 Seconds with… Pro surfer and Eco-warrior James Pribram

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International professional surfer James Pribram became a world environmental campaigner for the sea after contracting a serious illness through surfing in polluted waters. Besides appearing on television, he has written for the LA Times and many other publications, raising awareness of his EcoWarrior clean-up project. He also runs the Aloha School of Surfing.


What’s the best thing about life as a surfer? Going to the beach. For me, growing up on Laguna Beach, I would wake up in the morning as a little kid, open up the sliding glass door, go out on the deck and look at the beach and the ocean. Besides my parents, surfing’s always been my everything in life; it kept me from making some of the wrong decisions that some of my friends, unfortunately, made when we were kids.

And the worst? Do you know I’m not really sure there’s anything too terrible about being a surfer. Perhaps the worst thing is, if you’re like me and you love our oceans and beaches, to see pollution affecting them.

How does an American surfer boy from Orange County become a man tackling worldwide ocean ecology issues? It is just something that has happened naturally. In 1997 I was teaching a surfing lesson in Doheny Beach [made famous by sixties pop group The Beach Boys]. I had a tiny scratch on my wrist and two hours later I was in the emergency room with IVs [intravenous drips] stuck in my arms and the doctors said: ‘Had you not come in within eight hours, you could have died.’ That was something that changed my overall view of our oceans and beaches and really was the beginning of a major change in the person I was.

What advice would you give an environmentally-conscious seafarer? If you want to do something positive, participate, take that first step. Whether it’s attending a local Surfrider Chapter meeting, or Heal the Bay, or Reef Check, or Surfers Against Sewage or even your local city council. Get out there and voice your opinion and get involved.

 You tackle some huge worldwide issues through your EcoWarrior project. Last year it was the Mexican Gulf oil spill – this year it’s radiation pollution around Fukushima. How do you keep motivated? It’s easy to be motivated. There’s always a new issue, a new crisis, a new something going on in the world. I feel like I have a responsibility to those people and kids who look up to me as a role model so, being motivated, that’s the easy part. The most difficult part is finding better solutions and compromises in our world.

 If you hadn’t become a surfer what would you be doing now? For a school assignment we had to make a coat of arms and answer the question ‘What do you want to be when you’re older?’ and mine said ‘A professional surfer.’ That was 1977 and I was six years old. The first professional surfing champion was crowned in 1976. Let’s just say I was destined to be a pro-surfer and to be this person, I think.

Your EcoWarrior project has the wonderful tagline “We are all connected by one ocean.” How do you unite all who use the ocean? For me, the ocean represents so many different things. Obviously, I’ve made a living from it, but I feel a deeper connection to the ocean and the beaches. I think everyone can relate to the beauty of the sea – a sunrise or sunset, or watching the dolphins playing in the ocean – seeing whales.

 Where’s the most beautiful place you’ve been or surfed? Home – Laguna Beach Pearl Street. It shaped me to become who I am today.

And the most dire? Grand Isle, Louisiana [which bore the brunt of the BP Mexican Gulf oil spill disaster last year]. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. It smelt so bad and was like something out of a sci-fi movie. The ocean is dead there. The colour of it, the smell of it – it’s not blue, there’s no oxygen in it. It was something that I could never fathom happening within our own country – and let’s not forget, 11 people lost their lives there.

When you’re too old to surf what will you be doing? I don’t know – maybe I’ll be in politics!

You can keep up with James’s activities at http://www.jamespribram.com/blog, on Twitter and Facebook.

This interview appears in the summer edition 2011 of Seafarer Magazine.

Four-times Olympic Gold Yachtsman Ben Ainslie

British sailing’s strength is also British sailors’ downfall. It’s not enough to be second in the world and number two in your country these days. New rules allow only one boat from each nation in each sailing class.

I’m so thrilled for Ben Ainslie – he’s just won his fourth Olympic Gold sailing medal. Hats off to the gentleman assassin.

Fifteen years after bursting on to our sporting sightlines as a fresh-faced 19-year-old chasing a podium place in the Olympic Laser class, yachtsman Ben Ainslie is aiming for his fourth consecutive gold medal in his fifth games and a place among the world’s greatest-ever Olympians. Sandra Kessell caught up with him for Seafarer Magazine.

Yachtsman Ben Ainslie talks like a gentleman on a mission – he has fast, firm, decisive, soft-spoken replies for every question – until I ask him about qualifying for next year’s Olympics. It’s not that he stops in his verbal tracks, just his answers become very considered and measured.

Ben recently came second by a single point, after picking up penalties, to former training partner Giles Scott in the Olympic Classes Regatta in Miami. Giles is a man who acknowledges he has looked up to, and sailed in the wake of, Ben for a number of years. Ben, meanwhile, is very sporting in his praise for fellow British competitors, but there’s no hiding the quiet resolve in his voice when he’s talking about the crucial qualification regattas the squad will be competing in later this year.

Courteous and generous, Ben’s very far from being over-confident but he leaves you feeling you’ve just spoken to a highly-trained, extremely professional assassin – ruthless, clinical and effective with laser-beam sights. It’s these qualities he’s brought to bear while winning three successive Olympic golds as well as the silver medal he took in his first Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. With all that Olympic success heading his list of accolades, it’s often overlooked that he’s also a nine-times world champion and nine-times European champion.

British sailing’s strength is also British sailors’ downfall. It’s not enough to be second in the world and number two in your country these days. New rules allow only one boat from each nation in each sailing class. Ben and Giles will be up against Wales’s current World Champion Ed Wright as they vie to wear the red, white and blue lion of Team GB in the Olympic Finn class 2012. Which means some excellent sailors will have to watch from the marina at Weymouth and Portland, the venue for the Olympic 2012 sailing events.

“There are three or four in the UK who head the current world championship rankings – including Mark Andrews and Andrew Mills. It’s nice to see younger names coming through but it’s going to be very difficult to qualify and very tough on the guys who don’t qualify – any one of them could take a medal,” says Ben.

So we won’t be seeing three Britons filling the podium, as happened in February at the Miami Regatta, or three Union flags raised while the national anthem rings out over British waters. In the next few months heart-rending, life-changing decisions will have to be made and you don’t envy the selectors the task.

No longer the young whipper-snapper, Ben, at 34, is the old man of the Olympic sailing squad. He had been concentrating on America’s Cup sailing, but the withdrawal of his team, whilst a disappointment, has also meant Ben can switch his focus to individual matters. That means more time on the water, more time in the gym and surprisingly, much, much more to eat. Naturally lighter, he has had to put on 10 kilos to make the right weight for sailing in the Finn, but he’s been here before, and been successful in peaking at the right time in the right place, as his record shows.

Though sailing is highly skilful, and the equipment has to be world-class, physical fitness is a key factor in success and hard training part of the preparation, he emphasises. But with all that work in prospect you can’t help wondering if he still finds sailing fun, the way he did 15 years ago.

“I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it. I love the sport, obviously, but I also love just being able to go out sailing with family and friends, going on sailing holidays and cruising boats,” he says. He also gets a thrill from sailing alone – something he’s been able to do since he was eight or nine, when he used to go out a little dinghy in Restronguet in Cornwall.

“It was a real ‘Swallows and Amazons’ experience. I loved being in control,” he says. And whilst he’s an advocate for safety he adds that it’s important for youngsters not to be too scared of doing exciting things.

“Back then, I wasn’t even wearing a life jacket. I had an old duffle coat and wellies on. There’s no way any parent these days would let you do that, but we are talking 25 years ago!” he says.

He’s credits his amateur sailor parents, Roddy and Susan, for imbuing him with his love of the sea and says he’s grateful for the huge amount of support they’ve given him in every way imaginable throughout his career. Roddy skippered at the first Whitbread Round the World Race in the Seventies.

Ben took his first Laser world championship title at the age of 16 and hasn’t looked back since. Though he says he’s lucky to have the backing of his sponsors, in the current financial climate he takes nothing for granted and names a hatful of them for good measure.

Other key players in his life have been his coach David Howlett as well as Jim Saltsonstall and John Derbyshire. He goes on to praise the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) and UK Sport for the way competitive sailing has been developed in Britain, showing he’s not only a man who commands respect, but who gives it too. His heroes include legendary Danish yachtsman Paul Elvstrøm, F1 racing driver Ayrton Senna and tennis player Pete Sampras and when the 2012 Olympics come around, he hopes he’ll be in a position to watch some of the athletics.

“I was lucky, in Atlanta, I was able to see some of the other sports. I think any Olympic sport at that level is worth watching,” he says, adding that the British cycling and swimming squads have excellent medal prospects.

“It’s really exciting. Every day you meet someone new talking about the games coming up next year. Training towards it as a potential competitor has obviously been very different this time around. It’s very different being able to race in your home waters but there’s the added pressure of hoping you’ll be there with your friends and family among the spectators. More than ever before it’s a challenge!”

There will be life after the Olympics and, he hopes, a future with a family of his own once he’s stopped living out of a suitcase, but till then his focus is the 2012 Olympics, his gold medal tally and the task of joining the legends of competitive sailing.

You can keep up-to-date with Ben Ainslie’s progress by visiting his website www.benainslie.com

Ben Ainslie – facts and stats:

Born: February 5, 1977.

Olympic successes:

1996 Atlanta, Silver (Laser class)

2000 Sydney, Gold (Finn Class)

2004 Athens, Gold (Finn Class)

2008 Beijing, Gold (Finn Class)

2012 London, Gold (Finn Class)

Other awards:

Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE)

Three-times ISAF World Sailor of the Year (1999, 2002 & 2008)

Five-times British Yachtsman of the Year (1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2008)

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