Born and raised in Long Beach, NY, Will Skudin has conquered some of the biggest waves ever recorded. In addition to competing professionally on the Big Wave Tour, Skudin dedicates much of his time to sharing the joys of surfing with disabled teens, wounded vets, and the economically disadvantaged through his non-profit Surf For All. Recently, along with his girlfriend Jen Hanono, he’s expanded his scope of work to include promoting ocean conservancy. We briefly caught up with Skudin at a recent Surfrider NYC chapter meeting to learn more about how he got his start in surfing, his current projects, and what steps everyone can take to keep our oceans clean.
kevin serai: How does a kid growing on Long Island, NY get into big wave surfing, and get good for that matter?
will skudin: Growing up into the third generation of swimmers, lifeguards and surfers in my family, I was always in the water when I was a kid. During each hurricane season my two older brothers would surf the bigger swells, and I had to keep up. I was fascinated by the idea of big waves since I was 10 years old; I remember pretending I was out at Mavericks on the big days in Lido. My parents were surfers and supported me in chasing my dreams: they told me if I trained hard, did well in school and saved up money they would take me to big waves to get experience. When I was 16 I got my first taste of Mavericks, a big wave spot off the coast of California. A few years later I received an opportunity from a company called Zoo York, which began my professional surf career that funded the next 10 or so winters in Hawaii to progress my surfing. At the end of the day, however, we are all just a product of our upbringing. I feel super blessed to have been brought up where the ocean was my playground.
ks: You’re currently on the Big Wave World Tour, but that’s not all you do. Can you tell us about some of the other projects you’re working on?
ws: Together with my older brother Cliff we own and operate Skudin Surf Camps as well as the Surf For All non profit organization. Our focus for years has been to educate and celebrate individuals in the ocean right here at home in New York. We have been moving in an environmental direction and are currently educating ourselves while incorporating what we learn into our programs.
ks: What was the turning point when you decided to shift your focus toward environmentalism and ocean conservancy?
ws: My parents always encouraged us to pick up any trash we would see on the beach. Since I can remember we have always participated in local beach cleans and dune grass planting. My girlfriend Jen Hanono has also been on the environmental track for years which is a huge influence. We recently went to Bermuda for the Protect Blue Conference where we met with some great environmental influencers and shared ideas for positive change. Since that trip, I guess you could say I see things a little differently.
ks: Who do you think is leading the charge right now?
ws: I personally love what Surfrider, Plastictides and Protect Blue are putting out to the world. There are cities and even entire countries out there that are starting to enforce restrictions or bans on single-use plastics, which is setting a great precedent for the rest of us to follow.
ks: It seems like a lot of new technologies and practices have been developed over the past decade or so to help reduce pollution and waste. Is there anything coming out in the near future you’re excited about?
ws: Not too sure about anything coming out, but I do love all the alternatives out there to plastics. It seems like there’s more options constantly making themselves available. The key thing to less waste is having awareness and also making it a habit of bringing reusables with you daily.
ks: As a surfer and a New Yorker, what do you feel are the biggest obstacles to lowering your impact on the environment. On the flipside of that, do you think there are any advantages?
ws: Being from New York, especially the city area surrounded by cement and buildings, makes it hard to connect with nature. That’s why spending time in the ocean is vital. The advantage of being from this area is access to so many people. Using our ocean influence we hope to share our love for nature with as many people as possible. When you love something, you’ll do anything in your power to protect it and that’s our goal. It might be a grassroots approach, but it works.
ks: How did you link up with Surfrider and will you be working together more in the future?
ws: We have had a good relationship with Surfrider for almost a decade. We partner with them every chance we get to help spread environmental awareness and clean our beaches.
ks: One last question: For people out there right now who may want to live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle but find the idea of starting daunting, what are some simple, easy steps they can take to get their foot in the door?
ws: There are plenty of easy things everyone can do to live more responsibly:
Get your reusables: water bottle, steel straw, bamboo travel utensil set, shopping bag and food containers. If you make it a habit of bringing reusables with you daily you will significantly decrease the amount of throw away plastics that you use.
Switch to natural cleaners / detergents / products in your home – its safer for you, your family and the planet.
Buy local produce and locally-made items whenever possible!■