Surfers Speak Up for Oceans with the Save the Waves Film Festival

May 18, 2017

It’s been millions of years since there was an ocean in Arizona. But tonight, the tide rolls back in. The Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival is hosting the Save the Waves Film Festival, a night of ocean activism from the viewpoint of surfers. Flagstaff is the first landlocked city to screen the films. Trey Highton is the director of the Save the Waves Coalition, and a lifelong surfer. He spoke with KNAU’s Gillian Ferris about the importance of taking care of the world’s oceans whether you live near or far from shore. 


GF: Trey, can you explain the mission of the Save the Waves Coalition?

TH: Sure. The mission of Save the Waves is to try to create a world where surfing can be used as a conduit for greater environmental awareness, basically to use people’s love of surfing as a conduit for a love of the environment and the ecosystem in which we all live and play. It’s a truly immersive relationship in nature. When you think about it, you know, jumping into the ocean in that regard and just being surrounded by one of the last really truly wild spaces left in the world. You know, the ocean is kind of the last frontier on Earth.

GF: The world tour for this film festival, you’ve got places like San Diego, Santa Cruz, the Gold Coast of Australia, and then you’ve got Flagstaff, Arizona. Why bring a place like Flagstaff into the mix for this film tour?

TH: I didn’t come for the beaches to Flagstaff! It’s an amazing community. It’s my first trip here and I’ve been really amazed by how beautiful the scenery is here and how warm the community reception has been. One of my favorite sayings is that the sea refuses no river, so coastal conservation doesn’t just pertain to the coast. Everything that ends up in these rivers that you guys love to play in and everything else all ends up, eventually, in the ocean. So coastal conservation starts at home more than it does at the beach.

Surfer and director of the Save the Waves Coalition Trey Highton.
Credit Courtesy

GF: Trey, in your opinion what are some of the biggest concerns right now about the health of the world’s oceans?

TH: I think right now the oceans have—since the dawn of the industrial age—been used more or less as a repository for industrial waste, and I think we’re starting to see the limits of what the ocean can actually take. It’s a massive expanse and people tend to think it’s a limitless resource, or dumping grounds for any type of refuse or industrial waste that we can put in there, and that it will just more or less dissolve, out of sight out of mind. We’re seeing that in coral bleaching, warming oceans, all of these things. I think the biggest issue right now that’s gaining the most attention on social media and recent documentaries is definitely the plastic pollution problem. It just works its way up the food chain. Everyone that loves a piece of sushi or a fried piece of flounder or something like that, plastic is affecting all of us at this stage in the game.

GF: I know you’ve only been in Flagstaff for probably a few hours, maybe a day—do you see a connective threat between the outdoor enthusiasts here and people who do their sports on the ocean? Is there something shared between us?

TH: Most definitely. I think you guys have a large outdoor recreation community and also a large hunting community, as well. And I think that hunters and fishermen as well are very in tune and sort of sensitive to the cycles of nature and wanting to protect the younger population of certain species so that there will be a tomorrow for the pursuit that they enjoy whether that’s bow hunting, or rifle hunting, or anything like that. I think the same type of thing was very inherent in the act of surfing originally. I’m talking about, like, the indigenous culture of Hawaii that really had a strong notion of reciprocity with the land and the sea in notions like “Aloha Aina,” which means “love for the land,” basically. It’s just a basic understanding that if you love and take care of the land, it will do the same for you. But you can’t just take, take, take. There has to be some sort of guardianship of this place that you call home and that you derive resources from.