Q+A with Cliff Kapono

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We sat down for a conversation with scientist, surfer and Vissla Creator & Innovator Cliff Kapono.

In layman’s terms, can you explain what type of scientist you are?
I guess I would say I am a chemist. Maybe, more of like a translator. All life on Earth depends on chemistry. Every organism on the planet communicates through chemical signals in some way shape or form. Think about how a wolf will mark their territory with chemicals in their urine. No words have to be exchanged to let those in the ecosystem know that an apex predator controls this area. Bacteria communicate just like wolves and sharks and even humans. Certain bacteria have been known to sit dormant in an environment until they discover another related bacterium is living near by. They will begin to communicate with each other using molecular words and tell other bacteria to join their colony. Like a language that transcends race, geography, and even species, chemistry is happening all around us. I’m just trying to figure out what is being said.

How has surfing influenced your career as an environmental scientist?/ How would you assess the current state of the world’s oceans?
As a collective, scientists agree that over half of the entire oxygen on the planet comes from the sea and we know more about space than we do about our own oceans. This blows my mind. There is definitely a deficit that needs to be overcome just within the scientific community. Although there still are some relatively pristine areas of ocean around the world, an alarming amount of oceanic space has fallen victim to human impact. Not to say that all human impact is a bad thing, but the type of impact we humans have had on our ocean over the last 200 years has not been that great. There are some amazing efforts out there to reverse this harmful trend, but it is gonna take some hard work.

I am so fortunate to have the ocean as an integral part of my culture. Surfing has been in my family for over 90 generations and it is a massive inspiration towards better understanding how we interact with the environment. As surfers, we spend so much time immersed in nature. It seems only fitting to use that time spent in the sea to begin asking questions like, “does the ocean make me healthy?” or “Do we make the ocean sick?”

What is the over-arching goal of the Surfer Biome project?
The goal of the Surfer Biome project is to use the most advanced scientific instrumentation to examine how we interact with nature. We believe that nature leaves molecular signatures in and on our bodies that we can’t just wash away in the shower. If we can prove that the ocean has a huge role in keeping us healthy, then maybe we can form better conservation practices to protect it from degradation.

Are you able to share with us some of your early findings from your research?
As I analyze the data, I am finding some interesting results, but need to have these findings critiqued by the rest of the scientific community before I share them with the public. I think I have found evidence that prove we are more like the ocean than we once believed, but I will have to go through a peer-reviewed process to see if these claims are legitimate. I should have the official findings made public by the end of the summer.

What are some of the simple ways that surfers can make an impact to help the survival of the Oceans?
Although there is no quick fix to save our oceans, I think for starters we can begin to understand that protecting our oceans extends even when we are away from the beach. Ocean pollution and waste have been monumental players in the disruption of marine ecosystems. Small things like reducing single use plastics can be huge. Not using plastic straws or not putting your fruits and veggies in plastic bags in the produce section can really help to eliminate the amount of virgin plastics that end up in the ocean. I also believe that there is something to be said about incentivizing up-cycling and recycled products. Not everything can be biodegradable, but if we can find creative ways to turn trash into treasure, then we can at least stop adding new rubbish to our environment. There are already so many valuable materials in our landfills, why should we be spending money trying to create more stuff?

Since your field is so specialized, is there anything else you want share with us about a key topic or point that we may have not asked you? The floor is yours…
I’m just really excited to be a part of the Vissla family. It is really inspirational to see the brand influencing so many people across so many life disciplines. From surf to sustainability and everything in between, it is a privilege to be able to join the ranks of such an innovative organization. Mahalo nui!

Visit Cliff Kapono's Creator & Innovator page.
Instagram / @cliff_kapono