SANTA CRUZ, California- At just 21 years old, professional surfer Kyle Thiermann has taken his love for riding waves and traveling, and transformed it into an innovative and impactful movement called Surfing for Change.
It started out with Thiermann enjoying paradisaical landscapes and surfing the waves in exotic places around the world. He quickly noticed, however, certain issues hindering the development of countries he visited.
Thiermann describes his epiphany, in saying: “Through my travels, one of the things I see in many developing countries is a lot of suffering. During my trips, it always felt weird to me when I would stay in a hotel, surf the waves, and learn pretty much nothing about the community. Along the way I became curious about the biggest issues that the places I visited were facing.”
The first destination where his priorities shifted was a town called Constitución in Chile. Thiermann heard buzzing in the town about a new coal power plant that was preparing to be built there. The local civilians spoke of their disapproval of the project, as it would decimate their local economy, which predominantly relies on fishing and surfing. He also learned that contamination and destruction from this sort of project would put people out of jobs and change the aura of life there forever.
At just 18 years old and in the midst of his surfing trip, Thiermann researched who was behind this, and discovered Bank of America was funding the power plant. This raised multiple thoughts and concerns for Thiermann. First, he realized that American dollars were entrusted to the bank, which would then be used to fund a project that would ultimately destroy a town in Chile. Thiermann also recognized, however, that he did have some sense of control over this, and started advocating for people to ask banks to “stop funding the problem and start funding the solution.”
This idea sparked Thiermann to create a video, which documented and exposed this power plant scheme. This ended up influencing people to move millions of dollars to local banks that invest in sustainable projects, rather than expensive and dangerous ones. Specifically, $110 million has been removed from centralized banks and into local bank systems through Thiermann’s advocacy, just within his first year as an activist. This impressive number has promoted local and sustainable business and has halted damaging projects.
Thiermann’s movement and ideas have reached people on multiple continents, and also served as inspiration for the start of his documentary series, Surfing for Change, which captures a range of issues in multiple countries that Thiermann visits.
The issues documented in his Surfing for Change video series are not limited to banking, however. Some of the other issues he covers and tries to find solutions for, include: improving factory conditions in Sri Lanka, installing eco-friendly trash tubes to eliminate waste in Indonesia, and stopping a power plant from being erected in J-Bay, South Africa, just to name a few.
His initiative and success has captivated many people, both surfers and non-surfers. He has also attracted businesses such as Clif Bar and Patagonia, which help promote his documentary and his projects. His videos incorporate images of surfing and his love for the ocean, but now also raise awareness on whatever issue affects the community he is in.
Thiermann’s documentary series keeps on growing. He now also speaks about his advocacy across the country, and has even hosted a TED Talk. He can be reached through the Jodi F. Solomon Speakers Bureau, where he is described as “pro surfer, budding philanthropist, environmental activist and entrepreneur.”
Anyone can get involved with his projects as well. Thiermann has teamed up with the Thrive Movement, which is a movement that produced a movie in over 20 languages documenting global issues to raise awareness. Thrive Movement invites anyone to join and sign up to help fight against global issues.
Thrive Movement has developed a list of Top Ten Actions to promote change, which strive to increase the success of local banks, increase renewable energy and organic farming, and to keep the Internet free, to name a few. There is a link from the Surfing for Change website which directs the viewer to Thrive Movement’s website, thus explaining different ways to get involved with these actions.
Thiermann started out as an active person who just did what he loved to do, and has now incorporated it with activist work that is making a splash in multiple countries. Thiermann’s story will hopefully influence people to get involved with issues that impact local communities around the world. In targeting specific issues, Thiermann works on the ground level to improve living conditions and promote successful economies, thus working to alleviate poverty. Optimistically, his original idea will also inspire other people to develop innovative ideas that both generate happiness and change.