Coast Pop

Why Surfing Matters
by Shannon Switzer -- January 17th, 2014

I had big plans for winter break.

I was going to apply for a Fulbright Fellowship, hammer out the details of my Masters Project, submit applications for summer internships, submit more images to National Geographic Creative (the stock agency that represents my work), finish all 100 thank you cards from our wedding back in August- oh and get ahead on my assistantship work for the Fisheries Leadership and Sustainability Forum (Phew, I’m tired just writing that).

However, mother nature conspired against me (for those recently consumed by the Polar Vortex and punished by horrific cold, this might be a good time to stop reading) by producing  80+ degree weather and shoulder to head high waves with light offshore winds nearly the entire time I was home in San Diego. This meant all sense flew out the window and was replaced by a burning need to BE IN THE OCEAN.

My friend Jim enjoying a sunset session at the Carlsbad Campgrounds in San Diego, CA. Photo by Shannon Switzer.

My friend Jim enjoying a sunset session at the Carlsbad Campgrounds in San Diego, CA. Photo by Shannon Switzer.

I gave into it daily and realized how much I had missed the sensory experience: the stinky neoprene wetsuit, the stickiness of the wax, the firm but smooth rails of the board, the cool smushy sand, the shrill hoots and hollers out in the lineup, cutting through the cold liquid to duck dive, then of course the few seconds of flight over frothy saltwater.

Indulging my senses, I was reminded why I became interested in coastal conservation to begin with:

Because I loved being in the ocean.

Not because I knew scientific details about how much oxygen it provides (1/2 of the world’s entire supply) or economic facts like that it sustains 1 in 6 jobs in the US, but because every time I entered it, I felt privileged to be a part of the amniotic fluid of the planet, sharing space with space-age creatures like dolphins, seals, sea lions, and dive bombing pelicans.


Warm wave on La Digue part of the Seychelles Islands. Photo by Shannon Switzer.

I needed to remember this after harrowing hours spent in the GIS lab last semester building models and maps, where the sensory experience was stripped down to glaring pixels and lots of cussing. Where I often screamed-  WHY!? Why am I doing this?!

So, wherever you are right now and whatever you’re doing- stop. Yes, this moment. Stop just for a second and think back to what turned you into a frenzied, wide-eyed kid.

Do that now.

Puerto Escondido, Mexico in go mode. Photo by Shannon Switzer

Puerto Escondido, Mexico in go mode. Photo by Shannon Switzer





  1. Tawnee
    Jan 17, 2014

    This is a wonderful post, Shannon! It is SO true of how often this disconnect can happen to anyone in the midst of grad school — especially in an environmental program. I’m glad you were able to get back to your roots (or should I say waves?). Thanks for the reminder to everyone else to do the same!

  2. Elena
    Jan 17, 2014

    this is GREAT Shannon!!!!

  3. Matt huber
    Jan 17, 2014

    Well said. Sometimes I get caught up in the myopia of my life and forget that my gills have gone dry.

  4. Aunt Freddy
    Jan 23, 2014

    ….” the amniotic fluid of the planet” … love that!

  5. Shannon Switzer
    Jan 28, 2014

    Thank you for your encouraging comments everyone…this was a fun one to write!! Here’s to wet gills and getting back to our waves!


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