Three environmental features? One on the biggest water quality catastrophe in years? One on the controversial and many-sided challenges facing an iconic if divided East Coast town? One that attempts to cover several other geographically diverse issues in the most succinct and eye-popping fashion? What the hell were we thinking? Why didn’t we just do a high-performance photo feature and call it a day? Because these are the issues that matter, right here and right now. Because giving up in the face of a challenge or stepping aside to let someone else do the hard work isn’t right. It isn’t moral. It isn’t American. And it definitely isn’t going to make our beaches, waterways, and parks any cleaner.
Now, I understand the allure of indifference. I’ve been a hesitant environmentalist for two decades, happy to cover pressing issues as a journalist in order to stand at an objective remove from them. Before I started writing for a living, I was a member of Surfrider. But I never attended any meetings — again, it was always easy to blame surfing or work or school for lack of involvement. If environmental groups had a dollar for every time someone said, “I’m just too busy to chip in,” they’d be billionaires. But the problems we’re facing right now are too alarming for that kind of apathy. Theorist Rob Nixon has proposed a concept called “slow violence,” which refers to threats that advance steadily, “with a nearly perceptible rhythm” — like what’s happening in South Florida and in Montauk with toxic water quality issues. These are dangers that are impossible to convey in a single story or image. Which has made it convenient for us to push them aside or chalk them up as too complex to cover.
That’s how I felt last week as we neared the light at the end of this issue’s tunnel: way too many facts to check. Way too many perspectives to include. Way too many sides to the story. Way too much potential for slighted participants to say, “Hey! What about me?” Put simply, way too much of way too much. It would be easier to just give up on this one, right? But then the twists of fate started piling up. We found out Mikey DeTemple and Surfrider were making a movie about toxic run-off and water quality on Eastern Long Island, just as we sat down to start doing research for our Montauk feature. We had a little advance knowledge dropped on us about Kelly Slater’s new line of algae-based traction pads that put the same blooms plaguing Florida’s Indian River Lagoon to use as raw material. “This is in line with a consistent theme for us, developing quality products in friendlier forms,” Kelly said. “The traction feels insane and is also a small but simple solution for seemingly unconnected industries to utilize byproducts. I’m stoked on this initiative because surfers use so many traction pads throughout their lives. I’m excited to bring a product to market that not only feels better than the pads I’ve used in the past, but actually helps improve the quality of our waterways.”
“Small but simple.” Sure, Kelly’s flying high on the hype surrounding his new wave pool technology — and probably already plotting his way on to the USA Surf Team for the 2020 Olympics. He’s still competing on the CT, too, along with running his own apparel brand. But he’s also finding time to invest resources in the development of an environmentally friendly, eminently functional product that can help alleviate the concerns facing the lagoon that surrounds his own hometown. For once, “small but simple” seemed to serve as an inspiration instead of a cop-out. I needed that kind of motivational push to finish this magazine. Some of you will think it’s great to call attention to such issues. (Let us know if you do!) Some of you will say we didn’t go deep enough or failed to pay proper attention to the problems facing your slice of paradise. (Let us know if we didn’t!) Some of you will flip through these pages and say, “Where are all the action shots?” (Don’t worry — we occasionally felt the same way.) And some of you just won’t care. (“They put a turtle on the cover?!?!?”) We get it. (We really do, so let us know if you think we don’t!) We understand we can always do better. (Who can’t?) We just hope this is a step in the right direction. (We can all agree on that, correct?) And boy, are we glad it’s done. (Until we kick off an extensive online follow-up next week.)
For now, we’re gonna gorge on some swell gallery shots. Let our brains melt into the thumb-scrolling blur of social media. Bury ourselves in the menial task of launching a new website. Until next issue, of course… Maybe just a photo feature after all?