As Chair of the New York City Surfrider chapter, I clung to Nikita when I first met her through their CEO Chad Nelson not only because she’s a surfer AND and activist, but because she does so with decided energy and grace. Nikita and her team are working on a few exciting 2017 initiatives for various coastal communities in our area – including most of the popular surfing beaches—and I have no doubt they will all be successfully fulfilled.
This is part four of four in the Lonely Whale Interview Series, brought to you by our sustainable seafood friends over at Norman’s Cay NYC.
Where are you from?
I’m originally from a small town called Tillicoultry, in Scotland. People are always surprised when I tell them that’s where I first learned to surf. That’s when you know you have dedication to your sport, when you can withstand those elements without yet being able to catch a wave.
And where do you currently call home?
I’ve been living in the Lower East Side of Manhattan for almost 6 years. However, since my family are all in Scotland, I like to think I’m lucky enough to have two homes.
Do you remember your first time falling in love with the water?
It’s more that I can’t remember not being in love with the water. I was always the first and last in the ocean, the pool or even just in a puddle! However, one really special moment that I keep close to my heart was this one time when I was living in Australia. I was working in a surf camp and we had a surf break right out front that was super quiet and always a fun ride.
One day, my friend and I sneaked away for a surf after a stressful day and just as we got out back, it started to rain. Sometimes when it would rain, we would get wary of sharks which could be common in that area, but that day it didn’t even occur to us to get out. I just remember looking across the surface of the water and as the rain was coming down hard it was hitting the water in a way that looked like tiny diamonds scattering across the ocean. I don’t think I will ever forget that moment.
Can you give us your favorite sea creature?
As much as I love all sea creatures, I would have to go with a whale. There’s something about seeing a whale in all their glory that inspires me to keep fighting to protect our oceans. Last weekend, a group of us from Surfrider Foundation NYC went out whale watching and were fortunate enough to witness a humpback in their natural territory. It was a really poignant reminder of why we do what we do.
Most memorable water-related movie you’ve ever watched?
Although it’s not entirely water related, it was the ocean segments of the environmental documentary Racing Extinction that really spoke to me. I think it’s a fantastic example of how digital media can be used effectively to educate the masses and reinvigorate more experienced activists. They do a great job covering an array of environmental issues but it’s particularly memorable to me because it provided the final push I was looking for to become vegetarian.
Favorite beach you’ve had the pleasure of visiting?
Machrihanish in Scotland. Scotland has the most beautiful undiscovered beaches along the West Coast. Miles and miles of untouched pure white sand and surf breaks all to yourself. I often think that the weather in Scotland has played a role in how pristine the beaches are—nobody uses them! It drives home the impact that human use can have on our natural resources.
East Coast or West Coast, and why?
I’m a big believer in balance in every aspect of my life. I thrive on the pace of life and energy of the East Coast however I can only sustain it in the long term it if I can escape from time to time. Although I must say, I prefer surfing the Pacific over the Atlantic.
Was there a specific moment or interaction that originally attracted you to your cause?
I first got involved with Surfrider Foundation because I was looking to find my people—those who surfed but also felt the responsibility to protect the environment that allows us to do what we love. Surfrider Foundation epitomizes that and it’s really incredible to be part of a community of like minded people who come together to achieve really awesome things for our beaches and waves.
What has been your greatest inspiration in staying dedicated to your cause?
Last year our chapter won a huge victory when Port Ambrose, the liquefied natural gas port proposed for off the coast of Long Island was vetoed by Governor Cuomo. I was the lead for the campaign and can testify to the hard work and dedication that was required by all to achieve this.
It was a very significant moment in NY’s environmental movement and proof that through passion and perseverance, grassroots activism is effective and can create change. We took on the fossil fuel industry and won and that is a massive inspiration in my environmental work and for life in general.
What is your biggest fear for the future for our oceans?
My biggest fear for our oceans is peoples’ continued ignorance surrounding issues of climate change. It astounds me that people will still try to deny or simply just don’t care to learn the true impact associated with climate change. Climate change is real, it’s happening now. All you have to do is look around to see that we are already experiencing the consequences.
However, we are at a pivotal moment in time where we still hold the power to change direction and ensure that future generations will still be able to swim in the ocean without getting sick, whales will still be around to witness and sea level rise won’t have engulfed many of our homes. Really, I think my biggest fear for our oceans is that not enough people will wake up to this until it’s too late and that’s why it’s so important that we provide a voice for our ocean right here, right now.
One thing you believe everyone can + should be doing to help preserve our natural bodies of water?
One of the easiest and impactful changes people can make to preserve our ocean is to reduce their plastic consumption. The amount of plastic that ends up in our oceans each year is devastating. Every time I surfed this summer, I would come back to shore with plastic bags and water bottles that I found floating in the line up. These pieces of plastic are mistakenly ingested by animals, degrade in the ocean and even make it into the human food chain.
There are so many sustainable options out there now that there is really no excuse for not making an effort to use less plastic and Surfrider Foundation’s Rise Above Plastics program has some great suggestions on how to do this. However, this is just one way to keep our oceans healthy and I urge you all to find what calls out to you and take action. Never underestimate the power you possess to create real change in this world.
Keep up with Nikita, the NYC Surfrider chapter and their initiatives over at the NYC Surfrider chapter’s website.