On Earth Day of this year, pro surfer Jesse Heilman, 23, thought about what he might be able to do to make a difference in the environmental landscape. With seemingly insurmountable doom and gloom on the ecological horizon, the possibility of affecting change might seem too daunting for some.
But one man, over the course of one month, is beautifying a one-mile stretch of Encinitas beach in an effort to raise awareness and hopefully spur others to action.
Heilman is pragmatic about his goals. “I’m by no means a hippie who thinks that we can’t live without plastic; that people are going to give everything up,” he said. “But I think this will help people realize just how much trash is out there and how, if everybody just at least cleaned up after themselves, it would make a difference.” Heilman, a Florida native and winner of last year’s Kona Pro, has spent almost every summer chasing waves in California since he was 11. “I love it here,” he said. “But growing up in Daytona Beach was pretty cool. I spent most of my childhood outside, always on the move, doing something active. When I started surfing, I was in the water as much as possible, walking home from the beach well after dark most days.”
When he’s not surfing, Heilman keeps busy with other events and designing efforts with Able Planet, a Colorado-based headphone manufacturer that is making its first foray into surfing by becoming Heilman’s sponsor. Heilman plans to pick up enough trash to fill 10, 35-gallon barrels. “I think it will be a pretty incredible visual to see all of the barrels stacked with 35 gallons of trash from just one section of beach.”
Beginning at Moonlight Beach, Heilman walks one mile south some days and a mile north on others to pick up trash. His effort began in earnest the first week of August and will continue through Labor Day.
“I just thought this was something I could do on my own,” he said. “There are a lot of organized beach clean ups and that’s good, but what if you can’t go on that day? I want people to realize they can do something to help keep the ocean clean every day.”
In fact, the San Diego area is host to a plethora of activities to clean beaches and bays. San Diego Coastkeeper and the San Diego Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation conduct twice-monthly beach clean ups throughout the county to address the issue of trash. The two groups began documenting the different types of debris collected in 2007. Their statistics are in alignment with what Heilman finds on the beach each day. “It’s amazing the things you find on the beach,” he said. “I’ve picked up a lot of plastic bottles but it’s the pieces of Styrofoam buried in the sand that could just keep you there all day.”
According to Coastkeeper and Surfrider, Styrofoam pieces skyrocketed from 12,000 in 2009 to more than 25,000 pieces in 2010. Heilman said he’s made some interesting discoveries. For instance, he found long strands of kelp wrapped tightly with balloons and ribbon and littered with debris. “It’s almost like the kelp is acting as a filter in the water for the trash and then when it breaks off and comes on the beach it takes all of the trash it collected with it,” he said. “Surfing is such a selfish sport,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to give back and this is a way that makes the most sense. We’ve got to clean up our playground.”