Alison Teal’s Dirty Mission to Save the Planet

Alison Teal – revealing global trash issue – Yucatan Mexico 20170610_AA_Mex_2391
This is not the photo they show in the guidebooks. Teal finds mountains of trash in Tulum, Mexico. Photo: Sarah Lee

Interview by Rebecca Parsons

Alison Teal is a girl on a mission. A mission to save the planet. A mission to travel the word. And a mission to share her experiences with others.

Often referred to as a “wild child” or the “female Indiana Jones,” Alison travels the world, creating engaging and entertaining content with a focus on sustainability. With a film degree from USC,  Alison ventures into ancient cultures and shares her stories through her blog and video series, Alison’s Adventures. She’s paddled the trash-laden LA River in an effort to ban the plastic bag, surfed the Seine River in Paris in support of the Paris Climate Accord, and paddled through piles of garbage in the Yucatan to raise awareness about plastic pollution.

Teal strokes through a waterway of filth, also known as the LA River. Photo: Tina Segura

In addition to her adventure series, Alison is a Naked and Afraid alumni and runs a non-profit alongside her parents. We caught up with this wild child to learn more about her experience on Discovery Channel’s hit television series and what ignited her passion for sustainability. –RP

Sounds like you had a pretty unique upbringing.

I was world-schooled since birth. I was gifted to have a world-renowned adventure photographer papa who got paid to capture the beauty and majesty of different cultures and a mom who was one of the first people to embrace the natural health movement and yoga in the USA.

At two months old, my parents took me up the highest peak in southern Peru and since then life has been a whirlwind of adventure. I was that sort of Tarzan child raised around the world, literally carrying my stuff in a backpack. They inspired me to carry on the torch of adventure filmmaking – showcasing environmental and cultural phenomena in an effort to share the beauty of the world and why we should protect it.

So what is Alison’s Adventures?

Growing up, my dad always had a camera in my face so by default we became his models. I could only rebel against it for so long before realizing that I just love sharing adventures, travel and culture as a way to keep it alive and perpetuate what’s out there. I was incredibly blessed to get a scholarship to USC film school. With that film training I thought: How can I share the mystery and the intrigue about what I love about the environment and the cultures I’ve grown up in? I decided to do a sort of education through entertainment—I wanted it to be like if Disney and Discovery had a baby. I joke that I got on my camel with my pink surfboard made of recycled coffee cups, my bikini made out of recycled plastic bottles, and my camera and I set out across the world.

Tell us about your time on Naked and Afraid.

It was the first show, the first season and initially I said no because I didn’t want to be naked on national television. Discovery Channel pursued me to join the challenge and showcase survival skills in extreme conditions. I survived 122 degree heat in the Maldives because I knew how to live off the land and sea due to my childhood in foreign environments, as well as having special skills the elders in Hawaii had taught me.

Teal finding trash on the island she had to survive on in Naked and Afraid. Photo: Sarah Lee

All I could do all day was watch all this plastic wash up on shore from all over the world. You spend a month in that environment and it definitely creates a new sense of what’s happening in the world. How often do you sit there naked watching nature all day? I made a pact in my head that if I survive this and the Earth can keep me alive, I want to give back and show everybody what’s happening.

Why the focus on sustainability?

I never wanted to be an activist. I’m an entertainer and if I’m going to entertain I have a duty in life to also bring change to this world. I was given a unique upbringing and understanding of the world, so it’s also my duty to protect it and keep it around for our future generations to play in. While growing up, the world was my classroom and the ocean was my playground, so I want to keep that here and going. And not in a preachy, condescending way, but in a way that’s more a fun and exciting.

Favorite projects?

I’d say in terms of SUP, one of my favorite adventures was going between the islands in the Maldives doing trash cleanups. I did the first statewide Hawaii beach cleanup in 2017. I hosted it with Kai Lenny—he foiled between all the islands and we did beach cleanups at each stop.

I recently went to Tulum to get an in-depth look at one of the last pristine sources of fresh water on the planet, the cenotes. Currently, waste management on the peninsula is not good and all of the pollutants seep straight through the porous limestone and directly into the beautiful cenotes. This trash is located directly over the beautiful fresh water caves. I paddled through the trash and it’s probably the most powerful photo that I have.

Anything else?

I think it’s important to recognize the power of one. A lot of people get overwhelmed so they do nothing. But you can do so much, even if it’s just one person.

Learn more about (@alisonsadventures)


Watch Alison paddle through filth on the LA River.

The article was originally published on Standup Paddling

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