Belinda Baggs Urges Surfers to Act on Climate Change

belinda baggs
Courtesy of Emma Backlund/SURFER Magazine

You might recognize the woman in the photograph above from her performances in surf films like “Sprout”, “Dear and Yonder” or maybe even “Come Hell or High Water”. Baggs (or Bindy, as she’s often referred to) gained notoriety in the early aughts for her fancy footwork and her ability to make just about anything she did on a log look inimitably elegant.

But as of late, the stylish Australian has been using her platform as a pro surfer and an ambassador for Patagonia to create more than just beautiful surf clips. Baggs has been busy raising awareness about environmental issues – most notably the recent movement to stop Norwegian oil company Equinor from drilling in the Great Australian Bight (a project that could potentially create a whole mess of disasters for the Australian people, their coastlines and the flora and fauna that call them home). One quick glance at her Instagram feed and you’ll see Baggs understands the risks posed by the proposed drilling, and she’ll do everything in her power to protest it.

We caught up with Baggs recently to talk about the Fight for the Bight, how becoming a mother shifted her perspective as an ocean-going individual and why surfers everywhere should raise their voices when it comes to climate change.

You’re clearly very active in the Fight for the Bight. When did you first become so passionate about the cause?

For me, it was learning the fact that it was threatening so much coastline. Equinor’s spill modeling that was released in their own environmental plan showed a map that had an area from Margaret River in Western Australia all along the southern coastline of Australia and wrapping up to the east coast of Port Macquarie as places that would be potentially threatened by an oil spill. To place that amount of coastline at risk is just devastating and something that I couldn’t let happen. Not only does it threaten all the animals and wildlife in those areas, but it also threatens the livelihood and the economy of all those small towns in that area.

Where are things at right now with the project?

Equinor submitted their environmental plan, which was open for public comment. They got 31,000 comments and supposedly out of those they’ve considered 1,038 to be relevant and actually made amendments in their environmental plan to 13 comments only. They’ve resubmitted the plan to NOPSEMA [National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority], which is the industry regulator here in Australia, who are reviewing the plan. That’s still up in the air as to if they are going to approve it or not. In the meantime, people have been trying to put public pressure on the Australian government to make them rethink this environmental plan – which was a big part of the paddle outs we’ve had here. We’ve had paddle outs all over the coastline. There have been hundreds to thousands of people showing up at each place just to put pressure on our government and to create more awareness. The thing with Equinor is that it’s a 60 percent public company, so if we win the hearts of the Norwegian people then there’s a high chance that we could get Equinor to pull out of drilling in the Bight.

The shot that Ed Sloane got during that massive paddle out in Torquay was pretty impactful – it was cool to see that many surfers gathering for an environmental issue.

That was actually the first one and then there was another one a few weeks ago that was actually bigger than the first. The estimates came in that there were between 3,000 and 5,000 people in attendance. Being amongst that many people who are all so passionate and fired up, just to feel their energy, it actually brought tears to my eyes. I’m connected to a small group of people who are fighting climate change issues and it’s a bit sad sometimes because you can feel like you’re fighting this monster alone. But feeling that energy and seeing that surfers actually care was so hopeful and heartwarming.

fight for the bight
Courtesy of Ed Sloane/SURFER Magazine

Did it make you hopeful about surfers taking charge on other environmental issues around climate change? Sometimes surfers can be a bit selfish and complacent, especially considering how much we rely on the environment for fun through surfing.

Oh for sure. I was like the number one most selfish surfer; I would never show up to anything. But then I had a child [her son, Rayson] and realized you can’t just sit back and let other people fight for you. We need to stand up for this because we are going to be the ones most affected by this being in the ocean. But I do get disheartened sometimes because I see surfers get complacent and at times selfish, putting waves first. But being part of that paddle out made me feel really hopeful. People really do care and they’re willing to stand up.

At what point did you decide that, as a pro surfer, you wanted to use your platform to focus on creating more awareness about climate change?

I was always obsessed with surfing and I used to put my time in the water above all else – even above spending time with family as shitty as that sounds, but I totally did. It was always about me getting to spend 8 hours a day in the water surfing my brains out. When I had a child, I realized that all these environmental issues that I cared about before were way more urgent than I thought. I had to think about the future because, to me, the most important thing I could do as a parent is to provide a safe future for my child, whether that be tomorrow or 5 years time. I was raising him and teaching him all these necessary tools for life, but if there is no future, what’s the point? It was sort of my encouragement to want to stand up and fight for these things.

I imagine having a child makes these issues much more real.

Definitely. When I had Rayson I realized he’s going to be here long after I’m gone and his life and his feelings and his survival are way more important than anything that could ever happen to me and so I need to make sure I can do every little thing I can now so that he is going to have a safe future.

belinda baggs
Courtesy of Jarrah Lynch/SURFER Magazine

I’ve also seen that he has been with you paddling out at these protests. Was there a conscious decision to include him in this part of your life?

I’ve always wanted him to be involved in these things. I feel like a lot of parents I know want to hide the state of the world form their children because they don’t want them to get scared. But I feel like that’s bullshit. We need to tell them exactly what’s going to happen so they can also be a part of this. A couple of years ago, Rayson had a birthday party and instead of asking for presents from his friends, he asked them to donate between 5 and 10 dollars to the Great Australia Bight Alliance to fight for the bight. It’s important to be as transparent as possible with our kids and teach them that they have the opportunity to show up because it’s their future.

Is he surfing yet?

He is. I’ve had him in the water ever since he was a little baby and he’s always loved it. This year has been the first time he’s started getting out in the ocean on his own accord. He’s on a bodyboard right now and he’s been charging. Now I catch my waves and he catches his. Every time we get a wave together I’m like, “That was my best wave ever!” My dad was a surfer so that’s how I learned how to surf. In a way, all these things that my dad passed down to me, I’m now able to pass down to him.

Do you think more pro surfers should use their platform for good and to influence the next generation in a positive way?

I definitely do. I see the small platform that I have is now as being able to share my voice on environmental issues. And I see all these pro surfers with massive platforms and huge followings of people who want to be just like them. I’m not going to tell people what to do because I think everyone is an individual, but if pro surfers could just mention these issues from time to time that they care about, I think it would make a huge difference in encouraging people to stand up for those things and to become aware.

Belinda Baggs
Courtesy of Jarrah Lynch/SURFER Magazine

Aside from creating awareness to tackle climate change issues, what are some things average surfers can do to reduce their carbon footprints?

Everyday actions collectively have a huge impact. When deciding who to buy your power from, choose someone who is supplying green energy. Where we invest our money is another huge thing that people overlook. There are companies out there that don’t invest in fossil fuel companies – they only invest in renewable energy companies. There are a lot of little choices that we make daily that add up to make a huge difference. I drive my car to work, but I try to make up for it by walking my son to and from school. I essentially changed my diet because I know I can’t get around driving my car to work. Not to tell anyone what to do, I’m just saying that there are a lot of things out there to do in our daily lives that will make a difference.

Do you think some surfers become complacent in fighting climate change because maybe they feel guilty traveling the world to chase waves, buying wetsuits and surfboards and ultimately contributing to the problem?

Climate change is such a huge issue. I think it’s easy to become complacent because we want to continue to live this lifestyle, but in order to make those changes, it’s very difficult in a lot of ways. That’s why I think it’s important to put pressure on the system and turn up to the protests and things like that because they are going to result in big changes. To answer your question more effectively, yes, but we can’t let that stop us. You can be complacent and guilty, but at the end of the day, that guilt is never going to end unless you make changes and you turn up to those protests. Because we need to.

If you’d like help Fight for the Bight, you can – no matter where in the world you live – sign a statement of concern here.

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