For Thine Is the Kingdom, Dude

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Outside magazine, June 1999

For Thine Is the Kingdom, Dude
Santa Barbara's surfers turn to the cleansing power of prayer

"We are calling on the archangels!"exclaims Hillary Hauser in the take-no-prisoners tone that has made her famous as Santa Barbara County's most effective advocate of sewage-free surf. "How can we lose?" Hauser leads a new group called Heal the Ocean, and the reason she's feeling so righteous is that her organization has unsheathed the latest weapon in the decade-old fight against ocean pollution: prayer.

Among surfing cognoscenti, Santa Barbara County is synonymous with crisp, perfectly sculpted breaks like Rincon Point, Hammond's Reef, and Hollister Ranch. Since the county began testing for pollution in 1996, however, it's become clear that this part of the coast has been increasingly tainted by effluents from septic tanks, storm drains, and sewage outflows. Last year, runoff from heavy El Niño storms created the highest levels of contamination ever: At Rincon, bacteria counts kept the beach off-limits for 14 weeks.Fueled in part by a backlash against this state of affairs, however, the campaign against filth has recently begun making some long-overdue headway.

Shortly after Hauser formed Heal the Ocean last August, the 1,000-member group,which includes local surfers and self-professed "rabble rousers," convinced the county to budget $150,000 for a sweeping scientific analysis of the contaminants and their sources. Within two months, an army of researchers was busy identifying the types of bacteria found in the waters of 14 local creeks and the compost piles of weekend gardeners. And by this spring, Hauser had talked the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration into donating the use of a submersible that this month will conclude its mission to photograph the biological "dead zones" surrounding municipal sewage outflow pipes.

The heart of the campaign, however, involved a small piece of beach theater that Hauser and 300 of her brethren recently staged at the All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, where they gathered for an interdenominational ceremony aimed at invoking God's assistance in the good fight. The opening procession was led by, among others, a Greek Orthodox pastor, a Buddhist monk, a "shamanistic practitioner," and Father Chris Rankin-Williams, an Episcopal priest who enjoys surfing Hammond's Reef a couple of mornings each week on his nine-foot-three Jacobs nose rider.

The celebrants carried ocean water to the altar in fancy flasks, earthen bowls, seashells, and an Evian bottle reclaimed from the beach. When their offerings had been splashed into a crystal vase on the altar, a friar named Vince Mesi sung a twelfth-century canticle composed by the original environmentalist himself, St. Francis of Assisi. Then Father Rankin-Williams stepped onto Miramar Beach and flung the water back into the sea. It was unclear whether this ritual achieved any positive result, but if nothing else, it offered an eloquent testament of the lengths to which surfers feel they have been driven by the pollution that defiles their waters. "In the face of the failure of political leaders to make tough decisions, and of citizens to alter their lifestyles," opined Mike Allen, a member of the Surfrider Foundation, a national ocean conservation group, "it's no surprise that surfers see the only remaining option as divine intervention." —RUSS SPENCER

Jake Watson, 1974-1999

"It was basically a motocross move, but that's the kind of thing Jake liked to do on his mountain bike," says race promoter Dave Moore of the accident that claimed the life of downhiller "Earthquake" Jake Watson on March 12 near Lake Isabella, California. "He was a risk-taker." The eight-year pro racing veteran attempted a blind jump from a 15-foot rock outcropping in an effort to shave a few seconds off his time during his final warm-up run at northern California's Keyesville Classic. He died from massive chest injuries after landing on a boulder. Watson's death—the first race-related fatality in professional mountain biking—may serve as a test case on the issue of whether mountain-bike racers should be required to wear chest protectors, which shield the upper thorax and shoulders. This month Moore, who was also Watson's friend, continues his ongoing crusade to force the National Off-Road Bicycle Association, which sanctions professional races, to make chest protectors mandatory equipment for downhillers. It would appear that he's in for a tough fight. "We require that racers wear helmets," says NORBA spokeswoman Patrice Quintero. "But Watson's situation was pretty unique. No one has really thought of this as a common injury."

Nice Canoe. Does It Come in Pink?
"You can really be seen on the water!" raves Lorna Doney, marketing manager for Mad River Canoe, which debuted its new flotilla of rainbow-colored craft in March. The launch, Mad River's first departure in 28 years from its signature red and green monochromes, is part of the Vermont-based boatbuilder's strategy to increase market share among the fastest-growing segment of outdoor recreational consumers: women. The palette may be brash enough to make Estée Lauder shudder, but this spring's 60 percent increase in sales over the same period last year indicates that customers are rushing to pay $200 above the standard $1,369 price for flashy two-toned units whose 25 hues include "sky," "plum," and "mango." Paddling purists, however, find the scheme a trifle over-the-top. "Color is a wonderful thing," says Karen Jettmar, a canoe guide at Alaska's Equinox Wilderness Expeditions. "But 25? That seems a little superfluous."

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