Reflections on Blogging for Science and Surfing

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My most popular article, posted on Earth Day, 2016. Viewed 15,000 times. Interest spiked after the movie premiered on HBO.

Here I am, five years and 182,000 views later, writing my 100th post. So, I thought I’d take the opportunity to reflect back on what blogging had meant to me and how it has changed my life.

When I started it was just for fun. I didn’t expect much and honestly, it started on a whim; an outlet for my creative energies that my work as a scientist didn’t fulfill. I realized that despite my successful career as a biologist, I am a writer at heart, and that means focusing on different ways to express my feelings. It began as an outlet to describe the death of my dog, Bandit. But once I started writing I was pleasantly surprised and amazed at the ideas that came pouring out of me.

Although surfing and marine biology were my initial interests and constituted over 60% of my posts, other topics crept in including philosophy (10%), ethics (7%), and grinds (good food) (4%). I decided early on to blog about whatever I was interested in, which kept my interest, but I largely stayed within the confines of my “Dr. Abalone” theme, which worked as a fairly popular niche among ocean-going folks. Plus, as a scientist in a highly specialized and complex world, I believe it is important that we reach out to the general public and tell everyone about what we’re doing, what we know, and what we don’t know.

So here are some highlights of how blogging has changed my life, all for the better.

  1. It has made me a better writer One obvious point: writing a scientific paper and blogging are two very different things. Surprisingly,  blogging, writing for general audiences, has improved my skills at writing technical peer-reviewed scientific papers and proposals. The old axiom is true: the more you write the better you get. It’s cross-training for scientists and an effective one at that. Sure, blogging takes time away from writing papers but there are some advantages. Plus, I don’t usually write papers at night, which is when I blog (except under tight deadlines) so there isn’t much of a time conflict. It does cut into my tv and reading time.
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Giving a talk at the Surfing Doctors Conference. Anglet, France. Oct. 2, 2015. An opportunity that arose from my blog about surfing and marine biology. Photo: Susan Tissot.

2. It has created new opportunities. I have been pleasantly surprised by learning who reads my posts and the opportunities created. For starters, I get emails from people across the globe that have an interest in my writings. From these conversations I have been:

  • Invited as a speaker to an international conference on Surfing Medicine. In addition to a paid-trip to southern France to attend the conference and give a talk, it has inspired me to create the discipline of Surfing Ecology, which has had some significant interest and synergy.
  • I’ve been invited to contribute an article to SeriousEats.com about the lore and science of red abalone.
  • I have had multiple queries about my classic surfing videos. This includes use in broadcast TV by several major outlets (e.g., Oprah Winfred), use in several historical films, and request for use in bars, retail stores, several advertising agencies, and, surprisingly, in many music videos.

I can’t say I have made a ton of money doing all this but it had been fun getting paid for doing things I enjoy and it has covered by WordPress fees.

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I was surprised by how popular my BBQ recipes were. This was my second most popular post with over 8,000 views.

3. It has expanded my creative directions. Through blogging, I have learned to love creative writing which has inspired me to write more. I just finished a draft of my first novel, a book on science fiction. More on this later but the fact that I became passionate enough to write a 100,000+ word novel is amazing, although it has cut into my blogging time and has taken two years to complete.

All of this has lead to the idea that I can see a life after my science career when I retire that is somewhat different than my current path, which is exciting. Although I’m not ready to retire anytime soon, I can imagine a second life as a writer; one that I never imagined when I started blogging five years ago.

4. Above all, it’s fun and I enjoy it. Writing is fun and so is conducting research on a new topic and pulling it all together into a 1,000-word essay. So, I’m learning a lot and I enjoy sharing what I’m learning with others and getting their feedback. Plus, it’s generally free (one of the few remaining things that are free) so what have you got to lose? Dream on!

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My top blog posts, 2013-2018.

  2 comments for “Reflections on Blogging for Science and Surfing

  1. February 12, 2018 at 2:50 pm

    It’s great to see your posts here, and it’s awesome to hear that you are writing sci fi! Hope all is well down in California–

    • February 15, 2018 at 6:55 pm

      Thanks Joe. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog and hearing about your books.

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