I am continually surprised about reactions to my amateur surf films of the 70s and 80s. While living in San Diego in the early 1970s I started borrowing my Dad’s 8mm Minolta film camera and making surf movies. Somehow making movies just clicked with me and I made about 20 short movies between 1972 and 1985. This was a time when Endless Summer-inspired films began to roll through California surf towns like clockwork: Five Summer Stories, Pacific Vibrations, The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun and on and on. These events were the rallying point of local surf culture where the seldom assembled throng yelled and hooted at each wave to blazing rock music (who can forget the Honk soundtrack on Five Summer Stories?). My journey into filming was a feeble attempt to recreate this energy in my own living room at our parties and I took great effort to cut each film to specific soundtracks. My equipment got better when I bought a Sony super 8mm in 1978, then a water case for it in 1980, and I traveled from the west to the east coast, then Hawaii, Bali, Tahiti and so on.
Jump ahead to 2009 and YouTube and I started posting some of my old films, now converted to digital video, online to share with some of my friends. Now none of these videos are popular by today’s standards but I am still amazed that over 150,000 people, for example, have watched my film “A Hatteras Odyssey” which describes a surf trip during spring break in 1975. Almost all of the 100+ comments on this video are a delight to read and either bring back old fond memories or describe a nostalgia for the past; that of a simpler, carefree time when surfers cruised in VW campers and drove the coast searching for waves. Some say it is the color that only film captures, a soft almost wistful palette. Add to that the grain, dirt on the film, occasional burnt frame and light leakage at the film edges and it captures a bygone time that many miss (including me!). There are even filters these days to ADD these imperfections into crystal-sharp digital video to capture that feeling. At any rate the impact of my films, as modest as it has been, has taken me by surprise and I have had dozens of requests to use my footage in music videos, advertisements, backdrops for live bands, bar film festivals, and most recently a museum exhibit in SF! Although I continue to make videos these days my focus is mostly on marine biology or diving but I may make another surf film, you never know.
Showing of my films in a bar in Portland, Oregon
The point of this post is to connect you to an interview with me regarding my films by Manuel Meisel at the Great Surf Movies Blog. Manuel has a gift for finding obscure but hot surf films as well as following modern surf culture. So please do check out his Blog.
Climate experts agree that global warming is real and is caused by humans. Yet in 2011 in the House of Representatives an amendment to a bill that would deny the EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gases which stated: “Congress accepts the scientific findings of the Environmental Protection Agency that climate changes is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare” was defeated 184-240. This outcome indicates that a majority of one chamber of Congress does not agree with the consensus among climate scientists that global warming is real and a serious threat to the planet. Despite thousands of studies to the contrary, it seems that with every snowstorm scientists have to answer ill-informed claims that global warming is a hoax. So how does a non-scientist citizen make an informed decision?
Fortunately, scientists use a process called “peer-review” to maintain standards in their published research. Peer-review, which can take months to years, requires that research papers submitted for publication are reviewed by anonymous qualified experts to ensure the research is sound and the conclusions are justified by the data. Over the last 300 years peer-review of research in biology, chemistry and physics has led to technological advances in medicine, communications, space travel, etc. that have immensely improved our everyday lives. Analysis of thousands of peer-reviewed papers on global climate change have shown that well over 95% of climate experts agree that global warming is real and caused by humans burning fossil fuels and forests. Moreover, the Academies of Science from 19 different countries, which include the world’s most distinguished scientists, have endorsed this consensus, as have dozens of scientific organizations in the US, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Thus, despite claims to the contrary, there is a genuine consensus on global warming supported by the world scientific community.
Unfortunately, global warming has been subjected to an organized campaign of misinformation through the use of “junk science.” Junk science is a set of claims about scientific data and research that is driven by political and ideological motives and thus is not science at all. For the last two decades, the existence of global warming has been relentlessly attacked using tactics once used by the tobacco industry regarding the cancer risks of cigarettes: dissemination of misinformation, challenges to scientific consensus, and an emphasis on uncertainty by focusing on disagreement among scientists. The goal of the campaign is to create “reasonable doubt “ in the public and stall or stop action on global warming. Most of these junk-science organizations, the so called “climate skeptic scientists,“ receive part or all of their funding from industries that have a direct short-term economic stake in policies to curb global warming. These groups, which include the popular websites CO2Science.org and Marshall.org, are funded to create and maintain campaigns that perpetuate global warming misinformation for their own political interests. However, if you examine the material disseminated by these groups you will see that they rarely conduct scientific research, cherry-pick peer-reviewed papers to focus on uncertainty, conduct misleading analyses of valid scientific studies to dispute that a consensus exists, and in some cases, personally attack leading climate scientists. In return,
As a result of this campaign of misinformation, some of the general public is at odds with the scientific consensus. A review of articles on global warming in four major newspapers showed that only 35% of the news articles reflected the scientific consensus on global warming. Some misinformation in the media results from the journalistic ethic of “balanced” reporting which strives to present both sides of every story. However, since skeptics demand equal time, they receive a disproportionate share of attention which perpetuates uncertainly about global warming. Of course, there is active debate among climate scientists on many of the details regarding global warming, including where and how fast climate will change and the specific effects on our planet. But debate is a legitimate part of the scientific process and ultimately improves our understanding of the natural world. However, healthy debate among climate scientists should not be taken as a lack of consensus on the existence and cause of global warming.
Thus, “skeptics” advance a political debate disguised as a scientific debate with the goal of stalling the issue on the science rather than focusing on policy options to address the problem. As a policy issue there may be many reasons why the EPA might not be the best choice to regulate climate change, reasons that have nothing to do with the climate science. However, there is a tremendous amount of scientific information indicating that the effects of global warming on our planet are dire. You don’t have to look far to see the effects of global warming on rising sea levels, retreating glaciers, declining arctic sea ice and disappearing species. These changes have the potential to impact ecological processes so fundamental to our ecosystems that they could have far-reaching consequences for our planet now and in the future. As Rep. DeGette succinctly stated during debate on the 2011 amendment “We in Congress can certainly change the laws of this country, but last I heard we cannot change the laws of nature.” Overreaction to the consequences of global warming and action on reducing carbon dioxide emissions are trivial compared to the consequences of inaction. So let’s move past the science and focus on policy options to address the problem and take action.
One of my most memorable surfing experiences, and possibly one of the most dangerous, occurred at Fort Point in 1973: an unusual surf spot located underneath the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco.
These days, Fort Point is well known as an overly crowded and heavily localized surf spot — not a friendly place to paddle out. However, when we first surfed there in 1973 it was largely unknown and very few people surfed there. And for good reason, it was illegal! (see below)
At that time it was owned and patrolled by the US Army from the nearby Presidio. I recall seeing an article on Fort Point in the newspaper and we decided to check it out. I’ll never forget that first morning: when we arrived it was just getting light and the ocean was completely flat. However, after a few minutes swells started swinging around under the bridge and this perfect left break unfolded! I don’t remember ever putting on my wetsuit faster! It was a really nice tubular break, although you had to be careful about avoiding the rocks and the swift current running under the bridge, which was a one-way trip to the open ocean. We have an incredible time surfing and went back many times over the next few months. We rarely saw anyone else surfing there.
That first morning in 1973
However, the MPs (military police) were an ongoing problem. My friends (mostly Jeff Chamberlain and Sam George) and I would wait until the MPs completed their hourly patrol, then we would paddle out for some quick waves. Eventually we got caught and after repeated offenses Jeff and I were arrested for “trespassing on military property for purposes unlawful” which was a federal crime. I ended up in Federal court but in the end the Army dropped the charges and Fort Point was turned over to the Park Service whereby it became legal to surf. I guess being owned by the Army had its advantages.
We filmed the arrests and it is near the end of my Fort Point movie on YouTube, which is posted below. In mid-1974 I moved to the east coast and was surprised when I returned a year later to see how crowded the spot had become. It is also an amazing place to watch when the waves are big as they break directly underneath the bridge. I never surfed it under those conditions and am not sure I want to.
Mike Wallace of 60 minutes fame complied a book entitled “The Way We Will Be 50 Years from Today: 60 Of The World’s Greatest Minds Share Their Visions of the Next Half-Century.” He asked me to write an essay on my vision for the future but it did not make the final cut. For whatever it’s worth I’m posting it here:
50 Years From Today Brian Tissot: Marine Ecologist
Think of it. On the surface there is hunger and fear. Men still exercise unjust laws. They fight, tear one another to pieces. A mere few feet beneath the waves their reign ceases, their evil drowns. Here on the ocean floor is the only independence. Here I am free! Captain Nemo – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
For me the future holds both fear and beauty, both the possibility of chaos and the promise of a better world. I live in hope. When I think of the future my thoughts naturally turn to the ocean, both my life’s work and my life’s inspiration. Born into a Navy family (my father retired as a Rear Admiral) I was accustomed to the constant traveling from place to place, mostly near the ocean as it were. When I turned 13 my family moved to San Diego, California and I lived a dozen blocks from the beach. Somehow, looking at the ocean back then in 1970, I connected like never before, I was hooked and have never looked back. First it was surfing, then snorkeling, scuba diving, marine biology. A marine ecologist.
Perhaps my most profound moments when thinking about the future are when I reflect on the past. How different things were back then, how the people were different, the places were different, but most of all the ocean. It makes me think: how will now seem to folks in 2057? Back in the 1970s the ocean off California was colder, rich, and teeming with marine life. During fierce winter storms kelp ripped from the ocean shore would create huge piles on the beaches. Fishing was terrific and it was easy to catch 20 rockfish (the limit back then) in a couple hours on a boat; 4 abalone could be found along the shore within an hour. Now things are quite different. The ocean is warmer and less productive, kelp has largely disappeared and along with it abundant rockfish and abalone. Along the Pacific coast the entire ocean has warmed and there have been major shifts in marine life. During El Niño events, fish from the tropics have been found in the Pacific NW! Much of this, I believe is due to human-induced warming of the Earth, which will be a key part of our future. Another piece, perhaps even more important, has been inability to successfully manage our marine resources for future generations. Both of these represent major challenges that will shape our future in 50 years.
The ocean is a key part of our future, just as it has been throughout human history. The 20th century saw the largest population increase in human history, from less then 2 billion to over 6 billion souls. However, growth into the 21st century are predicted to make this look mild: the world is projected to have 10 billion by 2057 and 19 billion people by 2100! As it is now the majority of people live within 50 miles of the ocean and depend, either directly, or indirectly upon it for resources. The ocean provides us with food, medicine, transportation, energy, and inspiration. A healthy ocean protects our shores from storms and hurricanes, moderates our climate, and provides balancing of the planets key elements that control climate change. We have also learned a lot about the ocean and in turn about global processes. In 50 years we will need the ocean even more, I predict, food, energy and living space. Food represents a challenge as most of the world’s fisheries are at or close to their maximum sustainable use or are overfished. Even with vastly improved fishery management, which is doubtful given the economic and social pressures on today’s fisheries, the gains are modest. One solution which is being tried is open-ocean aquaculture: using the ocean sea to cultivate wild fish in large underwater pens. Early studies suggest this is a promising approach but we need to be careful about potential impacts to existing ocean life.
Energy from the seas is one of the more exciting possibilities. Projects are already in place that create energy from ocean waves, tides, temperature differences, and from the mixing of salt and fresh water. In 50 years the ocean will likely provided a much larger, environmentally cleaner and sustainable source of energy. Space represents one of the most interesting uses of the sea. There are already floating amphibious houses in the Netherlands, which float as rivers and the sea rise. Due to global warming sea level is predicted to rise over one feet by 2057, causing flooding problems in major cities such as London, New Orleans and low lying islands throughout the world. In these places, and others, floating homes might be an adaptive way to deal with changing conditions. But why stop there? Why not build entire cities at sea that are anchored and or perpetually cruising around the world, like the proposed Freedom Ship. Even more, many see floating cities as the best way to learn how to colonize space, another strong possibility as we move into the next 50 years.
But technology, for all its marvels and promise, will not create a better world in 50 years. For every gain in advantage over the natural world also allows us to destroy it, and destroy us even more. Ultimately, more important than what we will do in the future, is how we will do it. I hope our expansion into the sea will require us to cooperate and live together as a planet, to create a world-centric moralistic perspective. The ocean truly is the last and final frontier on the planet, our last chance to prove our humanity, our ability to learn and grow together, and most importantly to share. As we grow, as the land fills with people, we will turn to the ocean more and more for its wealth. I see two possible future paths: to continue our deeds of the past, to take without limit, to plunder the ocean resources and damage its capacity to nurture us. This pattern has been our story so far.
But I believe in another path, one that unites us in a common humanity. For although the human race has many differences, we have many more similarities. My thinking has been very much influenced by the writings of Ken Wilber, an amazing scholar and philosopher with a integral view of the universe, a melding of eastern and western philosophy and a powerful vision for the future. Ken’s vision is that our ongoing environmental conflicts are not really about industrialization, or pollution, or fighting over increasingly scarce resources, but about a lack of mutual agreement about how to deal with these issues. Our conflicts arise from our inability to listen and learn from each other, to reach a mutual understanding and agreement based on a global moral perspective. And although our differences are what make us strong, and adaptable to the changes which are forthcoming, it is ultimately our similarities that we must honor as well. And this is something we can work on right now by listening, understanding, and learning from each other, by realizing that each of has something to contribute.
So, as we turn to the ocean in the next 50 years for our food, energy, medicines, and places to learn, live and dream, we are faced with the challenge of sharing this rich, vast, but largely uncharted frontier. A place with few shared human laws but many universal truths. I believe in a future where when we turn to the ocean for salvation, human laws and universal truths merge, and we learn how to move forward as a vibrant, healthy, sustainable planet.
To be honest, I love the abalone. Ever since I first saw one as a kid in the 1960s I have been fascinated by this most unusual of snails. Like most people I was first attracted to their taste; abalone are a real delicacy. However, the more I learned the more fascinated I became with them as living creatures. Having been around for at least 65 million years there are about 70 different species, and they are well adapted to their environment: wave-swept shores across the globe. In the cold oceans of the world they feast on nutrient rich kelps and grow to enormous sizes. The world record red abalone is 12.3 inches according to Buzz Owen, a professional abalone diver and the world’s expert on abalone. When you see abalone underwater you quickly realize they are really cool giant snails with complex tentacles sticking out in all directions to sense their environment and a big foot which they extend into the moving water and grabs pieces kelp as it drifts by.
As a surfer I was drawn to the black abalone, which lives in the nooks and crevices along the California shore and my fascination ultimately led me into a life of scientific research beginning in 1979. At first I was interested in what they ate and how fast they grew but I gradually became fascinated by their ecology which lead me to the California Channel Islands in the mid-1980s. At that time the black abalone was so abundant they literately formed a carpet of snails which covered the shore at Santa Cruz Island where I begin to study them in 1986.
They were so common they formed stacks of 5-6 abalone deep in some areas. But alas, I was witnessing the last stand of the black abalone in southern California. Beginning in 1987, and for reasons still not entirely clear, they began to wither and die, forming huge piles of empty shells along the shore. As years went by they declined over 99% in my study areas on Santa Cruz Island. Then the mass mortality, which was discovered later to be caused by a bacterium, moved on and wiped out most of the abalone in southern California and eventually migrated up the coast as far as Cayucos in central California. In the process, this plague wiped out >95% of historic black abalone populations. To get a feel for what happened here’s a sequence of photos from a site I studied on Santa Cruz Island from 1986-1999:
1988: peak mortality
1999: most all gone
Yes, millions upon millions of abalone died in a few short years yet I imagine for most of you this is the first time you have heard of it. Such is the plight of the lowly, and mostly unappreciated, invertebrate. If 1,000 sea lions or sea otters died it would be on the front page of every newspaper but the black abalone disappeared from most of California’s shores with nothing more that a few small articles. As you can imagine it was horrifying for me to watch and very depressing. When I am back on Santa Cruz Island the empty shores, one time covered by abalone, feel barren and haunting. Black abalone are still around but where I used to count thousands of abalone I now find only 1 or 2. Finally the Federal government took notice and beginning in 2004 I helped work on the science of their diminished status which eventually resulted in the listing of the black abalone on the endangered species list in 2009. One would hope that at some point they will return to their former glory, but it certainly won’t happen anytime soon.
One of my favorite classic surf films is from my senior year of High School when I lived in the east coast. During spring break 1975 Dave Bence, Frank Dorenkamp, Pat Fulks, and I went on a surf trip in my ’66 VW camper van and Frank’s Chevy Vega to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina from Alexandria, VA. Although the surf at Hatteras was decent (by east coast standards) a cold storm pushed us south in search of waves and we ended up in Florida and surfed Sebastian Inlet and New Smyrna Beach with Dave’s cousin Lee as our guide. It was a wonderful trip! Although I do remember getting seriously sunburned.
At any rate, the film, which I mostly shot and edited, provides a nice feel for those laid-back times: the VW experience, the long road trip, the changing landscape, the camaraderie, and the surfing It also shows the old position of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, which was moved in 1999. The video was filmed with my Minolta 8mm camera.
The music is by Pink Floyd “Time”, Doobie Brothers “Rockin’ down the Highway”, “Black Water”, Wishbone Ash “Leaf and Stream”, Honk “High in the Middle” and Doobie Brothers “Ukiah.” This is the original music we played back then on the trip.
Ok, why read my blog? I’ve been thinking about starting one for quite some time and decided that I would like a public space to share my work, my passions and experiences. Although my life has not been extraordinary, and I’m not famous, I have had an interesting life and the opportunity to do some cool things. In short, I was born in the late 50s into a military family and raised as a Navy “brat”, moving every 2.5 years or so. I was lucky: my Dad was an accomplished naval aviator and I had a wonderful mother who largely raised me while Dad was away. I also had an older brother who introduced me to new stuff, like surfing and Jimi Hendrix, when I was a kid. One thing about the Navy is that we were almost always fairly close to the sea; if not, my Mom would take us there because she loved it too. So over time, I developed a close affinity to the ocean, the one constant in my life.
Pacific Beach, 1970
Having made that connection it was a natural progression to surfing when I lived in San Diego and eventually into a career in marine biology. In junior high, I became very interested in film-making and took movies of many of my early surf trips in the 1970s using an 8mm camera. Some of these are posted on my YouTube site along with movies of skateboarding, the thing you did when you couldn’t surf. Naturally, when I went off to college the primary criteria was good surf, so I ended up at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo; a wonderful school near great waves, and lucky for me, excellent professors in marine biology. I eventually went on to get my Ph.D. in Zoology at Oregon State University, which is where the “Dr.” comes in, Doctor of Philosophy that is. Philosophy of the sea to me.
Cal Poly 1975
So, what about the abalone? Well, they were the link between surfing and marine biology. You see, after a day in the surf, I would comb the shoreline and eventually discovered abalone living in the nooks and crannies. I was very intrigued by abalone and have studied them most of my life. Hence, “Dr. Abalone.” Since finishing graduate school in 1991 I have had a wonderful career in marine biology, first at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, at Washington State University Vancouver, now most recently at Humboldt State University.
Surfing the Oregon Coast, 1988.
So this blog will cover a whole range of topics that relate to my story and might be of interest to those that love the sea, marine life, surfing, making films, science fiction, and other stuff. My goal is to write stories of general interest from a “popular science” perspective although my interests are much broader than that. I put a lot of thought into my posts, which takes time, so I’m not a prolific blogger. Hopefully, however, you will find what I have to write about interesting.
Dr Abalone in Abalone Heaven! Natividad Island, Baja California, Mexico. Photo by John Steinbeck.