“I met a lot of young people who asked me what books to read or films to watch. I think that is a good way to start, but theres no substitute for just going there.” Yvon Chouinard
We are on a southbound journey in the KIALOA Sprinter van and it is taking us from the rural roads of Central Oregon to an increasingly crowded I-5 freeway. By the time we hit the Grapevine north of Los Angeles, I feel like I am a NASCAR driver bump-drafting at Talledaga Raceway. It seems like whenever I leave a comfortable space between my van and the car in front of me, another car fills the void. It is one thing to do this in a nimble passenger car. It is an entirely different situation in a heavily loaded Sprinter with sub-standard brakes. It's spooky. To make matters worse, many drivers feel a need to pull out in front of or pass our massive grey van. It is ironic because Sprinters aren't slow. They don't stop. But they aren't slow.
On this trip to San Diego, #VanLife will included two stops. The Crystal Pier outrigger race and a tour of Patagonia HQ in Ventura on the return. Crystal Pier has become an annual pilgrimage for KIALOA. We see old friends and make new friends. And while the intent of setting up a booth at an event is to educate our customers on our products, more importantly, it is an opportunity to listen and become inspired.
It was at an outrigger event such as this that I met Alison Ferguson, head of team sales at Patagonia. Over the years we have become friends working our respective booths in California and Hawaii. As our friendship evolved, I began emailing written pieces and speaking notes, where I talk about Patagonia's influence on KIALOA. I deeply admire Yvon Chouinard and had met him on two occasions. The first time I "stalked" him into a crowded elevator and ambushed him as he got out. As the people in his party waited, we talked about Patagonia Ambassador Gerry Lopez and surfing. The second time I spoke with Yvon, I extended a trip in Hawaii to attend the opening of a Patagonia store. As the crowd waited downstairs for Yvon to cut the ribbon I told him, "please keep speaking, because we are listening". On both occasions I was very cognizant as people more important than me were waiting. But Yvon never made me feel rushed. I felt like he wanted to hear what I had to say.
During our Patagonia visit, Alison said that Yvon would try and meet with Meg and me. But, when scheduling a casual drop-in with the founder of a billion-dollar company, I thought it best not to get my hopes up. As we waited at the check in desk, we were told Yvon had to leave for a dental emergency. My disappointment was short lived as through the door walked Yvon. On his schedule for us; a tour, lunch and then dinner at Alison's place.
When you dine at the Patagonia lunch room, one is dining on likely the most sustainably sourced, healthy organic food on Earth. As we walked in, Yvon told me, "I like to get a little bit of everything". It was good advice as everything was fabulous. Over lunch Yvon told us he had purchased a new tennis racquet. His pervious racquet was 30 years old. I asked if he had a long lay off from tennis. Nope. He had been playing with the same racquet for 30 years.
On the campus tour we visited the "Forge" where products are designed, tested, and responsibly sourced. Exiting the Forge, in a small room, I noticed a wall with images of Rell Sunn, a memorial to a friend. We toured the surfboard shop absent of the smell of polyester resin. They build in EPS foam and epoxy. My mentor was present, a picture of another epic Gerry Lopez Pipeline barrel. The highlight of the tour was when Yvon took us to his original blacksmith shop where he pounded out 2 pitons an hour for 2 bucks a piece. "Hence the cat food story?" I asked. He nodded yes.
That evening, the Chouinards would bring wine. Tony Ferguson would man the grill. Meg and I wanted to contribute and settled on a whole snapper prepared like we did in my youth after a day of spearing – whole and over the fire. The snapper was served as an appetizer with Patagonia Provisions Mussels. Yvon told the Fergusons that the fish was cooked like the Hawaiians do. I'm guessing Rell, a darn good spearo, had cooked more than a few fish for the Chouinards on the beach at Makaha.
Standing around the grill, I asked Yvon, "Why food?" He said Patagonia's venture into food is a big risk, but he feels that current farming and livestock practices are not sustainable. They are harmful to the Earth. His message, there is another way, and he is going to use the resources of Patagonia to not only bring awareness, but to change the system from farm to table. Thus, Patagonia Provisions and Mussles: https://quartzy.qz.com/993005/mussels-are-a-cheap-and-tasty-miracle-food-and-we-should-all-eat-more-of-them/
One of my concerns is becoming part of the "invisible generation." I am from the past and my wisdom lacks relevance. My take away from visiting with Yvon, if I want to remain relevant, I need to change the way I live. Do things for others. Lead a life devoted to making the world a better place. Helping others brings purpose. And with purpose comes fulfillment and happiness. Yvon could retire, fish and surf everyday free from the pressure of running a business. But that is not what this modest, funny and down to earth guy is about. He is in business to change the world.
Mahalo for taking the time to meet with us Yvon. Because, "….there’s nosubstitute for just going there.”
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