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A Voyage Of Awakening With Captain Liz Clark

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Nature has the powerful ability to draw you into self-reflection and put you back on the right track. This is what Captain Liz Clark experienced when she sailed into the vastness of the ocean for an intimate voyage of awakening. In this episode, she joins Corinna Bellizzi to share how her work as a sailor, surfer, and ocean advocate allowed her to fully understand her inner self and shift to a much healthier lifestyle. Capt. Liz discussed the necessary work to be done to address plastic and ocean pollution, as well as the many benefits of adopting a plant-based diet. She also talks about her non-profit efforts to mitigate the overpopulation of stray animals and the protection of marine areas.

 

About Captain Liz Clark

Care More Be Better | Captain Liz Clark | Voyage Of Awakening

Captain Liz Clark is a surfer and environmentalist who has been sailing the seas on her 40-foot sailboat, Swell, since early 2006. She is the author of Swell: A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening (Patagonia, 2018). Liz fell in love with surfing while earning her BA in Environmental Studies from UC Santa Barbara. After college, she turned her dream of sailing the world into reality, sailing south from Southern California through Central America and the Pacific Islands.

For more than a decade, she has kept her nomadic ocean lifestyle going through writing, blogging, photography, representing conscious brands, and earning recognition as a surf adventurer, environmental activist, and captain. She hopes to inspire people to live their passions and reconnect with nature and our inherent oneness. She was featured in the film Dear and Yonder (2009), and was nominated for National Geographic Adventurer of the Year in 2015.

 

Guest Website: https://swellvoyage.com

Guest Social:

https://www.instagram.com/captainlizclark 

https://www.facebook.com/captainlizclark

https://www.youtube.com/user/CaptLizzy/videos

 

Show Notes:

03:30 – Looking Back

10:46 – Reflections On The Ocean

22:49 – Addressing Plastic Pollution

25:15 – Anti-Nature Practices

30:04 – Plant-Based Diet

44:51 – Supporting Ocean Recovery

47:30 – Not-For-Profit Work

56:33 – Changing Tides Foundation

59:07 – Closing Words

 

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A Voyage Of Awakening With Captain Liz Clark

I invite you to dive back into the Blue Mind way of thinking that we learned when we connected with Wallace J. Nichols about his work. He’s that marine biologist, a New York Times bestseller. He is behind to get us thinking about what it takes to connect and commune with nature, how important water is in our world, and how we connect with one another. How being on, in, under, or near water can change our perspectives.

I introduce you to one more incredible person who has lived this ideal for so many years. Captain Liz Clark is a sailor, a surfer, and an activist for our blue ocean planet. Over the course of more than 10 years and having traveled over 20,000 nautical miles, Liz has lived a dream that she cultivated from the age of 9.

After returning from a year of sailing, she knew two things. She wanted to be the captain of her own sailboat and she wanted to protect the natural world from the perils of human destruction. In her memoir, which I have right here with me, Swell: A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening, which was published by Patagonia Press and which will be available in paperback on May 14th, 2024, Liz invites us on both her inner and outer journeys of discovery.

Through this book, we get a glimpse behind the curtain through pictures of her travels sailing south from Southern California through Central America and the Pacific Islands. She provides a willing and vulnerable view of what it’s like to be a young woman sailing around the world, often alone in a 40-foot sailboat. She transparently shares the challenges that she faced from the mechanical woes of a captain to her internal and emotional struggles and transformation. This is an intimate journey as she learns to follow her intuition and build an inner confident strength. Captain Liz Clark, welcome to the show.

Thank you so much, Corinna. I’m honored to be here.

Looking Back

I truly enjoyed your book and I know that we’re bound to share a few spoilers for those that might read it, but they really should pick this up and read it in your words or your voice, even the way I also listened to it on Audible, but I wanted to kick off this journey with your why. Why did you decide to undertake this incredible and difficult journey?

I think it was a mix of a few things. I studied Environmental Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. At that time, I felt like we were off course in a lot of ways as a society and I was looking for a way to live a life that aligned with my values and my concern for environmental protection and wanting to live closer to nature. After I graduated, I also had the travel bug and I wanted to see the world and see it by boat. Having done that as a child with my family, I saw what an amazing experience it was to be able to bring your home with you and travel by sailboat to various places around the world.

Pick up and drop anchor somewhere else, right?

Yes, bring it home with you. It’s a pretty neat way to go. I had become involved in surfing and competitive surfing throughout my years at university. I wanted to discover remote waves, and this also seemed like a cool way to have all of those passions and desires collide in this big adventure. At a time in my life, my twenties, where self-exploration and exploration of the world can go hand-in-hand and forge you as a person.

I have to say, too, when you are listening to that inner voice and that desire and taking the big risks, sometimes it seems like the world aligns around you and pushes you in this direction. In fact, you are developing a friendship with Dr. Barry Schuyler, who operated as your mentor. It’s just one such example.

I had this question as I was reading the book and listening to the audiobook, too, interchangeably going back and forth, wondering whether you might have followed this dream and this path if it had not been for him and how your life might have been different. I imagine that’s something you’ve reflected on over the years. I was hoping you could share your thoughts.

It’s always something that comes back and comes up because he had such a huge impact and still has such a huge impact on my life. It was like catching a falling star, meeting him, and having his support. I think one way or another, I wanted to do this trip, but doing it with him in terms of my safety, in terms of the knowledge that I acquired through him before leaving, and then just having him as my rudder in terms of the bigger causes that I was out there to represent. He was essential to making all that possible for me.

I probably would have tried to do it on a boat that was much less safe and prepared and probably wouldn’t have gotten as far or it would have happened way later in my life after having to save up money. Yes, undoubtedly, Barry had a huge impact on the way this trip happened and on how my life has unfolded and continues to be an inspiration to me as I recommit to my environmental activism in a different way now. He continues to be with me.

It had me thinking about the few people in my life as I was getting going who showed me that they believed in me because I think that when you’re tackling something hard, just the idea of sailing across the Pacific Ocean as a female captain on your own, encountering potential dangers. Maybe you don’t have some of the skills that a guy growing up being taught by their man like their dad or something like that to turn a wrench in the culture or their home.

You might just not have that inborn, existing background knowledge that comes with it, even if you did grow up as a tomboy because maybe your dad didn’t spend the time saying, “Here’s how you work on the rudder,” or, “This is the clutch assembly for the car,” whatever that is where you learn these skills along the way.

I found in reading the book and all the prep work, everything that goes into getting ready to go on a voyage like this, there were so many moments where you could have said, “I’m pulling the plug. I can’t do this.” Either something’s not coming together with the boat and it’s hard, or the person that was supposed to be with me for part of this journey isn’t going to be there anymore and now I’m discouraged.

My father was the other person who was responsible for giving me confidence, supporting my wild ideas, and always telling me I could do it without having been the culture of my youth. The feeling that he always gives me, I don’t think that I would have already had the guts to tell myself that I wanted to do this. I met Barry, who added to my practical knowledge and had his financial and emotional support. Between the two of them, they convinced me that I was capable. I so badly wanted it, that it was really helpful to have that support.

Over and over again, there were a million things I didn’t know how to do. I ran into a wall and had that voice behind me saying, “You can learn, you can figure it out, you’re capable.” It always helped me get over that initial, “Another thing that I have to figure out. Another thing that’s blocking me from getting to where I want to go,” or however it played out at the time. I don’t think I would have even tried if I had not had that deep support from the two of them.

I can empathize. I’ve captained a sailboat a couple of times with a crew at team-building events and things like that. As I read the book, I thought, “Okay, she did part of this journey by herself and it’s a 40-foot boat.” There is so much that goes into making sure, even just changing tack, that you’re remaining on course, that you’re okay If something’s failing or your autopilot isn’t working great.

There are just so many things that have to be managed. It’s ideal to have 2 or 3 people on a boat that size to be able to manage it. I was in awe of the endeavor itself and everything that it took to get together. I just want to say I’m proud of you, as one woman to another, for thinking I can do this and then for making it happen.

Reflections On The Ocean

All the support aside, it’s an incredible feat for anybody to accomplish this and I was right with you throughout the story. That’s how I felt. While you had people join you for segments of your travels, the only real constant, of course, was you and so much of what you did was on your own. What stands out for you specifically from the time that you spent by yourself on the ocean?

What stood out the most during that time was my internal growth and my development as a young woman, finding her way, learning myself, and learning to love myself. That time alone was so essential to me, having the space and the context to slow down and learn who I am and what I love and decide who I want to be.

I think I’m a born nurturer. When I’m around other people, which is how I grew up and how I always was in my teen years, I was always looking around at everyone else to make sure everyone else was happy. I think when I finally got time alone, I was able to listen within and ask myself those questions, “What makes me feel good? What do I want?”

I concentrated on some of the blocks that I had in myself to become the person I wanted to be. Being alone on a sailboat, you have all this time and you’re like a little bit separate from society, which for me allowed me that peace and serenity in terms of my surroundings to have the capacity to hear myself and start to develop that real sense of who I am.

 

Being alone on a sailboat gives you all the time in the world to separate yourself from society and have some peace. You have the opportunity to hear yourself and develop a real sense of who you are.

 

One of the things that struck me in your work is this reflection on being a young woman and what it takes to even feel like you can be feminine and be uniquely yourself. The expectations you might have coming out of somewhere like an environment in Southern California where the beauty standards might be a little skewed and sometimes somewhat extreme.

You have to have a certain type of body, your boobs have to be a certain way, you’ve got to have these curves, but too slimmer here and you’re supposed to dress this way, act this way, have this manicure. It can get a little bit restrictive, let’s just say. Stepping into yourself and your own beauty, you often seem to be asking the sky questions, the clouds, and nature around you. You describe this moment in the book where you’re almost in a moment of self-doubt, and the clouds seem to answer you. Do you want to talk about that for a moment?

That particular moment was very special, very extraordinary, and I can’t explain it to this day. Yes, I was sailing across the Pacific with my mom at the time. I think we were about a week and a half out from the Galapagos, heading towards the Marquesas Islands. I had met a guy before I left and we were going to stay in contact during the passage.

He was a really good sailor. We’d had a really special time together. I was thinking about him so much and I hadn’t heard from him for several days. I started to have all this self-doubt and wonder if it was because of how I looked or if I wasn’t good enough in this way or that. It was a full moon that night. I was up on deck and it was one of the most spectacular nights at sea.

I can remember there were these tall cumulus clouds that just looked like sculptures, the moonlight bouncing off them, and the sea was black and sparkly with the moonlight. I looked up and in the form of a cloud was a woman lying on her back with her arms behind her head, looking up at the universe. She was just so perfect. I couldn’t understand what I was seeing.

It wasn’t like the normal cloud shape you see when you look up and think, “That looks like a rabbit,” or whatever. She was perfect and I got this overwhelming sense that everything was going to be okay and that I was perfect, too, no matter my faults. I just felt this sense of peace that she was trying to convey to me or that was trying to be conveyed to me.

I can’t explain exactly what was happening. I never really told anyone about that moment until the book. I wrote about it. It was a defining moment for me in terms of accepting myself as I am, appreciating myself, and concentrating my love back on myself versus worrying about whether someone else liked me because of this or that. It was a very beautiful moment with nature, feeling recognized and beautiful for who I am.

Care More Be Better | Captain Liz Clark | Voyage Of Awakening
Voyage Of Awakening: Concentrate your love on yourself instead of worrying whether someone else likes you or not.

 

It struck me in so many ways and reminded me of a few moments in my life where you suddenly just had this clarity, this knowledge, and where you feel like you know yourself for the universe a little bit better. There are a couple of episodes I can point back to where I’ve had people in similar moments, like Alexander Inchbald. He mentions being in this really difficult situation where he’s trying to paint in the outdoors.

There was a virtual whiteout happening, but he’s trying to capture the way nature is at this moment, in this space, as part of his work. He said he heard as if from outside, but inside, “Paint the wind.” This knowledge that the wind was communicating with him and saying something along the lines of, I’m paraphrasing here, “Everybody fears me, but I’m ever present and powerful and this is part of you as much as me,” something to that effect.

As he’s leaning into this moment and painting what he sees as the wind, suddenly, the whiteout stops, and the clouds lift. He has this perfect, beautiful view of this mountain range and this majestic space. He said, “I can’t explain the moment, and the words I give don’t do it justice. It’s just this knowledge that makes me feel like I was gifted.”

I feel like it’s very similar to what you experienced. Therese Gennari is the climate optimist and she likes to try and invite people to be optimistic, even in the face of all the challenges that we face. She talks about receiving downloads from nature and when she gets to her quiet space and it’s always outside, it’s always under the great expanse, having these just moments of clarity materialize as if she’s always known it.

You also even hear these amazing individuals like Sadhguru himself, he’ll tell you, “I don’t have to read the religious works. I’m listening to the voice in here.” We all get dulled to that because we’re given this barrage of constant information. I think that’s something that you talk about in your work; getting that time to spend alone and be self-reflecting can move you into a different space and give you new knowledge.

Where you feel more connected to yourself, but also to the greater world so that you don’t feel so alone and lonely. I think it’s such a gift. To be a fly on the wall, but that experience is yours and yours alone. Amazingly, you could share it and the way you described it in the book was exceptional, even for our audience here now. I commend you for being so transparent in it because it’s hard to be that vulnerable.

It’s hard to share something that might not make sense to others, but I love hearing that you’ve had other people share those moments of their own. I think that, hopefully, it invites other people to look for their special moment like that in their own way. I think that the beauty of humanity is that we all have our own stories and our unique connections with spirituality and nature. The more we dive into that, the more these types of moments can be revealed. Hopefully, it encourages others to get out there and experience.

I think, too, it’s the moments alone that allow you to get into quite enough space to commune with that. I personally traveled alone in my twenties, backpacking through Europe, and people thought I was perhaps a little crazy for doing that at 22, but I stayed in hostels. I sometimes arrived at weird times and had to walk several miles to get to the hostel that was now closed. It’s a middle-of-the-night type thing. You travel. It happens.

In these moments, I also found that I’d go inside and get some new faith in myself. In the moments where I felt weakest, there were moments where I felt weak and I couldn’t keep going. Maybe I should just go home, change my airfare and go back to normal life, so to speak. Suddenly, as I was listening to something inside, I’d get exactly what I needed at the moment.

In one of those cases, I was in this random town in Northern France. Random town. It was just like a pit stop before I was going somewhere else. I ended up at this hostel when the whole town had shut down. Everybody was on vacation and there were almost no travelers in the space. Everyone was somewhere else.

I happened to arrive at the same time that another woman did, and she had the same itinerary of things that she wanted to do. We became travel partners when each of us was feeling lonely. You could call them coincidences, but in a way, I feel like they’re just gifts from the universe. When you are in that moment when you listen to your intuition, you put the power of intention out there, and the world can align behind you.

You can essentially be introduced to a Dr. Barry, helping you get the boat that you’ll need to go on this journey of self-discovery. Perhaps he can partly live vicariously through you, but also probably because he’s working to pay it forward to someone who can embrace life with love and embrace the things he loved as much as he did and to go on the journey with you. He’s in his 80s, right?

Yes, it is that space of vulnerability and deciding, “Yes, I want this at all costs,” whether it’s to go backpacking through Europe or take a big sailboat journey. I think it’s that decision to put yourself in that vulnerable space that seems to open you up more quickly to the kinds of serendipities and things that start to convince you that it’s hard, but you’re on the right path and it’s going to be okay. It’s worth everything that it took to get there and keep going.

Care More Be Better | Captain Liz Clark | Voyage Of Awakening
Voyage Of Awakening: Put yourself in a vulnerable space that opens you more quickly to serendipity and the things that convince you that everything will be fine if you are on the right path.

 

Addressing Plastic Pollution

In your journeys, because you are so connected with this ocean world, you made this comment early on in the book about having been on these travels to Mexico and seeing people, trash, litter, stuff like this, just living in conditions where you aren’t necessarily respecting the natural world as much as you might expect people to in that situation.

I am just very curious about how you encountered things like pollution and the environmental degradation that you saw personally, whether you’ve seen any improvements since that time, and so far, how perhaps local spaces are managing plastic pollution. What are your thoughts?

I have been in a lot of places since I was young where plastic pollution was an issue and at the moment, I would say that I haven’t been traveling outside of where I live now in French Polynesia enough to say whether things have improved or not but I know here locally, there’s been an awareness that’s grown and that there’s less and less plastic pollution seen here locally.

The trash comes from here itself. We do get the trade winds that often bring trash from other places that accumulate on the windward sides of the islands. I would say that the general consciousness about plastic and plastic pollution has become more mainstream and that it is having a positive impact. I know that it’s a big uphill battle, though, and even with the projections of plastic production are getting bigger and bigger and there’s a lot of work to do.

You see so many inspiring movements, from the efforts to pull plastic from the great garbage patch to giant cleanup efforts, that are creating micro-economies around harvesting plastic off beaches and places like that. New and innovative ways to affront the plastic pollution crisis. I would like to think that we’re on our way to things getting better.

Anti-Nature Practices

I’d like to think about it too. I haven’t been to Tahiti myself, but I do go to Hawaii with relative frequency and I’m a scuba diver. I like to get in the water and see how things are just globally. I found that being here in California along the coast of Monterey, things are pretty preserved because it’s an ocean sanctuary, essentially.

There’s a pretty sizable chunk that is set aside to essentially rest and protect the animals that are there, but you travel some other spaces, and especially where there are coral reefs, you’re seeing a lot of die-off. I know that’s one part pollution, one part the chemicals in the oceans, and one part ocean warming.

No one thing is causing it. It’s a lot of culmination of several different things. You were also, I believe, sponsored by a cleaner sunscreen. How do you prevent, let’s say, sunscreens in your own mindful way in Tahiti and beyond? What practices might you suggest that we all consider when it comes to getting into the water?

Yes, sure. As someone who needs sunscreen and wears it all the time and has to have it to do the things that I love to do, I had no idea that the chemicals in normal chemical-based UV-blocking sunscreen harm the ocean and our health. When I discovered mineral sunscreen and a brand called Avosol, it was a relief to know that my sunscreen could also align with my values, protect my skin, and work well, but also be kind to the oceans and my body. Ever since then, I’ve been such an advocate for healthy sunscreen, which is mineral and non-nanoparticle sunscreen, which is what you want to look for. There’s a lot of greenwashing in the sunscreen space. You’ve got to turn those sunscreen labels around and read the ingredients.

Yes, because they’ll say zinc and they’ll include zinc, but then they also still have all that other stuff in them.

Yes, and a lot of them will even say reef-friendly but also contain a lot of chemical ingredients that are not good for the ocean. You definitely want zinc or titanium non-nanoparticle as the UV-blocking ingredient and the least other ingredients possible.

If there are nanoparticles, then they clog the reef, too, right?

Apparently, they can affect the formation of a very small reproduction of plankton and corals. We don’t understand yet. We also don’t understand how nanoparticles affect our own bodies. They’re absorbed directly into our bloodstream, through our skin. There’s not enough research yet to know whether they’re harming us or not. It seems better to avoid them.

Generally speaking, it’s likely not the spray sunscreens that you would recommend. They might make you look blue, but they keep you from sunburning. That’s the important thing. Now, you also feature it in your book. I was thinking about these pictures and this one’s kind of bloody, but people get brushed up against the reef from time to time.

I’ve had a few nasty infections from getting brushed up against the reef when I wasn’t wearing some protective gear. Even a simple skin suit can help you. They’ll often scar pretty badly and take a long time to heal because bacteria get inside there pretty quickly. I think your point, you talk about this in your work too, is that you get an infection that will not go away.

Having sunscreen and maybe a simple skin suit, if you don’t want to wear sunscreen, could be helpful to get into the water and enjoy it, but without having to worry too much about a sunburn or something like that. I personally wear a microsuit when I go snorkeling because I hate wearing sunscreen. I might look a little silly, a black suit head to toe, but whatever.

It looks like a wetsuit and I don’t need a wetsuit. It covers the back, so I don’t have to worry about that spot in the middle of my back where I never get quite rubbed in or whatever. I can be out there for as long as I want to and not worry about getting that sunburn back. If you’re surfing, I know it’s a different world too.

Covering up is the best way to go if you can, especially for the spaces that you can’t always have covered. Sunscreen that has less of an impact is the way to go.

Plant-Based Diet

In Swell, you tell the story of encountering a boar that was kept in a cage, presumably for food. Could you share that story and how it changed your outlook?

Yes. Just to give a little context, I was out on a big adventure for many months where I’d sailed to some remote areas and had the goal of trying to eat out of the environments I was living in. I ate a lot of food directly from the sea and foraged and harvested food on the islands where I would stop. In general, I was having my personal revelation about our body’s connection to food and how what we eat makes us feel on different levels, not just our physical health but also our spiritual and emotional health.

I was out on a foraging mission that day and had been so amazed by this newfound connection to my food and enjoying so much the practice and act of harvesting the things that I was eating. I came upon a boar in a pen that was being raised, presumably for food. It was skinny. I don’t know what was happening, but it was very hungry and in distress.

I couldn’t do anything about it at the time. My boyfriend at the time was Polynesian and he discouraged me from letting him out or messing with him at all because of possibly making someone angry, whoever he belonged to. When I looked into his eyes that day, I just felt a connection to him. I felt this asking for mercy and this concept of mercy.

I had gone to Catholic school. I didn’t grow up religious, but I have always been curious about religion and spirituality. During my time at Catholic school, I spent a lot of time learning about Jesus and remembering the look in His photos and Him on the cross asking for mercy. I saw that feeling. I saw that transmitted through the eyes of the boar that day. I put it together that when I was eating meat, it was a being that wanted to live and that I was supporting their death by consuming meat products.

That was the very beginning of my journey to try to be vegan and have a plant-based diet. From that time, several months later, I broke my neck and ended up having all this time to do some research and learn more about factory farming and about the benefits of eating more plant foods. I was able to heal really fairly quickly from a big change in diet.

I cut out all dairy products and meat products and added a lot of new plant-based proteins and vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables and had a huge change in how my body functioned and was amazed by what seemed to be general knowledge and the way that everyone ate didn’t suit my body. Once I tried a different way, I couldn’t believe how good I felt and the physical changes that came to me during that new discovery, in that trial time of trying out this new diet.

It became really important to me to convey what I’d experienced in my change of diet to other people. Once I learned more about factory farming and how pervasive it is in almost all the meat that’s available in the US, it became clear. Also, of course, the huge environmental impact that it has. All of those things pointed me toward shifting my diet away from meat and dairy towards more plant-based foods. It’s been a journey for sure and there’s no perfect way to do it. It always has its difficult moments, but for me, it’s had so many benefits to my health that I have no plans on turning back because of how good I feel.

It’s great news to see that you are doing that well, especially after breaking your neck. Many would think, “Here’s the side of it. You just broke your neck. You need a lot of milk. You need a lot of protein. You need these things to heal and you can’t do that by being plant-based.” In actuality, you get a lot of calcium from dark leafy greens.

You get a lot of proteins and all of the essential proteins for building muscle that actually come from plant-based foods as long as you’re eating a balanced diet. You might have to take more of an active perspective in your diet, but you can still achieve that and come out on the other end feeling physically better because you’re not eating all those processed foods.

I think that journey is very interesting. Your comment in the book, too, about how sometimes people were getting very sick, and I believe you got very sick eating fish that had gorged on the wrong algae, which can make them essentially cytotoxic. Has that changed? Is that situation getting any better where you are in French Polynesia?

That situation has remained relatively the same. As far as I know, there are certain fish that you avoid and locals even avoid. In terms of seafood in general, living where I am, it’s difficult socially not to eat fish and there are times that I make exceptions for that, but I’m always very picky about what I consume and try to eat low on the food chain.

I think what this journey has done for me is make it so that if I do choose to eat fish at a certain moment. I appreciate it. I think about the life that I took. I think that it’s that consciousness, in general, that is important no matter how we’re consuming meat or dairy, to recognize where it came from, be grateful for it, and understand that it was at the sacrifice of something else. I tried hard.

 

No matter how we are consuming meat or dairy, always recognize where it came from and be grateful for it. Understand that it was at a sacrifice of something else.

 

It’s such a personal journey and it’s something that people are very sensitive about and can quickly feel judged about. I want to make it really clear that for some people, maybe that diet just doesn’t work. I feel lucky that it does for me because I also love how it aligns with my personal values about wanting to have less impact on the environment and also just do less harm to other beings.

I think that’s the whole concept of eating for the Earth. This has been a personal struggle for me, too. I’ve been an omnivore my whole life. For a while there, I was just very focused. I wanted to make sure that the animal that I consumed had a great life and maybe just a very bad last day. The more you learn about how our farming situations are, the very bad last day could be put on a track to go down to a slaughtering yard in Southern California extending for its last few days on piles of excrement.

That last mile is a pretty horrid end and then feel like asking, “Am I part of the problem?” Initially, I was following what Jonathan Safran Foer advocates for, and I know other environmentalists say things along the same lines, which is to just not do animal products until dinner. One meal a day as opposed to three. From there, people sometimes go for one meal a week or three meals a week or something like that.

I first gave up dairy because I learned I was sensitive to it. I did a battery of tests because I was trying to help my son figure out what his allergies were. I did like, “Okay, he’s three. I didn’t want to poke and prod him.” Poke and prod me and my husband and we’ll figure out what he could have inherited. I gave up dairy and I stopped having acne. I was like, “Really?” As a 40-something woman, I still break out at least once a month and would get painful acne sometimes, really bad and scarring. Now, I might get one or two whiteheads in a couple of months type of thing. That was the impact of saying goodbye to dairy.

I then gave up fish. That’s a weird order to put things in, but for me, it’s because I just know too much about fish. I interviewed Simen Sætra, who’s also a Patagonia author. I pulled his book out. He wrote The New Fish, which is all about the truth about farmed salmon and the consequences we can no longer ignore. I didn’t realize before that, even though I know a lot about wild fishing, that we’re feeding farmed fish, soy, and corn.

I’m just like, “We’re feeding these animals foods that would never exist in their diet.” No wonder that Omega-3 is from salmon that’s farmed or lower and Omega-6 is higher. People are eating it because they think they’re doing their bodies a favor and balancing out that inflammation question, but there aren’t. It’s just like eating farmed beef or farmed this or farmed that.

I gave up fish and then I was still able to maintain my Omega-3 levels by supplementing. I’m in the Omega-3 industry. I use Oral-O’s Active Omega’s. They’re in the polar lipid form. They’re highly absorbable. They don’t burp back. They’re great and they’re responsibly made, but I still had chicken and beef in my diet.

Literally over a month, I gave those up. I’m in my first month as mostly plant-based. If I get a salad out and they put cheese on it or whatever, I eat it. I’m not going to be super militant on that part, but I’m mostly plant-based. I made cookies with eggs and things that had a little bit of that, but mostly, I’m on that journey and my digestion is having to change.

We talk about this as people who go plant-based. It doesn’t always come without a cost because your microbiome has to shift, and you have to start building that microbiota up so that it can better, especially with all the beans I’m eating, digest them. I’m a little gassier, but I’m told by people who’ve gone this path that a lot of that will have subsided five weeks later.

I still feel great. My energy is high. I’ve continued to drop some weight and I’ve been able to retain muscle mass. I know that the protein is alive and well, too. I’m getting enough protein and I’m maintaining my muscle mass. I lift heavy weights. It’s good to see that continue, but this is part of my personal journey. I’m fully in your court of there’s no reason to be judgmental.

I think we’re all on this journey together. We can start to look at meat as more of a condiment and make shifts that feel right for us when they feel right for us. I’m probably still going to host barbecues and my husband’s going to make all the meat in the world because he’s not coming on this journey with me. They might eat more plant-based foods because that’s when I’m cooking, but he still wants to have a burger and that’s okay, too.

All you can do is be the example and take your own journey and maybe you will undoubtedly inspire more people around you than you realize to just maybe try something new and that’s how it can all start for people. I think it’s important that we’re supportive of each other wherever we are on the journey.

I am not going to be one of those holier than thou. There’s this joke about, “How do you know a vegan CrossFitter? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.” It’s funny because it’s a little bit true.

When you first discover all those benefits, you’re genuinely excited about telling people. I learned very quickly that by being too vocal and forceful about sharing that stuff, you’ll end up losing the audience altogether. More good is done by leading the example quietly in your own life and hoping others take notice.

I have to say, I’m connected to a couple of not-for-profits that are basically sanctuaries for would-be farm animals and give them the best possible lives that they can. That’s really hard work and I’ve witnessed it firsthand. I also know what it takes to run a farm because I’ve ridden horses my whole life and I grew up on a working farm.

It’s a lot of work to keep all the animals happy, fed, and healthy, and the vet checks and everything else that goes along the way. If you are curious about that style, you can visit local farms that are trying to do things differently. There are ways that you can get involved in your local environments just to educate yourself and become more informed.

There are not-for-profits like Mercy for Animals that are just trying to advocate for some basic rights on behalf of farm animals so that pigs grown for food have better living conditions while they’re alive. The same thing with cows, and the same thing with goats or other animals, just that we are being more merciful, to your earlier point.

Supporting Ocean Recovery

Advocating for those things, even as you continue to consume meat or animal products, is paramount to success across the board. I know that you’re an ocean advocate and you bring awareness to problems like overfishing, wearing the right sunscreen, and having mercy for these animals, too. What more can we do in your opinion to support ocean ecosystem recovery? If we don’t have a thriving ocean, things get really bad.

In general, all the things that we do for the environment are connected to the ocean. General things like refusing and reducing our consumption, refusing single-use plastic, and making conscious choices about who we buy from and who we support are all great things. Trying to reuse things that we have and upcycle and generally just make things last as long as possible so we don’t have to buy more all the time directly related to the oceans.

It’s awesome to try to get in touch with the local organizations in your area and support them financially if you can. Lend a hand and pitch into different events that they host or learn how to become an advocate for the projects that are in your area or working near you. I have been immersed in nonprofit work now since I finished writing Swell. I realize how critical that support is now to the people who have dedicated their lives to these issues. It sometimes doesn’t feel as meaningful as you’d like it to give $25 a month, but it truly does have such a huge impact on the grassroots organizations that are on the front lines doing this work and figuring out solutions on the ground.

Care More Be Better | Captain Liz Clark | Voyage Of Awakening
Voyage Of Awakening: Giving even as little as $25 to a grassroots organization can help them make a huge impact on figuring out solutions for the worsening climate crisis.

 

Often so many of the people who are working with them are donating their time if they don’t have the financial resources. You could be great at running data analysis, putting content into spreadsheets, and making it digestible. You can donate your time to do something like that or you might be able to create an app for a company.

Not-For-Profit Work

There are so many ways that you can contribute that don’t have to end up being financial and that can have just as much of an impact, if not even a greater one. Those resources are lacking. I advocate for that as well. Volunteering can be really important to help you feel like you’re putting more good into the world, too. You have a not-for-profit in Tahiti. Do you want to talk about that for a moment?

Sure. After writing Swell, I was ready to grow some roots and I met my now husband. Both of us wanted to give back to the community where he’s from. I had been doing this advocacy work through social media and on a level of more awareness for many years. I was ready to get my hands dirty and try to live out the Act Local slogan and see what that was like. In the beginning, a group of surfers who were sick of complaining to each other about some of the local issues in the community got together and decided to create a nonprofit called A Ti’a Matairea Island Protectors.

A Ti’a Matairea is Tahitian and it basically means stand up for your island. We had diverse issues that we wanted to confront at first. There’s an overpopulation of dogs and cats in this community, both for the environment and for the people and the animals. It was an issue that we thought was important to address.

We’ve been working on that since our inception in 2019 and have made a lot of great progress. We received the first-ever grant in French Polynesia for spay and neuter. Now, we have a second grant and then the grant has lots of other animal welfare organizations in the country. It’s very exciting to see that moving in a positive direction. We also have several environmental projects going on. We are working with the fishermen on several different marine protected areas. We’ve been working with the fishermen since 2021 to come up with solutions for overfishing within the lagoons. This is like very near shore fishing.

It’s often where the young fish are, the estuaries, right?

Young fish and basically why I was mentioning that is more to say that these are subsistence fishermen who either live directly off the fish to feed their families or live off the fish to sell and feed their families. We worked off of a model from Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. I’m sure you’re familiar with her work. She had the model of talking and involving the fishermen in the process of creating these new fishing regulations or these no-fishing zones.

We did 100 different interviews with fishermen around our island and, since then, have watched the different projects for new fishing regulations and marine protected areas in these eight different districts that we worked in. It arose naturally through new leaders who saw that other people had a desire to do this and then with our support because we can do the grant writing and the things that are complicated for a lot of these fishermen. We’re able to support them. Those projects have been satisfying and felt really direct hands-on ocean protection to see those. They’re called Rahui.

I want to applaud you right now because it’s really hard work. You talk about 100 interviews. That takes a lot of time and effort, and even just outreach is needed to get them to agree to those interviews. That’s a ton of work.

We have a meeting for one of the last ones that we’re trying to put in place. It’s the biggest area of the lagoon and it’s really important because a lot of the fishermen in this area live directly off fishing. We’re trying to preserve their way of life because, as it’s going right now, fishing might not be a possible career anymore if we overfish these lagoons.

It’s very exciting, but very complex, as you said, and takes a lot of patience. Lots of really neat stuff going on. I’m lucky to have a super awesome team that works well together. We’re all volunteers at this point. We have received several grants for specific projects, but we are all just bading our time at this point. That’s thanks to Patagonia still supporting me as a surf ambassador and believing in what I’m doing here in French Polynesia. I’m super lucky.

I believe in what you’re doing. I also believe in Patagonia for the level of support they’re putting into the world of not only not-for-profits but also trying to feature things like regenerative organic and talk to people about the problems of the way that we’ve been farming. We need to have these important conversations on a global scale. To your point, in local communities, too.

I learned that there’s more pressure on the Peruvian government to say, “I know our catch size. We have this for the size of the nets, but now we want to go lower.” Every time they reduce the net size, it increases the catch of smaller, more juvenile fish. You’re just saying the industry is pressuring the government and they’re going to be squeezed.

This is moving into this conversation now where you’re, “We’re just flat-out going over fish now. We’re going to all agree that that’s what we’re doing. Is that what’s happening?” These things are scary. Having the pressures of the economic system on these subsistence farmers or subsistence fishermen, it’s the same story. They’re doing their best to get by.

It’s one part education resource, “We need to have a healthy, thriving ecosystem. These are the things we need to do.” It’s one part also, enforcement. You have to have a system to enforce it because you could have this fear, like, “Somebody else is going to go out. They’re not going to respect this rule. They’re just going to take all the fish home and I’m going to starve and that guy’s going to get rich.” It’s complex.

Traditionally, Tahitians had a system of resource management that broke down through the years of colonization. Right now, we’re trying to look back at those ways of doing things from before, pull what we can forward, and give people here a sense of pride in that history. Here, that’s a key factor in making it work because it has to be something people can be proud of and see a connection to.

If it’s laws that are being imposed from up down, you see less success in these kinds of things. When you have those economic pressures of big industry coming in and pushing people around so hard, luckily, hearing about the projects that we’re working on, the fishermen themselves have a lot of power over what happens in their lagoons.

 

The best way to influence people to take action against the climate crisis is to help them see a personal connection to what’s happening around them.

 

Giving them their voice to make it their project and make it come from their ideas. They’re the ones out there seeing what’s happening every day. In general, it makes me wish that science and the communication between scientists and the people who are out there in the field for whatever profession or whatever economic resource, you wish that there was more communication. There’s so much knowledge on either side that they both need and to do better. When you see it happen that way, there’s just a lot more success.

I think it’s this whole concept that Paul Hawken also advocates for, and something I spoke with him earlier about on this show was to make Earth a stakeholder at the table. To do that, you need to capture this local wisdom of the environment as well. It sounds like that’s exactly what you’re working to do. Thank you so much for that.

This has been a great interview. I encourage my readers to pick up your book, Swell: A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening. I listened to the audiobook as well, but the physical book is beautiful. This is going to be out on May 14, 2024, I believe, and in paperback as well. It’s a great journey. Thank you for continuing that amazing work in Tahiti and for being an ocean advocate.

Changing Tides Foundation

Care More Be Better | Captain Liz Clark | Voyage Of Awakening
Swell: A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening

Also, I wanted to point people to another project you’re involved in. That is this not-for-profit that connects women is called Changing Tides Foundation, a nonprofit that’s focused on supporting women who are striving to make a difference in the world. As a woman who’s striving to make a difference in the world, I didn’t know about that not-for-profit, so now I’m going to look into it if you want to make a recommendation there for someone I should interview.

Yes, please. I can connect you with all of my sea sisters there. I was founded by some of my best friends and surfers, other ocean-loving women, who wanted to create a space to empower other women to protect the planet and find their voice and their way to do that. Also, to make the ocean and surfing a more inclusive and beautiful space for women. Changing Tides, I’m so lucky to have been involved in it and watch it grow. I’m just an honorary board member at this point, but I’m so proud of what they’ve done. A lot of the focus now is getting women out in the ocean.

We have several different projects such as Plant-Based March. We are encouraging people to learn more about plant-based eating and then we do a plastic swear jar during Earth Month, where people count their single-use plastic like a swear jar concept. Lots of cool programs to help you raise your awareness in your own life and also get involved with the different programs that we have. I encourage you to check out Changing Tides.

Thank you so much for joining me. I hope that one day we get to connect in person, perhaps in Tahiti, on a sailboat like Swell.

Come on down.

I love sailing. I will spend more time in the ocean anytime, and I’m one of those people who has only been seasick under really rough seas. Yes, I’m a good crew member, and I’ve done plenty of live-aboard boat diving. I’ve been on some larger and smaller vessels to explore our underwater world. I need to do more of that. I’ve never been to Tahiti. Perhaps one day I’ll come right your way.

Let me know.

All right. Thank you so much for joining me.

Thank you. Thanks for what you’re doing here to spread all this goodness. I appreciate you.

I appreciate you.

Closing Words

To find out more about Captain Liz Clark and her book, Swell: A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening, which is available wherever books are sold. The paperback copy is coming out May 14th, 2024. It’s also on Audible and she reads it herself. It’s an incredible story. I encourage you to check it out. You will find additional resources and past episodes on similar topics of interest, including my interview with Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, which I mentioned at the beginning of this episode. He’s a renowned marine biologist who authored Blue Mind, an interview with Jean-Michel Cousteau and his work with regard to the Ocean Futures Society, and even my interviews with other Patagonia press authors, including Simen Sætra, who wrote The New Fish. Also, Steven Hawley, wrote a book called Cracked, the Future of Dams in a Hot, Chaotic World.

If you enjoyed this episode, please rate, review, and subscribe wherever you’re picking up this show. Give us a thumbs up, shoot us a comment or a direct message, and subscribe to the newsletter on CareMoreBeBetter.com. We send out one email a week, not more, and subscribers receive a free five-step guide to help unleash your inner activist so you can champion something in your local neck of the woods, too. Thank you, readers, now and always, for being a part of this community because together we really can do so much more. We can care more, we can be better, we can even step into our truths, learn to listen to our intuition, and create that better blue world together. Thank you.

 

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