Kyle Thiermann is a 21-year-old professional surfer whose organization Surfing for Change is helping reshape what it means to be both a citizen athlete and a young activist in a modern world.
The TED speaker and 2011 Brower Youth Award winner's media campaigns center around specific threats at famous surf spots — including his current project against a planned nuclear plant at Jefferies Bay, South Africa — and how to participate in these seemingly distant issues on a more local basis.
In the first of our Q&A series with athletes committed to environmental and related social issues, we talked to Kyle about how surfing and travel has shaped his dedication to his work.
SIERRA: When did you start surfing, and how has it influenced your environmental and social justice activism?
KT: I started surfing every day when I was 11. I’m the youngest of five kids, and we all surfed. I just wanted to be like them so I got on a surfboard as quickly as I could.
I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world from a pretty young age and see amazing places. A lot of the cultures I visited were what influenced me to adopt my outlook, [that] if you can help you should.