Shannon Switzer is a bit of a babe. Not only is she a surfer, photographer and world-wide traveler, she is an eco-warrior, friend of the ocean, fighting hard to keep our seas clean.
1. Hello! Thank you so much for agreeing to have a little interview with us.
In your video as National Geographic Explorer, you mentioned that some of your friends got sick while surfing; what happened?
My friends and I often get sinus and ear infections from surfing, usually after a recent rain. In fact, in Southern California county authorities advise against swimming in the ocean for 72 hours after it rains, because the bacteria levels go crazy (is this the same in the UK?). But I’ve also had several friends nearly die from bacterial infections they got while surfing. The worst case was my friend who contracted MERSA, the most aggressive form of staph, via a small cut on his leg. The kicker is, it was in the middle of summer when it hadn’t rained for months.
This, to me, is unacceptable. Everyone should be able to enjoy the ocean and not worry about getting a horrible infection or disease from it. Much of my work stems from this passionate belief.
2.Congratulations on your recent epic 80-mile stand-up paddleboard down the San Diego coast. What causes were you raising awareness for and how tough was it?
The overall goal of the paddle was to get our fellow San Diegans interested in their coastal water quality and encourage them to take ownership of it.
The paddle also served as the launch for a new project and smart phone app run by Below the Surface called Riverview, which is basically like Google’s Street View but for rivers and with a crowdsourcing component. Lastly, we were raising money for a new database and phone application beachgoers can use to report when and where they get sick from being in the water.
The first day was the toughest- 20 miles from just north of the San Mateo River, the most pristine one in Southern California that empties at Trestles, a world class surf break, down to Oceanside harbor. The longest paddle I’d done prior was only 6 miles long, so it put my body to the test!
The most satisfying day was the final one when we surfed into the beach just north of the Tijuana River, the most polluted in the nation, and completed our paddle.
3. Do you prefer to travel by land or by water?
Water, hands-down – sailboat, SUP, kayak, you name it!
4.You take beautiful photographs; how important do you think visual information is for raising the public awareness of mans effect on nature?
That is kind of you!
It is crucial; however, photojournalists have to be careful to tell the WHOLE story with their images. Not just the negative, but the good, great, bad & ugly.
This is important, because people are bombarded with images all day long in the media, so if visual storytellers don’t show some humanity among the chaos in their work, people begin either losing all hope or tuning it out.
5. As someone who gets to travel, write and photograph nature as their livelihood, to many it will seem that you are living the dream. But what has been the hardest or worst part of your job?
The making a living part! I still have to work odd jobs to make ends meet, like tutoring, doing promo work, waitressing, etc. The day I can support myself doing what I love fulltime, I’ll feel like I’ve made it!
6.How important are your passions for surfing and free diving ?
They are at the core of my conservation efforts. If I wasn’t in the ocean daily, I wouldn’t care about it nearly as much. I wouldn’t be personally connected to it and have such a vested interested in its continued health.
7.What advice could you offer to people (young and old) who want to get involved to save our seas?
The ocean needs more friends. Meet other people in your community who care too through attending local organization’s monthly meetings or going to events like the Ocean Film Festival that will be in Monterey this September. Then share that enthusiasm with everyone you meet.
8.Is there one thing we could all do every day to help our oceans?
Buy reusable items- cloth shopping bags, stainless steel water bottles. This is HUGE, and it’s so simple! If everyone took this one step, we could eliminate 90% of the plastic waste that is now choking our oceans.
9.What environmental challenges do you think we will face in the future?
If we keep producing waste and burning fossil fuels at the rate we’re going, thousands of people will be forced to relocate due to rising sea levels (some already are like the citizens of the Maldives). That is a frightening prospect!
10.How can we keep updated with all your adventures and amazing work?
The best part of my job is sharing what I do with others! For the most up to date adventures, check out my website.
And follow me at Twitter and on Instagram (user name: shannonswitzer)
I also recently completed an off-the-beaten-path road trip of the western US for National Geographic Traveler Magazine, called the Curious Traveler, which you can check out here.
11.Any shout outs or thank you’s?
Oh man, there’s a long list. I wouldn’t have been able to complete any of my projects without the help of countless individuals and supportive communities- the National Geographic Society, Below the Surface, Paddle With Purpose, Surftech, Chris Grant and Jettygirl, Sean Reilly Surfboards, Surfrider, the San Diego River Park Foundation and the San Diego River Conservancy, Keen, Cliff Bar and the list goes on and on!
Thanks for taking the time to chat with me!
Thank you so much Shannon! We loved chatting to you and cannot wait to see what you will get up to next. Don’t forget to follow her on Twitter and on Instagram (user name: shannonswitzer)