At 23 years old, Kyle Thiermann is proving that you really can change the world doing what you love. Using his unique platform and talent, he raises global environmental awareness through online video projects.
Kyle is a professional surfer and activist who, through his project Surfing For Change, proves that you can save the world and have fun doing it. Recently, Conscious Connection Founder, Anthony Chiaravallo, sat down with Kyle to find out how he does just that.
Anthony Chiaravallo: It’s great to be with you Kyle. I’m curious to hear how this all started. How did you first get into surfing?
Kyle Thiermann: I grew up in Santa Cruz, California, I’m the youngest of five and all my older brothers and sisters surf. All my friends surf. I grew up doing all the NSSA (National Scholastic Surfing Association) contests and I was lucky to get sponsors like Patagonia, Cliff Bar and Sector 9 who supported me to be a professional surfer.
Surfing’s a big part of my life but I’m also aware that it’s not everything. We can make surfing seem as important as we’d like but in the big scheme of things it’s just a fun sport.
I saw a void between environmental and social issues happening around the world and a disconnect from those issues and people like my friends who just surfed every day. Information about those issues wasn’t getting through to them in an effective way.
My friends, and surfers in general, are good people, they want to help. But they’re not super amped to watch an hour-and-a-half-long documentary. My original intention with making these videos was to tell these stories in a more bite-sized, digestible way.
Originally, it was just one video about an issue I was really passionate about, which was the effect you can have by moving your money into local banks and credit unions. When you put your money into a bank, that bank lends it out to different companies. Certain banks have a worse reputation of funding environmental destruction than others. Bank of America is one of the banks at the top of that list, so we targeted them through a surf trip in Chile.
That movie went on YouTube and I got a lot of feedback that people were really looking for these digestible videos. I gave a Ted Talks on the subject also.
I’ve always enjoyed the aspect of storytelling. I’ll listen to hosts on TV I might completely disagree with but they’re a skilled storyteller or performer. I’ve always been interested in how you can effectively change the world with a good story.
Anthony Chiaravallo: I agree. The power of a good story resonates with people. How do you do that in a way that’s compelling but quick? So that you capture people’s attention and create a powerful engine for change?
Kyle Thiermann: If you can make it entertaining that’s the main thing. I set pretty clear goals when I make these videos, no matter what issue we’re covering. The top goal is always to entertain because if you don’t, people aren’t going to sit through the video. Especially an internet video. There’s no one to hold someone accountable to clicking to a new webpage.
That’s why we travel to these places and go along with adventure. That’s the real hook and then we tie in the issue we’re covering. We try and cover issues where you can change something on a daily basis that will affect the entire system.
We try to look upstream at what causes each issue. One of my goals with these videos is that we shine the spotlight on organizations who are in the trenches doing this work all year long, and get a new demographic excited about their work.
Anthony Chiaravallo: Tell me more about your most famous video regarding Indonesian Trash. What was your inspiration behind that and how did it start?
Kyle Thiermann: That’s our most recent video and it hit 100,000 views so I’m excited about that. Honestly, that video was less planned out than any of my past videos. I made it with my brother, who’s also a filmmaker and surfer.
We planned a surf trip to Indonesia and through the trip noticed the prevalence of the trash epidemic there. We had cameras with us so we thought, hey, lets shoot a couple interviews. We shot the interviews in two days and I ended up making the video.
It was funny because a lot of the Surfing For Change videos we make I plan and the goal of the trip is to make the video. But this was an add-on and it’s by far our most successful video. I think because it was a timely issue. A lot of people know about Bali or want to go there because it’s such a beautiful place but they don’t know about the trash epidemic.
Anthony Chiaravallo: What are some real world results that have taken place because of your awareness efforts? How are people getting involved?
Kyle Thiermann: After the first video there were tangible results. We documented people and companies moving over $360 million of lending power out of Bank of America and into local banks and credit unions. A lot of money moved out of the hands of people who are destroying the environment.
In Nicaragua, we highlighted an organization called Project Wave of Optimism and they’ve received a bunch of donations from the video. This last video we made on Indonesia is getting donations to the liquid waste processing center there.
We also went to Hawaii and covered plastic pollution. That was tough to show measurable results from. Other than YouTube views, it’s hard to see how many people have been affected by it.
Anthony Chiaravallo: How did you merge your passion with a need you’ve identified in the world?
Kyle Thiermann: I did it in a very literal way. When I was 18 I wrote down my goals for the next ten years, as big as possible. What is it I value? I really love surfing, hopefully I can do it professionally. I really love making movies and telling stories, how can I fit that in? And I want to have a positive effect on the world.
For people reading this interview, I say whatever it is you are already passionate about, do that. Then figure out how to connect it to making the world a better place. You don’t need to give up your passion to make the world a better place. If you don’t want to stand outside Whole Foods handing out petitions, you don’t need to be that person.
Combine how it is you want to make the world better and what you love to do. Keeping those two intentions in mind when planning your next move are important.
Anthony Chiaravallo: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Kyle Thiermann: Many issues that we cover are because people write to us on Facebook and Twitter and tell us about an issue. If anyone has good ideas for underexposed environmental issues or people doing amazing things, get in touch with us.
For more on Surfing For Change and how you can make a difference, check out Kyle’s project at: www.surfingforchange.com.