Buy Local, Surf Global

Kyle Thiermann's Single-Handed Quest to Evoke Change

| posted on January 21, 2011

After spending time in the garment factories in Sri Lanka, Kyle Thiermann and a local surfer catch a few before dark. Photo: Russo

Last year, 20-year-old Kyle Thiermann took a surf trip to Southern Chile, where he planned to spend a few weeks sampling the pointbreak perfection of Constitucion. But soon he realized it would become more than just a carefree jaunt through the lefts of South America. In the small town where he stayed, in an area whose livelihood depended upon fishing, a coal power plant was proposed that would potentially decimate the fish in the area, among a slew of other environmentally detrimental consequences. Rather than sit idle, Kyle researched the situation and found out that Bank of America was funding the project. He started a campaign called “Claim Your Change” which emphasized the power that surfers in particular have to keep their money in a local banks, an effort that will help grow the local economy rather fund things like coal power plants. According to Kyle, “over $110,000,000 worth of lending power has been moved out of Bank of America and into local banks around the country.” Now, Kyle has embarked on another cause aimed specifically at the surf community, so we caught up with the young Santa Cruz local to find out about it.

How has your success with the “Claim Your Change” project led you to your most recent project?
Well I got sponsored by Patagonia and Sector 9 and they supported me to travel this September to Sri Lanka to visit a clothing-manufacturing factory. I was planning to make a video on sweatshop conditions and how what we buy here has an effect on someone’s life in a place as far away as Sri Lanka. But while I visited there, I actually found out that a lot of conditions in this factory have improved a huge amount because of consumer pressure. The story was totally twisted. It was really good to see the effect surfers have at home on people as far away as Sri Lanka. I learned a lot about how every time you buy a T-shirt you are sending a message to the industry that it’s okay or not okay to use your money in a certain way.

Kyle and the local groms. Photo: Russo

So what can people do to continue sending this message to the industry?
When you put your money into buying from a locally owned business, more money stays in your community. So if you spend $100 at a locally owned business, $45 continues to circulate in a local economy, as opposed to buying from a chain store where only $13 continues to circulate in the local economy. The film I made is about the power surfers have to effect change in a really easy way. I totally get it—most surfers are not going to become full-time activists, but there are really simple things we can do, like banking locally and shopping locally and shopping from responsibly run companies, that have a huge effect on our neighbors locally and across the world.

Will you talk specifically about how the Sri Lankan clothing manufacturing companies you visited were directly affected by consumers in America?
Essentially what I found when I interviewed workers is that the conditions are better because they’re now being paid living wages and this is just because of pressure from consumers in America. Through our purchasing decisions, we are saying to the companies that we want to buy our T-shirts from a company that’s going to be paying their workers a living wage. That’s not to say that everywhere is Sri Lanka is fine and that Sri Lankans are great, but this factory I visited is a really good example of that, of the positive effects surfers can have in America on the rest of the world.

According to Kyle, conditions in the factory he visited had drastically improved in recent years due to consumer pressure from the U.S. Photo: Russo

So is the point for people to demand from their companies that they’re fair to their workers and that they’re using recycled products? Is it our job to do that?
That’s great and that’s how change happens, but I believe when you go to your surf shop and ask those kinds of questions that’s how change happens, but just from simply supporting responsibly run businesses and buying form locally owned businesses that also creates a huge effect. Even if you’re not saying anything, you’re voting with your dollar every day.

What kind of press you’ve received about this project?
We actually got an article in The Huffington Post two weeks ago, and an article on the Discovery Channel recently. The local newspapers in Santa Cruz did article on it. I’ve talked to all my old junior highs and my high school.

Kyle Thiermann has spoken at high schools and other local venues, but it's clear public speaking isn't his only strongsuit. Photo: Russo

So now what? What future projects do you have planned?
I’m going to go to Oahu in about three weeks to make another short video on solutions to plastic pollution. I’ve just been learning a lot about it and I think it’s a really big cause and there are a lot of potential solutions. That’s going to be coming out in March. Then I’m going to go to South Africa in June to do a project on the proposed nuclear power plant right by J Bay. The theme of my projects is just that there are simple things we can do. I really don’t want what I’m doing to be seen as that negative environmentalist stuff, because I think it’s way more inspiring to talk about the huge cool impact that we are having every day. Each one of us has the power to affect the world and just recognizing that and using that in a positive way is really simple, and it feels really good.

  • Bill

    Great article, keep them coming!!!

  • J Fadiman

    this is a great example of surfing your talk. it’s hard to make a nig difference but it is easy to make a small one and when you do that, someone else makes it a little bigger and so it grows.
    Thanks Kyle,
    good luck on your next projects.

  • Soren

    Yay Kyle! Thank you for helping the rest of us stay aware of how our simple decisions affect the rest of the world.

  • Alexis

    Wonderful article. It brings soul to surfing.

  • Laura

    Kyle is the future. Thank you for publishing this Maverick’s plea to us all.
    I’m sure he has many other wonderful ideas to put us in action for a more ecological world. I’d like to hear more of what he has to say! Thanks again.

  • Noah

    stoked you are covering something that matters

  • Shilpa Jain

    I so appreciate Kyle’s initiative to combine his passion with a purpose and make a difference in the world! He sees the interconnectedness of the environment, travel/tourism, and the power of consumer decisions. In raising up these issues, and sharing them with a wide audience, he challenges the assumptions that surfers are disconnected group of people and shows how we can connect our interests to making a change in the world. Go Kyle! Keep it up!

  • aleksandra Wolska


  • chris s. SF

    hey there all who serve the Aina…

    since the years surrounding the infancy of earthday..(when moi occasionally surfed the oahu feeding frenzies, and the california brrr coasties)…simultaneously being the one girl coordinating the first GG park Eday….i looked around for others, who could help keep in creating a pristine planet….

    ….some lone surfers were the best volunteers at the coastal cleanups! a camera can help shed light into the haze others left behind…

    i saw kyle feature a short, at a UCSC showing, and have tracked his adventures. so, invite the guy over for a plate lunch…and give him some strong observations as to the state of plastic pollution. Memories of delaying the big box stores…from the islands…and the need for others to understand the link in purchasing junk.

    ….. Now, being late for dinner…and spotting this tonite..i was thrilled to see him go to one of the homestead area’s to do his part. Catch a wave for me…

    ..oh kyle… of the numerous films i have had to review for environmental film festivals, or scientific, or policy i told you….i saw one years ago that showed micro plastic parts ending up in the brain of mammals….even recycled bits…plaque on the neurotransmitters…..

    a no brainer….it is slowly taking us out….

    cease and desist the urge for a plastic planet! or start having memory problems!

    I remember working on the Save our Shores with John…etc. so dedicate a wave to his lifetime…and ask about the views of other elders…

    while U are there, look up Kelvin Taketa-Nature Conservancy Hawaii, and look for Keone Downing..( known talent on the waves, shop on north shore)….say hello and look for Peter French, the Pahanui family…and Gary Ostrem (North Shore firefighter)….interview them on the changes they have seen over the decades….

    my own father crossing the atlantic on a trip in the sixties saw plastic floating in the middle of the ocean…and it startled him for years tocome. he finally got it….that his daughter supported…. “advocacy”… seeing the link to health and pollution… worth sounding the alarm.

    you go Ky!

  • kcg

    It’s great to see Surfer Magazine giving an image of a conscious inspiring surfer who can follow his passion and turn it into good for the planet -nice to see we can have a good time and be responsible all at once. Go Kyle!

  • Jared A Muscat

    Well done dude…that’s the message we try and push. Keep it up.

  • http://surfer Aflack

    Nice work dude. I like how your solutions make it easy for normal people to take action with out becoming one of those santa cruz dread lock, tree huggin, smelly hippies. Keep up the good work.

  • Noah

    Good work, good kid!

  • Jason Mock

    Finally something different. I am sure I can speak on behalf of allot of people that we want fresh new content. I don’t care if Healy caught another big wave, he has done that before. This article has giving me a whole new stoked to come back to your website in search of more content like this. Thanks for posting the link on your facebook page Kyle.

    Would love to see more of there trip, is there more photos ?

  • Natasha

    Go Kyle! Thanks for reminding us that a simple change can have huge effects! Your helping us all make this world a better place! You Rock!

  • Susan

    Yay, Kyle! Yes! Keep up the great work!

  • Tonee

    Inspiring to see our youth so active!

  • Geoff

    Kyle brings awarness to those of us who would otherwise not know. A youngster who has decided to make it his life’s mission to promote awarness which then will provoke change for the better. WWKTD

  • zam

    go kyle

  • charlie

    right on kyle!!!

  • DussTinn

    Wait a minute! When did Wal-Mart move their HQ to the CN Tower in Toronto?!?!?! Does this mean the hard earned-money I drop there is being pumped into CANADA??? Now THAT will get me thinking about how/where I spend…


  • Jamie nickerson

    Kyle. You are spectacular. Keep it up

  • Peaceful Waveriders Alliance/Santa Cruz

    Kyle–Bless up. With respects to the Planet(Universe) “Man must Love his own self before he will Love thee” Thanks for rising up the Love. Peace Perry

  • sarah fisk

    Sometimes I feel like a drop in the ocean, so I love this! For this guy to be able to show us our impact IS inspiring. Cool work, Kyle – and thanks, surfermag, for printing this. Underwater Otter

  • Allison

    This is such a cool and informative video! Keep up the good work Kyle, thank you for the information and inspiration!

  • zander srodes

    Good work, Kyle! Thanks Surfer Magazine, sharing this. It may inspire other surfers, to see a cause and jump in.

  • Jaime Vlassopulos

    Thank you for covering such and inspiring surfer and message. Go Kyle!!!

  • BradleyKing

    Great article!! In the likes of Sustainable living, Kyle you are doing what many should be considering, being thoughtful of our environment and those that surround it!

    Awesome work, keep it up!

  • Pedro

    really inspiring! thanks for continuing to bring so much awareness…positive vibes!

  • Maria

    Hi Kyle,

    Good ideas and cool trips! How did you quanitfy the amount of money moved from BofA to local banks because of your campaign?

    Here is a problem close to home if you want to tackle it anytime soon. We are not using our CA forests for timber production instead we import timber from Canada and other foreign countries, both exporting jobs and environmental consequences.

    Just a thought. Keep up the good morale!

    • kyle thiermann

      I tracked the money moved through people writing me. Most of the big accounts moved were from companies. Livity Outernational for example is a clothing company who moved from B of A to New Recourse bank in SF.

  • kyle thiermann

    Thanks for taking the time to write these comments everyone. Reading this just made my day!

  • Johnny Noris

    Kyle you’re the man! Keep doing what you’re doing brotha!!!

  • j. baker

    Kyle, I’m stoked that you’ve taken this on…You are an inspiration!

  • Kim Clary

    Kyle you are ruling! We need more people like you in this world.

  • Chipper Bro

    Great work Kyle See you back soon!

  • teddy

    Great work Kyle and thanks for sharing this Surfer. I am stoked that Kyle brought banking to my attention. For years I have dreaded the thought of what BoA and ATT does with our money. It is about time that this topic be brought to surfer’s attention. (some already get it…)
    However, I totally disagree with the euphamism of “living wage.” Any company that actively pursues manufacturing overseas to escape the cost of production from the people who actuall wear their crap is exploiting others. It is NOT ok to have Lam, Pedro, Mantheesh, or Hwang make things for John, Tom, or Bill and be paid a fraction of the amount that the people wearing it would make. Have you ever asked yourself, why is this crap so expensive if Hwang is getting $40 a month? Outsourcing has lowered the cost of production, but does not lower the retail price. Profit! Bingo! Caring about others….nope.
    Plus, outsourcing has major environmental problems as well as we consume god-awful amounts of cheap (for now….just wait a few years) fossil fuels to transport the goods. Living wage or not, in the long term outsourcing does not promote sustainability or even equality. What happens when the cost of transportation is no longer feasible? Answer: job transplant to an even cheaper area.
    Believe it or not, some agencies pay equal per diem expenses independent if you are African, Asian, or American. ( Talk about equality! Yay!!
    Again, Kyle, thanks for your stoke. We need more, but always keep a critical eye on those who could be affected by your work. They may fund you in disguise.
    Nobody likes to be exploited.

  • Jennifer English

    Kyle, this is outstanding! Awesome article and you’re world change work is stellar. Really inspiring – I appreciate how you engage with work/play!