Patagonia Founder Yvon Chouinard's candid perspective on life and surf
Interview by Brad Melekian
You can’t be a happy person without using your body. That’s the reason you feel so good after surfing, even if you’ve had a shitty day.
I started surfing at 16. I made my own board out of balsa. Eventually I traded the board for a Model A Ford engine. I drove that Model A all over the place—Canada, Wyoming. It was a fair trade.
There were so few surfers. I’d drive from the Valley down to Malibu, and guys coming back from Malibu would give you the thumbs up or down. Now they give you the finger.
The surfing itself hasn’t changed at all. There’s still a wave and a board and a wetsuit. But the equipment has gotten a lot better. I used to surf Ventura overhead in February with no wetsuit, no leash, and when somebody lost their board, you’d have to follow him in and make sure he made it.
Personally, I try to lead a simple life. I don’t walk around with my hat on backward looking like a surfer. My Patagonia clothing, some of it is 20 years old. Just because I have a clothing company doesn’t mean I have closets and closets of brand new clothes.
Sure, it’s a consumer society, but you don’t have to be part of it. I hardly ever spend any money. Consumerism is just people trying to make themselves happy by consuming. And that’s wrong. Doesn’t work.
The secret to happiness is to be working at your passion. If you want to be miserable, lead a desperate life like everybody else where they drag their asses to work everyday because they hate their job.
My wife and I give 50 percent of our salaries away to charity. I don’t need the money. I don’t hang out with other businessmen. I’m a surfer for God’s sake. The only reason I hang on to this company is that I’m totally pessimistic about the fate of the planet. I feel like I couldn’t sleep at night unless I felt like I was part of the solution.
What’s wrong with just accepting the fact that there’s a beginning and an end to everything? I’m perfectly comfortable that I’m going to die.
I just live right now. You ask me about the past, you ask me about the future, the only way to be happy is to be living right now.
Everybody I know who’s studying the fate of the world is totally pessimistic. There’s no reason to be optimistic. We’re not going to get a handle on global warming, we’re way too late for that. It’s just a matter of knowing that you’re doing what you can, and so be it.
It’s not too late to start. I give talks to young people, and I can just see what’s going on in their heads. They’re thinking, “Oh yeah, when I get rich, I’m going to give a bunch of money away.” But it’s all relative. Ten dollars given away now is worth more than a hundred given away ten years from now. So you don’t have to be rich to be a philanthropist, or to do good.
I’m going to be in that seventh level of hell for using so much jet fuel. I don’t have the strength of character to say, okay, I’m going to quit traveling.
The whole history of America is you despoil your area and then you move west, right? Once you hit the bridge, you become multi-national and screw up the rest of the world. We’ve got to go back to absolute local living. You protect what you love, and how can you love something when you’re just looking for new loves all the time?