A Mini Simmons Made Of Masks? - Stab Mag

A Mini Simmons Made Of Masks?

Vote The Ocean x 1 Planet One People x Red Bull are making it easy to be an ocean conservationist.

news // Dec 11, 2020
Words by Zack Raffin
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Vipe Desai is fighting the good fight.

The man is literally on the front lines, testifying to Congress in support of ocean conservation and coastal community protection both across this country and across the world. On top of his numerous other roles throughout ocean-centered organizations, Vipe founded Vote The Ocean, which is currently doing some sensational work, including collaborating with the Environmental Voter Project to get 528,155 people who had never voted registered and voted before election day.

One of Vipe’s current and most unique fundraising efforts comes in collaboration with founding member of 1 Planet One People, Ryan Harris. Ryan’s factory, in which he builds boards for his label Earth Tech Surfboards, is the first zero-waste surfboard factory in the world, which is highly reflective in this project. Ryan has figured out a way to repurpose the extremely high volume of reusable masks that are finding their way into our oceans to create a functional Mini-Simmons. Ryan and Vipe are auctioning off the board with all proceeds going toward Vote The Ocean. They have also partnered with Red Bull on the project, who have generously pledged to match whatever donation figure they reach. We decided to give Vipe a call to hear about how this all came about and find out more about the unique board. 

Stab: So I see you are a man of many hats, working with a variety of non-profit and environmental fronts both in advisory roles and on the front lines. Could you give us a rundown of how you got involved in ocean conservation?

Vipe Desai: Look, at the end of the day I’m just a surfer. I grew up surfing and I got the opportunity to buy a surf shop back in the early ’90s, which is what really propelled me into the kinds of things I do today. I just wanted to surf and own a surf shop, and here I am now, working in a variety of institutions that want to protect our economy and our environment. And it all started because it protected my passion and stoke for surfing.

I got to serve on Surfrider Foundation’s board back in the day and really see how these organizations operate and how they are channeling their passion. Without a healthy ocean, the surf industry doesn’t exist—that’s a fact. We’ve seen it with the economic effects of surf tourism resulting from oil spills and other pollutants. From coastal business owners to real estate developers/agents, everything in these communities revolves around the beach. Protecting the ocean shouldn’t be an issue, it shouldn’t be divisive, it should be something that we all work towards because it benefits everybody. 

Where was your surf shop?

H20 Surf and Snowboard Shop in Sunset Beach California. I owned it for almost nine years from 1990-1998. We were one of the first shops to carry Volcom and ran the H2O Winter Classic, which was a one-day snowboard one day surf event. We’d throw concerts in between and had everyone from Pennywise to Blink 182 play. We were doing cross-disciplinary action sports events before the X-Games.

And what led you to start your own nonprofit in Vote The Ocean?  

I worked with nonprofits for almost 2 decades. Having been given the opportunity to serve on multiple nonprofit boards, I learned quite a bit, and one of my main takeaways was that while these organizations are doing amazing work, there is a lot of missed opportunity due to a lack of business background. Without that, it’s hard to understand where that white space is—where they can be more effective. I tried to move a lot of their philosophy, but it’s hard to change a nonprofit. They’re not organically meant for innovation, so I decided I would start Vote The Ocean as a way to bring in these out of the box ideas and draw attention to protecting our oceans. 

We want to be an on-ramp. We want to get more people tuned in to how they can protect our oceans and then guide them to these other organizations who are doing the real work day in and day out.

Amazing. So then how did you hook up with Ryan Harris of Earth Tech Surfboards?

Ryan and I met a couple of years ago at Vote The Ocean’s annual Rising Tide Summit, where I bring in roughly 150 decision-makers to talk about ways we can be better about ocean conservation. Someone told me about Ryan and some of the technologies he had going at his factory, and after a little more digging I was blown away. First off by him being an African American surfboard shaper, then by all of the innovative ways he was thinking about building surfboards. He really wants to break the mold of surfboard building. He and I eventually got together to talk about all of what he was working on—he walked me through his entire zero-waste surfboard factory, and it was clear that this was the exact person I needed to speak at my summit. 

When Ryan started 1 Planet One People with Selema, Hunter, and Danielle, I had the pleasure of talking to Ryan and advising him on some of what this space is like. Then he decided to make these boards and auction them off for different non-profits and draw attention towards causes that we want to advocate for. He loved what we were doing at Vote The Ocean and all the projects we’re working on, as they’re completely different than what any other organization is doing And that’s when he said, “Hey, the guys at Red Bull approached me and said they loved what w’ere doing with this board and they want to match the donation number.” For me, this was a really cool full-circle moment because I was one of the first guys to launch Red Bull here in the U.S. back in 98’, with them being a client of our marketing firm. The people at Red Bull have always been phenomenal to work with, and when I asked if they wanted us to put a cap on their donation match they said, “Make us write a big check,” and so here we are. 

Wow, that’s amazing to hear. Do you personally have any Earth Techs in your quiver? 

I do have one. I sold a couple old ones and Ryan shaped me one earlier this year. You know its funny, I have my favorite dimensions off the Curren 6’6 Black Beauty. I actually have four of those in my quiver, identical, and so I had Ryan replicate it and it turned out great!

What can you tell me about the board’s construction that you’re auctioning?

You’ll have to ask Ryan to get all of the technical details but I know he took an old soft top from the trash and used that as the core. Then he added masks, straws, carbon strips leftover from his factory, he really left nothing to waste. Even the leash string was made from the strings on the masks themselves, everything was scrap. That’s one of the coolest parts of it to me.

You mentioned how Vote The Ocean is working on projects “differently” than everyone else. Could you touch on that and describe exactly what new ways you’re getting people to answer the call of Ocean Conservation? 

Like I mentioned before, our Rising Tide summit was a big step in solving the collaboration issue. A lot of these major non-profits don’t work closely together, despite them working on the same issue, largely due to them being so competitive for donor money. Our summit has been effective in bringing these groups under the same roof as the donors and business owners to work together to solve these issues. Secondly, we decided to launch a brand with a licensing partner that will donate 100% of the proceeds to Vote The Ocean. Enabling a licensor to support ocean conservation through our organization helps us raise both awareness and funds without the overhead involved in running a brand, which allows us to put that money right back into the hands of those doing the work in the form of grants. 

So this raffle is supporting Vote the Ocean, partnered with both Red Bull and 1 Planet One People, and the board itself is entered into Vissla and Surfrider’s Upcycle Contest. How does it feel seeing so many organizations come together to promote issues of climate change such as this? 

It’s phenomenal. Seeing all the people and organizations who have come together for this initiative is truly amazing. I’ve been involved in ocean conservation for 20 years and remember the folks from Surfrider coming into my store and telling me what they were doing and asking for prizes to raffle off. Looking back, if you told somebody you were going to a beach cleanup or a meeting to talk about clean oceans they’d tag you as a hippie. Now, all these years later, if you’re not doing something to support this cause you’re the odd one out. What’s happening right now with Vissla and Surfrider and Red Bull and Ryan with Earth Tech, the stars are lining up for this movement and I love the excitement. 

Amazing talking to you Vipe. I’m sure if someone told you 20 some odd years ago when you had your shop that you’d be testifying infront of Congress you’d call them crazy!

Oh, absolutely. I look back on it now and I can’t believe that I’ve gone from that surf shop owner who was a happy camper just getting to be around what I love, to now dressing up in a suit and tie a couple times a year and heading out to DC to work on these issues. It’s a really unbelievable experience.

Click here to enter to win the Vote The Ocean x Earth Tech Eco-Board! Period closes November 6. 


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