Today is International Surfing Day. For this holiest day, we had a good talk with Dimitar Atanasov, the head of the Sofia chapter of the Surfrider Foundation Europe. Dimitar Atanasov is what you would call a cool guy. Surfer, activist, chilled dude, professional… The kind of person you would like to spend more time with rather than less. Wax your board up, bring a basket, we’re going on a surf and save the planet. At the same time. While doing a double-barrel.
Plan A: Aloha Dimitar, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. We really appreciate what you do for the planet. How’s the swell in Bulgaria?
Dimitar Atanasov: Well, it’s not really a swell. The Black Sea has a pretty closed basin, so most of the waves actually appear because of the winds and we always hope for their right direction. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have good conditions. Especially when storms are getting up in the deep sea. So no matter the chopy conditions there is always somebody hitting the highway to the coast. You know, “surf is where you find it”.
How did you end up at the head of the the Surfrider Foundation Bulgaria? Can you tell us a bit more about this organisation?
I was born on the coastline and lived half of my life there. My grandfather was a fisherman, so my family lived out of the sea. But these days sustainable relationship with it was really coming naturally. I finished university and was looking for a job in the communication field, so I ended up in the capital of Bulgaria – Sofia. But there was this moment in my life when I started to feel the lack of the sea closeness and I realized that I need to reconnect with it.
I knew that my heart was always within the salty culture and I really should give back to the ocean. So I found the Bulgarian chapter of Surfrider Foundation Europe in 2010 and started volunteering for the organization by adding a whole new sea – the Black Sea. The new chapter Sofia was created with a bunch of friends keen to protect, surf and enjoy our precious big blue.
What actions does the Surfrider Foundation take and what is it trying to achieve (in Bulgaria and worldwide)?
Surfrider Foundation Europe which our Sofia chapter is part of is bringing the protection of the ocean, waves and beaches to a whole new level. As a typically grassroots organisation established and moved by its volunteers it has always counted on their force on the field to raise awareness about all the threats our oceans are facing today.
The whole idea of Surfrider Foundation actually started in Malibu, California where a group of surfers were trying to protect their local spot from the industries which have contaminated it. Spread worldwide now the organisation has a variety of activities from lobbying to change EU laws and regulations to educational lessons with pupils to help to build their right behaviour towards the ocean.
Several projects have been executed in Bulgaria following our Surfrider European campaigns, most of which were connected to the major problem of our oceans – marine litter and more specifically plastic pollution.
Why do surfers love the ocean so much? Is this different from other disciplines or do you find similar attitudes in other sports and activities?
Most of the water sports disciplines have something in common – the direct touch with the powers of nature. What every surfer finds in the ocean is the relationship with it. I’m sure that some of us don’t even realize they are becoming one and the same with the ocean. And only when ones gets to that very condition could really feel the love for the ocean and the sport. Our playground is actually the most precious resource on our planet but also more than 70% of it. In every drop we drink, and in every breath we take, we need water. Isn’t natural to fall in love with it?
What is the biggest challenge for our oceans today?
Plastic pollution. More than 8 millions tonnes of plastics are dumped into our oceans each year. Living in a society which consumes way more than it needs brings our nature into trouble. The biggest part of the marine litter comes from land. Some of it remains there as tiny little pieces of microplastics but the rest gets eaten by marine mammals through which plastic return into our plates. We should ban single-use plastics wherever possible to stop the problem at the root.
As a surfer, do you see an evolution of the state of our oceans?
Unfortunately, it’s getting worse. We often surf between plastic bags or oil stains and we are getting afraid of what the consequences for our health could be. For example, there are many cases of people who got sick because of surfing in the Atlantic ocean after rainy days. The climate change on the other side is bringing the challenge with sea level rises that we still can’t realize as surfers but people living on the coastline already feel.
What do you love about the ocean that makes you want to stand up for it?
As I already mentioned it covers more than 70% of our planet and it gives the most precious resource of our life. It’s so part of us that we can’t live without it. The ocean is so powerful that it is really a challenge to go along with it but at the same time is so vulnerable that it needs our care. We have to save it for the next generations to surf and enjoy it.
What’s the coolest surf story you’ve got?
Ooh, dude, they are even more than the actual surfing. I remember when we were kids. No one knew what is this surfing, except for windsurfing. We were wondering how is possible to have these giant waves and how they could be ridden. No one has any buck in his pocket, nor any access to a surfboard. So we tried to ride whatever possible. I recall my first board and the only one common thing with a surfboard was that it came from a cupboard :)) – it was actually a door, heavy as hell and absolutely not floatable. You can imagine what was surfing for us with such kind of tools. It was equal to diving :))) But that was many many years before real surfing started for me.
What would you say to young aspiring sustainable surfers to get them to protect their planet?
Keep the relationship with the ocean as balanced as possible because our playground deserves it. Try giving back to the ocean by raising awareness about his vulnerability and the source of life it is for many of us. Ban single-use plastics, buy local and sustainable goods. Drink your beer in a bottle or reusable glass. Surf more and spread the love to the ocean!
Dimitar comes from a seaside family. From his grandfather’s fishing to his surf passion, the Atanasov have love of the ocean embedded in their blood. He’s helped create the Bulgarian chapter of the Surfrider Foundation Europe back in 2010 and is now leading the charge against plastic. There’s not much that he loves more than the Sea he grew up next to.