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More Surfers Are Striving to Save the Planet...One Bite at a Time

"I'd rather eat life," Woody Brown, the 1950s big-wave pioneer, once proclaimed. He was the inventor of the Hobie Cat and a lifelong vegetarian who surfed well into his 90s. Nat Young, meanwhile, the 1969 World Champ, championed the Country Soul movement: a generation of lithe, long-haired leaders of the single-fin era duly munched macrobiotic food through the 1970s. In the 80s, Aussie tube guru Jim Banks shunned carcass in a quest for tube time and enlightenment, finding both in abundance.

John John Florence of Hawaii celebrates becoming a 2X World Champion at the 2017 Billabong Pipe Masters.  Florence dreamed of winning a World Title in Hawaii and that dream became a reality today when he backed up his 2016 World Title which he won in Port Lentil burgers are on him. WSL / Kelly Cestari

So what does all this have to do with today? Consistency, for one. 21st century surfers of note are still championing their own specific diets. The difference is that the modern medium, Instagram, means you're likely seeing that tempeh satay before your favorite surfer's stomach starts getting to work on it.

And yet for all the virtue signaling of some of our most revered and talented wave riders down the decades, it would appear that ubiquitous on-demand digital programming, and more specifically, Netflix, has been the chief agent of change. We are of course, talking about Cowspiracy and What The Health, two recent documentaries that have perhaps launched more aversions to eating animals and drinking their milk than anything else in history.

Whether or not you're buying into all, some or none of the claims made by recent studies into the nutritional benefits of shunning flesh, the eco-credentials of a plant-based diet are much closer to achieving a scientific consensus, if such a thing exists.

A wholly plant-based diet reduces our ecological footprint, and then some. In fact, enough carbon offset to, say, pursue a career flying around the world chasing swells and World Tour points.

And while freesurfing and herbivorous diets have long seemed idealogical bedfellows, for competitive Tour, ahem, animals... not so much. So let's hear from a few such folk whose surfing credentials -- wherever you stand on their diet choices -- are well beyond doubt.

Kelly Slater
Remember the cereal scene from Kelly Slater In Black & White? Well that was a long, long time ago. "I haven't had milk for 20 years now," Slater said recently in a video Q&A. The GoAT continued, "I'm actually working my way in that direction (going vegan)… I was brought up lots of meat and dairy, and the more I research it... I was aware of the pollution it causes and environmental problems, but health-wise, just for your own health, it's much better just to eat live foods, whole foods, plant based foods. I hope to be vegan one day."

John John Florence
"I've become increasingly aware of food and its effects on the human body. All signs point to the idea that a plant-based diet is far superior to that of high animal-product intake," the now two-time World Champion said in 2017. According to his post-heat interview at Trestles during that successful World Title defense last year, John had gone vegan as part of his preparation. Whether or not he's continued in his 2018 quest for the three-peat isn't currently a matter of public record, but like Slater, the two-time world champ is certainly showing the intent.

Jack Freestone & Alana Blanchard
2017's Men's world #30 Jack Freestone and former women's Championship Tour surfer Alana Blanchard -- not to mention, new parents to Banks Harvey Freestone -- have both gone on record advocating flesh-less feasting. And sure, it might be more practical and almost certainly more yummy to be plant based on the tropic isle of Kauai than somewhere considerably colder, grayer and more likely to induce mid-winter comfort-food yearnings, Alana cites compassion as one of her motivations. "One of the reasons I am vegan is because I love animals so much and could never even imagine hurting one," she said via social media. In today's nutrition-fixated food scene, animal welfare is almost retro in terms of reasons for not eating animals.

Tia Blanco competing in the Port Stephens Toyota NSW Pro pres. by Newcastle Airport. Tia packing a punch Down Under last fall. WSL / Ethan Smith

Tia Blanco
Blanco finished 48th on the 2017 Women's QS and is perhaps the highest-profile vegan on any of the WSL Tours, advocating a plant-based diet through social channels, including her own YouTube cooking channel. Being regularly and tirelessly outspoken on the topic itself is no mean feat, something that requires, if you'll pardon the expression, a leather-like hide. Blanco, however, appears blissfully unfazed, and is surfing better than ever and progressing toward her goal of CT qualification. She told Teen Vogue last year, "I feel really great eating a plant based diet and love the way it makes me feel physically and mentally… The most impactful thing you can do for the environment is to eat less meat and more veggies." Here are three ways to go vegan, according to Tia.

Nikki Van Dijk (AUS)  placed 2nd in  Quarters Three at Women's Maui Pro 2017 in Honolua Bay Nikki in action in Maui. WSL / Damien Poullenot

Nikki van Dijk
The coral reef at Cloudbreak probably isn't in the crosshairs of the meat, egg and dairy lobby as a known agitator for veganism (until now), but in 2014 it became a contributing factor -- at least, indirectly. After hitting the bottom during her heat with Bianca Buitendag in the Fiji Pro that year and receiving 16 stitches in her face and plastic surgery, the Aussie regularfoot adopted a vegan diet cleanse to kickstart the healing process. She told the Weekly Review, "After that I thought, ‘Hang on, I do not need anything in my body that doesn't need to be there… . Since that day I've never looked back. I have never felt better.'"

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