South African surfer Frank Solomon is best known for his full-throttle, wave-wrangling ways. But facing off with the globe's most life threatening waters isn't the sole target of this the man's fire. In 2018, the "Let's Be Frank" star launched nonprofit Sentinel Ocean Alliance (SOA), providing ocean education across the shores of his home country.
As of late, the Hout Bay Foundation has served as a platform for the surfer to educate communities about another global beast -- plastics. With the same ferocity he brings to water, Solomon and SOA join Plastic Free July -- and join the international demand to put a stop to single use plastics.
Solomon hadn't given much thought toward plastic one way or another. Then colorful pieces of microplastics began speckling the sands of his homebreak. To say he was bummed would be an understatement. The microplastics -- tiny pieces of partially broken down plastics -- continued to show up after each significant swell and the recurring phenomena sparked a vendetta in Solomon.
Jumping into action, he knew there was no better place to kick-start change than with his ocean education foundation. In a country with a flourishing plastic production industry, the challenge was daunting, but the waterman knew there was no alternative.
After shunning the classic single-use plastics like coffee cups, water bottles, plastic wrap, grocery bags, and patronizing environmentally-aware local businesses, Solomon sought to educate the next generation in communities across South Africa. With some key support from his friend and big wave surfer Greg Long, SOA partnered with Parley Ocean Alliance, kicking off a series of collaborative projects including the Parley Ocean School and community events to teach the "whys" and hows of abandoning these hazardous modern-day conveniences.
"Awareness is the key to creating behavior change. So we use our immersive programs to try and get the kids to love the ocean and form a connection with it. Then they will want to do everything they can to protect it," Solomon told the WSL. "In South Africa, everything comes in plastic packaging. So we need to try and find other places to shop, and support smaller, local businesses that are trying to make a difference."
Microplastics, which begin as bags, bottles, and larger plastic objects before becoming degraded, are now the most prevalent debris in all oceans and Great Lakes (2021 NOAA). They threaten marine and wildlife, which can lead to the disruption of the food chain and resource depletion caused by kinks in nature's system of balance and homeostasis.
But as disheartening as the microplastic situation is today, Solomon remains hopeful.
"The problem is definitely getting worse, but I have also seen the effort a lot of businesses and organizations are making to reduce their plastic footprint," he says.
Solomon is not the only guy in the water who has been disheartened by the debris floating by in the lineup, washing up on shores globally.
The month of July is dedicated to change through Plastic Free July - an international push towards sustainability. SOA, Parley, Kokua Hawaii Foundation, Surfrider Foundation, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, and environmental warriors across the world are flocking to local beaches, the waves of social media, and everywhere in between, linking up to raise awareness about reducing our plastic consumption. Plastic Free July is also the impetus of over 200 events including SOA's July 18 Mandela Day beach clean up. Joining the sustainability push is open to anyone who wants to partake and can be as simple as tagging #PlasticFreeJuly when you make a reusable, earth-friendly choice.
"This planet should really be called Planet Ocean, not Planet Earth. We are all connected to the oceans, and the oceans connect us with each other. Just because we can't see all the plastic filling it up, doesn't mean it is not there. This will really take a concerted, global effort to fight for our oceans and conserve life on our planet," Solomon says. "Every second breath we take is generated by the oceans, yet 10 million tons of plastic waste end up in the ocean each year. The oceans are the lungs of our planet, yet we are treating them as a rubbish dump."
As a pro surfer, the ocean is Solomon's office, his playground, his backyard, the source of countless moments of thrill, elation, pride and terror. It's a foregone conclusion that the sustainably-minded surfer is set on conserving this resource -- and the environment in general -- and hopes Plastic Free July may light that same fiery drive in others.
"We need to try and rethink the way we see plastic. Only nine-percent of plastic worldwide gets recycled. Recycling is not the answer. We try to implement the Parley AIR Strategy of Avoiding plastic wherever possible, intercepting it before it reaches our oceans, and redesigning the way we live and the materials we use. This is how we can try to make a difference to our planet," Solomon adds.