Ten years ago, Jeremy Godo Kiss was trekking down a dirt road in Malibu Canyon, searching for rocks to climb the way any adrenaline junkie might.
It was then, as he walked down that nondescript path, that he had an epiphany.
“I saw a piece of trash,” he says. “And I was like, that’s filthy. People are so filthy. And all of a sudden I thought, who the hell am I? I just walked right by and didn’t do a thing. And that was the last time I did that.”
From then on, Jeremy became the guy who collected discarded plastic bags floating atop the ocean and stuffed them into his wetsuit before he caught a wave. He and longtime partner Michelle Gierst became increasingly conscious of the environment and the distress humans put it through, and they started brainstorming at the kitchen table, toying with ideas for ways to stem a surging tide of pollution and environmental degradation.
Then, in 2009, they watched The Cove, a documentary film that exposes the cruelty of dolphin hunting practices in Japan, and their latent passion came to a head. Both Jeremy and Michelle are avid surfers and stand-up paddlers. Jeremy owns Olympus Board Shop on Torrance Blvd., and was one of the first local retailers to stock stand-up paddleboards; Michelle teaches yoga classes on stand-up paddleboards in King Harbor. Each has always felt an immense love for the ocean, so The Cove came as something of a personal affront.
“The whales can’t speak for themselves, the dolphins and sea lions can’t speak for themselves. The ocean cannot say, ‘Help me, I’m dying,’ and yet that’s what’s happening. The ocean is dying,” Michelle says.
She and Jeremy resolved then and there to invest more energy into ocean conservation and marine life protection. Between them they run five businesses, but still they made time.
They organized a small-scale beach cleanup and several fundraisers to make money for big, well-known 501c(3) organizations like Sea Shepherd and Heal the Bay. But they still felt something was missing.
“We were like, ‘Wait. Nobody’s really paying attention in our own backyard,’” Michelle says. “There are some really awesome non-profits along the coast but none at the base level of the South Bay.”
That was a pivotal moment and an exciting realization for Jeremy and Michelle. They put together a calendar featuring bikini-clad waterwomen to fund their own organization, and last year they successfully registered Beyond the Shore as a non-profit.
Of the name, Michelle explains: “Most of us are landlubbers and don’t see what’s past the sand or beyond the shore. We want everyone to start looking. The world looks different from the ocean.”
They are firm believers in Jacque Costeau’s theory that people protect what they love; that the more time people spend on or in the ocean, the greater their appreciation and respect for it.
They want to get kids out on the water – “We want the kids living here to appreciate the ocean but we also want to bring that awareness further inland because impact comes from there, too,” Jeremy says – and conservationists into the classrooms. They want to establish multiple Beyond the Shore chapters.
First and foremost, though, they want people to be more conscious of the way their every action impacts the environment and in particular the ocean.
They want a consciousness that persists after the thrill of a one-day beach clean-up wears off.
“We’re all reaping the benefits of the ocean, whether it be getting our product freighted over from across the sea or whether we’re snorkeling in Hawai’i or surfing the waves today or have a strange desire to eat an urchin – whatever the case, everybody is benefiting from it but nobody is giving back to it and eventually the well’s going to run dry,” Jeremy said. “That’s the goal is to start bringing the message right to the local communities, into small little networks of people that care instead of waiting for Heal the Bay to do their harbor clean-up, because that’s just not enough.”
To raise the profile of their modest organization and to increase awareness of ocean conservation, Jeremy, Michelle, and about 10 other volunteers are organizing a festival at Seaside Lagoon.
Scheduled for Oct. 13, the festival will feature a world record attempt at the largest SUP yoga class ever convened – the target number is 250. Beyond the Shore has already applied for a code from Guinness to record the greatest number of people practicing yoga on stand-up paddleboards in the same place at the same time.
The festival will also feature a 4.5-mile SUP race, a relay race, and a kids’ race, plus lunch sponsored by Cantina Real and a smattering of booths staffed by organizations working toward ocean conservation.
For more information, visit beyondtheshore.org and to register, visit http://www.paddleguru.com/