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Big Waves, Bigger Mission

It’s true: CLIF Bar athletes are among the best in the world in their individual sports. They’re dedicated, hardworking, and insanely talented. But they’re also deeply passionate, not only about their adventures, but about giving back and using their voices to help make the world a better place. In October 2018, CLIF Bar is extending the CLIF CORPS program to our athletes, giving a handful of our athlete ambassadors the ability to support a nonprofit cause they’re aligned with and believe in wholeheartedly. Welcome to the first in a series of stories around how our athletes are making a difference in the lives of those around them.

For the past 10 years, big wave surfer and environmental activist Greg Long has worked with Wildcoast, a San Diego, California-based nonprofit working to conserve coastlines, islands, lagoons, and oceans. The organization works internationally to protect coastal and marine ecosystems and wildlife, from establishing marine-protected areas, to putting a stop to overfishing and deep-sea mining, to supporting sea turtle nesting beaches and much, much more.

Long, who grew up in San Clemente, California, talks about how he first connected with Wildcoast. “About 60 miles across the border is a very pristine stretch of coastline,” he says. “I’d been surfing out there with my brother and close friends when we showed up one day, and there was a bunch of land surveying markers around. We came to learn about a liquid gas terminal that was proposed to be built out on this headland.”

Long teamed up with Wildcoast to raise awareness and start a protest campaign to preserve that bit of Baja coastline. Although they lost the battle, he says the experience sparked a long relationship and led to other conservation efforts. “It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed as an individual that you’re powerless against these corporations or these developers,” he says. “But as long as we’re unified in one voice and one front, and we utilize the legal resources and channels that organizations like Wildcoast have created, we can stand up and put a stop to those things we feel are unjust to the environment, and to our ocean and marine life, on which we are interdependent.”

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The 32-year-old now works with Wildcoast on a variety of fronts. “A lot of it is awareness to the public that these threats are taking place,” he says. “And Wildcoast runs a number of different programs to get kids immersed in the ocean to get them familiar and passionate and in love with the sea. Because without that love and that connection, people aren’t going to want to do anything to protect and preserve it.”

Long’s connection to the ocean started when he was two years old, standing on the beach in Baja with his family. “I just remember this sense of awe and wonder at the vast blue water and the sound of the waves and the birds,” he says. “I remember these beautiful white sand dunes, giant Cardón cactus forests, birds diving through the lineup, a plethora of fish, seals.”

“That sense of awe and wonder and inspiration that I derived from that experience as a kid shaped so much of who I am and the decisions I’ve made in life, and they’ve been a guiding light,” he says, “And to me, that is what Wildcoast is about, protecting those magical places and keeping them for the future.”

Long explains how Wildcoast helps create the connection between local communities and their coastlines, a connection he calls “imperative.” In early 2018, Long joined Wildcoast and the nonprofit Native Like Water to share his love of the ocean with indigenous youth in the San Diego area. The kids got their hands wet (literally) by playing with marine life and doing science experiments in the San Diego Bay, and then exploring the marine-protected area of La Jolla before learning to surf in nearby waves ... with Long as their world-class teacher.

“I’ve spent the better part of 15 years traveling the world and challenging myself against some of the biggest waves I could possibly ride,” says Long. “You spend enough time in the ocean,” he adds, “especially in circumstances like that—it’s ultimately one of the most humbling places in the world—and you think about what this whole crazy pursuit of life is about.”

Long will be donating money to Wildcoast as part of the CLIF CORPS program. “What if we protected our coastlines and wildlife instead of trashing them?” asks Long. “That’s what Wildcoast does.”

“Being a CLIF CORPS athlete allows me to push and challenge myself within my sporting discipline,” says Long. “But more importantly, give back and contribute along the way as I do so.”