CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF SURFERS AGAINST SEWAGE
"The great thing here is that we all share the common deep blue thrill of the ocean; we’re surfers, we’re environmentalists, we’re marine fanatics, so everyone here shares that passion for our coastline."
Since Hugo Tagholm took over the reigns at Surfers Against Sewage in 2008, we’ve seen the country sit up and not only take note of the plastic pollution that is invading our coastlines, but take action. From presenting the first Global Wave Conference in Newquay last year to protests at Parliament, Hugo has channelled his passion for protecting our seas into effective and affecting campaigning that has been as informative as it has been touching. We’re excited to introduce Hugo as our inaugural Guardian of the Sea.
Tell us about your role as Chief Executive at Surfers Against Sewage
I really have to be a jack of all trades. We’re a small but influential organisation so my job is about connecting with people and empowering my team to do what they need to protect our oceans. That goes from working with my campaigns team on big campaigns issues to working on a conservation, grassroots level, helping mobilise thousands of volunteers around the coastline.
I do a lot of fundraising; people often forget that charities need that income to create the best possible job to protect our waves, to protect our beaches, to protect our wildlife. So I have to run around to create the right partnerships, create the right projects, to make sure we do the best possible job to protect our beaches for everyone.
The great thing here is that we all share the common deep blue thrill of the ocean; we’re surfers, we’re environmentalists, we’re marine fanatics, so everyone here shares that passion for our coastline. Once you’ve got passion, I think you can achieve anything.
What does your typical day look like?
Each day is A-typical! My time now involves a lot of travel. In the last two weeks I’ve been in San Sebastian in Spain, Brussels, London, Newcastle - running around seeing our partners and supporters, building and maintaining those really important relationships.
But typically my day can range from anything like being on the beach removing litter with our volunteers, right through to sitting in parliament talking to ministers and politicians, calling for the changes we want at the very highest level - on water quality, on marine plastics, on protecting sites of special surfing interest, so it keeps me on my toes!
I can’t say I just sit in front of a computer screen necessarily all day long, which is great. And hopefully since we’re based on this beautiful headland here in Cornwall, I can go surfing from time to time.
I always encourage my team to keep reminding themselves of their passion for the sea – to go surfing and make time to do it as it’s a great motivator.
So building on that, where is your favourite beach or seascape in the UK?
There is so much variety from big rugged, sweeping beaches to tiny wooded coves. We’re very lucky to have so much. For me, my favourite wave is probably nearby here actually, Droskyn (in Perranporth). I’m goofy footed and I love the wave there at a certain tide, but it would be wrong for me to say which tide...
I am by no means an amazing surfer, but you don’t have to be an amazing surfer to love the sea as much as the next person. It doesn’t matter whether you’re surfing on massive waves or just beginning, you can have equal amounts of love for the ocean – it seems to answer a wanderlust people have. It’s a great place where you can be truly disconnected from the world but totally connected with nature.
Do you think that connection with nature was something that brought you to SAS?
I was always an environmentalist and nature mad as it were even before being a surfer. Since my very early days I was fishing around in rock pools, waist deep in ponds, excited about anything I could catch.
I had a room full of natural history artefacts and animals since I was a young kid. I was also really big into sport – not just water sports, but swimming and running and all sorts of things – so surfing fused those two things and led me to see other environments.
What would you say that we can do as a population to help protect our seas on a daily basis?
I think the biggest mistake that surfers can make is assuming that they are an environmentalist because they go surfing. Because they’re in the environment that is surrounded by it they think that their job is already done, but actually we need to use it as a catalyst to take action. Taking action is the most important thing - actions can be very small but very powerful.
So whether you want to join a beach clean and take direct action to clean up your beach and remove plastic from the environment, or if you want to sign up to understand more about water quality issues, get free real time alerts at your favourite beach and use that to help you talk to your local politician or lobby government – or even lobby your water company – those things are really important.
Who would you say your guardian of the sea is?
There’s no better communicator for our seas and our natural world than David Attenbourgh. In terms of cutting away or through serious science, fostering general public awareness and being able to really communicate its importance powerfully. I think that most brands organisations and charities that are working around the environment would really recognise him as an amazing ambassador for our natural world.
It’s great to see brands like Finisterre and Bureo skateboards taking or preventing marine waste from entering the sea and creating really useful products from it – upcycling these materials so we don’t trap these plastics in the environment, we trap them in the economy. Businesses are now seeing that there is an economic reason to follow that route because customers and people want to see products with integrity, with morals and values that they believe in; something they can pass on to their children, to their grandchildren and future generations.