Yvon Chouinard is as weathered and wise as the rock faces he climbs. In his book, Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, Yvon says, “Real adventure is defined best as a journey from which you may not come back alive, and certainly not as the same person.” That sums up Chouinard’s life thus far quite well.
I had the pleasure of meeting Yvon at a screening in New York for the film, 180° SOUTH: Conquerors of the Useless. His ‘aw shucks’ and unassuming demeanor puts you immediately at ease, but his overall intelligence and environmental genius make you want to get up and positively start to impact the world immediately. The film is a beautiful depiction of Jeff Johnson retracing the epic 1968 journey of his heroes, Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins to Patagonia. You can read more about my review of 180° South in a previous post, here.
“Along the way he gets shipwrecked off Easter Island, surfs the longest wave of his life – and prepares himself for a rare ascent of Cerro Corcovado. Jeff’s life turns when he meets up in a rainy hut with Chouinard and Tompkins who, once driven purely by a love of climbing and surfing, now value above all the experience of raw nature – and have come to Patagonia to spend their fortunes to protect it.”
It’s is more then well worth watching if you haven’t already been fortunate enough to have seen the film.
In A Word, an essay Yvon wrote with Tom Frost in 1974, he describes climbing and the impact it has on the rocks and environment. “As we enter this new era of mountaineering, re-examine your motives for climbing. Employ restraint and good judgment. Remember the rock, the other climbers — climb clean.”
Chouinard got his start climbing at age 14 as a member of the Southern California Falconry Club, training hawks for hunting. He is far and away a self made and self taught man. He started climbing more and noticed that the multiple daily ascents caused wear and distress on the rocks. Yvon wanted to come up with a better way to leave less of a mark while climbing. After meeting John Salathé, a Swiss climber and Swedenborgian mystic who had once made hard-iron pitons out of Model A axles, Yvon decided to make his own reusable hardware. In 1957, he went to a junkyard and bought a used coal-fired forge, a 138-pound anvil, some tongs and hammers, and started teaching himself how to blacksmith.
Yvon isn’t one of those who lectures about the importance of keeping our environment safe and then hops in a Humvee and zooms away. Not only does he really care, he’s backed it up time and time again. In founding his own company, Patagonia, where, from cotton, Yvon moved to what happens in Patagonia’s name in every step of the supply chain, from crop to fabric to finished garment. Patagonia learned how to make fleece jackets from recycled plastic bottles and then how to make fleece jackets from fleece jackets. Yvon also donates his time and resources to films like 180° SOUTH. But Chouinard doesn’t stop there. He went on to found an organization called 1% for the Planet, which helps businesses sustain the environment as well. Yvon is an intelligent, forward thinker who truly can and has made a huge and extremely positive change for the environment. To Yvon, there is a simple way to help with environmental awareness and caring:
“Kids today have nature deficit disorder. We raise our kids afraid of everything – justifiably in some cases – which creates an estrangement from nature. I think the problem with getting Americans to focus on saving our planet is that they have no experience in nature and you know, you protect what you love and they don’t love nature.”
However, it isn’t only children we need to worry about. Other people, especially businesses should be aware of the impact they have on the environment. A decade ago, Chouinard founded 1% for the Planet with Craig Matthews. Their mission is to, “build, support and activate an alliance of businesses financially committed to creating a healthy planet.” They have just celebrated their 10 year anniversary and more than $100 million invested in positive environmental change by their member companies. You can watch the promotional video here.
Yvon says, “Evil doesn’t have to be an overt act; it can be merely the absence of good. If you have the ability, the resources, and the opportunity to do good and you do nothing, that can be evil.” Chouinard is a one-of-a-kind hero for the world. I admire him greatly. He’s far from finished and the legacy he’s left thus far could draw a stone to tears. Yvon makes my heart happy. He’s worth getting to know. Read Yvon’s fascinating story.