Captain Liz Clarke
Author, Swell: A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening
Interview by Maranda Pleasant
A surfer and environmentalist, Liz Clark has been solo sailing the seas on her 40-foot sailboat, Swell, since early 2006. After college, she turned her dream of sailing the world into reality, sailing south from Southern California through Central America and the Pacific Islands. For more than a decade, she has earned recognition as a surf adventurer, environmental activist and captain representing conscious brands and living sustainably. She has created a sustainable way of life using Swell as her floating home and transportation. During the voyage, Liz committed to drastically reduce her daily impact on the planet by eating only a plant-based diet and minimizing waste wherever she can. Solar and wind power provide her electricity. Weather, swell and tides dictate her days. Liz’s voyage in Swell isn’t just a surf trip—it’s a lifestyle, passion and search for better ways for humanity to inhabit our shared planet. She hopes to inspire people to live their passions and reconnect with nature and our inherent oneness.
Maranda Pleasant: We’d love to hear about your solar and wind power on your boat.
Captain Liz Clark: Sure, I have a solar panel array on my aft deck that is attached to a pole and adjustable to the direction of the sun with two 85-watt panels that have supplied my electricity for over 10 years now! There is a bracket on top of the pole where the wind generator is bolted, which also helps provide my daily energy needs. Having both is great, because often you have either sun or wind, not both. The panels and wind generator are hooked into my battery bank, which stores the energy they produce and makes it possible for me to have lights and a water pump, run my little refrigerator, charge my computer, run electronics like my GPS and depth sounder, and things like that.
MP: Why is environmentalism so important to you?
LC: I’ve loved wilderness ever since I was a kid. It’s where I feel most inspired and connected to divinity. After living so close to nature for over a decade, our deep connection to the ecosystems that support human life feels very real to me, and so I know that protecting them is important for our survival. But protecting and respecting the natural world also feels like protecting something that’s divine and sacred. I’ve been so blessed to be able to live out my sailing dream and see so many amazing places, that I feel a responsibility to share my observations and passion for protecting these places. I feel there is much deep knowledge about ourselves that we have lost access to in our modern lives. I’ve only tapped the surface through my lifestyle. The Earth and its oceans have given me so much that protecting the environment and helping inspire people to reconnect with nature is a natural priority in my life.
MP: As a surfer, and someone so connected with the ocean, tell us what we can do to protect the ocean.
LC: Reducing our plastic use, especially singleuse plastics, is really important, but I would say the biggest thing people can do for the oceans and the planet is to eat less meat and dairy products. Reducing the consumption of animal products in general has the biggest positive impact on our oceans that one person can make simply by changing a habit. Animal agriculture is the least talked about, but hardest-hitting industry on our oceans; combined, it releases more of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change and ocean acidification than the entire transportation sector combined—about 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Runoff from fertilizers and pesticides used to grow the feed crops, along with huge amounts of animal waste from factory farms, which contains the antibiotics and hormones they are fed, all end up in our rivers and oceans, causing dead zones and pollution along our coasts and in lakes and rivers. From all my research, I believe that choosing to eat more organic, plant-based options has the biggest bang for the buck if you want to do something to help our oceans!
MP: As a surfer and athlete, can you tell us how your diet has affected your mind, body and performance?
LC: Changing to a plant-based diet has had incredibly positive effects on my body, mind and heart. As soon as I stopped eating dairy and meat, my persistent acne disappeared, my nagging injuries seemed to heal miraculously, and I had more energy on a day-to-day basis and more endurance—both mental and physical. My lifestyle and trying to make a living along the way are taxing, and I felt that this change in diet gave me a whole new rush of vitality at a time I was feeling really worn out by all of it. Both my parents have now switched over to eating plant-based; my dad has cured his heart disease and my mom eliminated some digestive issues she’d been plagued with for years. They are both loving it! It’s awesome to see their bodies changing like mine did and finding a weight that’s so much more natural. It’s amazing, because I eat a lot and it’s so interesting how my body has adapted and feels so much more in balance than before. I can eat and eat vegan food, and my body weight hardly fluctuates. As a surfer, I feel lighter and more resilient. And as an animal lover, my heart feels so much better not participating in the cruelties of the animal husbandry industry anymore, too. I feel an equality with all species that feels good and right.
MP: What do you respond when people ask you where you get your protein from?
LC: I tell them that there is much more protein in plants than they think. I give them examples of protein-packed plant-based foods. I tell them that gorillas, elephants and bulls are all vegan too, and that we’ve all bought into a myth about needing to eat meat and dairy for protein, but that actually our bodies function way better without them.
MP: Tell us about this crazy, amazing journey. What countries have you sailed through? And was there anything particularly magnificent that stood out in your 20,000 miles logged?
LC: Well, I sailed through Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Galapagos Islands, French Polynesia and the Republic of Kiribati. I went looking for perfect waves, and found lots of them, but I also learned about myself and my connection to spirituality. I met people from all over the world and learned from their perspectives and cultures. I saw that there are so many other ways to live and think and that we are free to choose. My priorities changed; my values changed. I learned to celebrate experiences, not things, and bonds and connections with people versus the amount of waves surfed or miles logged at sea or things I could list on a CV. I discovered that our only limitations are the ones we put on ourselves, and that a life dedicated to personal growth and staying in tune with your heart will be full of rewards and surprises. There was a magnificent day recently when I heard a mother and baby humpback swim by my boat at anchor. I slipped into the water and swam into the middle of the bay and waited. About 20 minutes later, the baby came up right below me out of the depths and did a circle around me so close I could have touched her. Mama was just below surveying it all. I’ll never forget that moment and the trust that we all shared in that experience.
MP: What is it like traveling the world in your home?
LC: Traveling by sailboat is full of high highs and low lows. There are the awesome moments when you’ve made it through a long passage and you arrive to a new place with your home and it’s so fabulous and exciting! And then there are the moments when there’s no safe place to anchor or you’re trying to sleep and the wind comes up and you have to move in the middle of the night. It’s lots of work and constant vigilance and fatigue and uncertainty, but traveling on your own wits, in your own home, is a pretty cool way to see the world! There have been lots of times when I thought I didn’t have any more strength left but dug deeper and found more—like a storm I got caught in where I didn’t sleep for three or four days in a row and had to fight my way upwind to my destination.
MP: Why is it so important for us to learn to be conscious consumers, especially now?
LC: It’s so important because it’s the greatest power we have to create positive change. It’s like casting our vote every single day for what kind of world we want to live in. By supporting companies that are making sustainability a top priority, doing research to understand the implications of our purchases, and sometimes spending a little more to make socially and environmentally conscious purchases, you are simultaneously shaping a better world and being part of the greater movement for positive change. It’s so important to the world, and for me it’s also super important for staying positive and boosting my morale in a time when things often feel overwhelmingly upside-down.
With more than 20,000 nautical miles logged to date, she’s recounted her global voyage in Swell: A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening. Beautifully illustrated, inspiring and occasionally harrowing, Liz writes about leaving the safety of shore and following her passion.