Thursday, July 24, 2008

Book Review: Let My People Go Surfing

Book Review: Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard

I picked this hardcover up recently at Chapters in their discount area (for a paltry $5.99) and really, really enjoyed it. It's the story of Yvon Chouinard, avid outdoorsman (climbing, surfing, fishing) who went from being a vagrant climber to the reluctant business owner of Chouinard Equipment (which later became Black Diamond) and Patagonia (the makers of high end outdoor clothing). It is the story of a boy from Quebec who never sets out to do anything except escape to the outdoors for fun and how he eventually becomes the owner of one of the most ethical companies in the world (Patagonia). I found it fascinating from beginning to end.

There's a little bit in this book for everyone. There is the classic "poor boy gets accidentally rich" storyline. There's also the "little company does the right thing and is still successful" storyline which describes Patagonia's attempts to become environmentally responsible, before such phrases as "environmental" were even part of our vocabularies For instance they were the first company in the world to commit to changing their cotton clothes (non-organic cotton is produced with so many toxic substances it's not funny) over to organic cotton - they had to almost create the industry out of nothing! Lastly, there is the story of how their company has made a difference by contributing large amounts of their profits to small lobbyist groups which has resulted worldwide in thousands of hectares and many sensitive habitats from being compromised by industry. All of this is pretty inspiring stuff.

If you have ever shopped at MEC, pretty much everything ethical that they do was pioneered by Patagonia. Chouinard is honest, he knows that Patagonia, like all businesses pollutes the environment. But unlike most companies, reducing that pollution is in the founding principles of the company. Chouinard comes across as authentic; he really puts his ethics above making profit and this is a rare thing indeed. The book chronicles the development of Patagonia's principles and gives concrete examples of how they can be applied in almost any environment. The title refers to one of the principles; employees who work for an outdoor company need the flexibility to take time off during the week to enjoy the outdoors. Thus, employees at Patagonia have a set number of hours to work - but they can work them around good surfing, fishing, etc. This inspires huge loyalty among the workers which further increases productivity. There are many cases like this strewn liberally throughout the book.

In the end I was left with a question: Why can't all companies and organizations be as ethical as Patagonia? What's stopping my workplace, my camp, my school, my household from doing the same things. Let My People Surf is not only a biography of a man and a company, it's a challenge to do the right thing and reduce our harm to the environment and people we work with. An excellent, enjoyable, and easy read. 4.3 ninja stars out of 5.


amanda said...

Hi Mark,

I represent Timex Expedition and recently came across this article in which you discuss Yvon Chouinard's book, "Let My People Go Surfind." I am writing to introduce Return to the Outdoors, a joint endeavor with the Conservation Alliance to inspire Americans to get outdoors and reconnect with nature.

I’m hoping you might find this mission – and some of the initiatives Timex is launching to support it – compelling enough to share with your readers:

We’re producing a series of short online films featuring iconic outdoorsmen from their favorite wild places, with hopes of inspiring viewers to spend more time outdoors and raise awareness of the Conservation Alliance’s mission to protect outdoor spaces. I invite you to check out our latest film, which features environmentalist and author Yvon Chouinard, founder of Chouinard Equipment, Patagonia and One Percent for the Planet, fly fishing and discussing his love of nature at a secret lake in Argentina.

I also invite you to check out our other videos: our first film features mountaineer Conrad Anker discussing some of his earliest memories from Wyoming’s Teton Crest, and our second film features Steph Davis base-jumping in southern Utah’s canyonlands.

Our hope is that viewers will be inspired to share their own experiences with others at our website (

The best viewer entries will be voted on, and the most passionate outdoorsmen will be rewarded with an all-expenses-paid outdoor adventure vacation for two. We will also be rewarding finalists with great outdoor watches from Timex Expedition, and outdoor gear from The North Face, Camelback and Ahnu Footwear - just for their love of the wild. Prizes will be given away every two weeks through the end of August.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on the films, and certainly welcome and appreciate your interest and support for this important cause. Please feel free to share your own outdoors experience with us if you'd like to try and win one of the prizes, and please tell your friends to join too!

Thank you, in advance for your consideration.


Mark said...

Um . . . thanks Amanda, I'll check it out.