João de Macedo – the international surfer with an ecologic purpose for the Azores and beyond

Save The Waves Coalition hosted a five island tour to present The Azores Save The Waves
Film Festival. João de Macedo, international surfer, Save The Waves ambassador, and World
Surfing Reserves Co-Founder, has been working with the organization in the Azores to learn
more about the significance of surfing in the area and how to utilize the power of surfing to
protect coastlines and ecosystems. He was interviewed during his trip and shares more about
his background, his thoughts on conservation, and how integrating surfing into protected areas
can support long-term protection in the Azores and beyond.

Can you tell us a little about your life as a surfer and your work around surfing?

Surfing for me has been my way of life since a young kid, and it’s amazing to be able to do it
professionally as well as establish a surf school. I helped with Save The Waves events when I
was in California, and that’s how I got involved with the whole Save the Waves family back when
the World Surfing Reserves project was being created. The professional side of surfing is what
brought me here to the Azores in terms of exploring new big waves here and trying to find the
potential of new unsurfed waves. The nine islands in the middle of the Atlantic is this frontier of
a lot of unknowns. There are a lot of local community surfers that already have a couple of
breaks that they can go to, but there’s endless potential here and the connection here to the
harbors and the sailing community and diving is really amazing.

Why do you consider searching out waves and surfing big waves important?

I think as surfers, we just gravitate towards that experience of being with friends and sharing
uncrowded waves, being out in nature and just having that opportunity to find a different wave
and a different place. Coming from Portugal and having been abroad a long time, it was
something that brought me back home to think about finding new waves in Portugal and being
part of that and pushing that. It’s something that’s really exciting, that uncertainty around finding
a new wave and the search that comes with it, and just the blessing of being in these beautiful
places that are completely immersed in nature, and then that we immerse ourselves in nature
by being here. It’s just this really giant blessing to be a part of all that.

Can you tell us more about conservation and the surfing communities in the Azores?

Yes, surf conservation in the Azores is full of potential. It’s something that is an amazing
contribution surfers and surfing can give, and I’m really honored to be part of the Save The
Waves team to bring that here, bring that knowledge, and bring the science that needs to back
our decisions.

Can you speak about the variety of waves and wave difficulty in the Azores?

Over the years, exploring here in the Azores and the friends and the surf communities that I’ve
met with, it’s been amazing to just see this diversity of waves that exists and the challenge. In
one place, you can have a really radical slab and then you can have a soft, nice beach break
somewhere else. Then you can have a place that gets a small swell, but really close to the
rocks. This is one of the really amazing things about the Azorean surf experience: it’s a little bit
unexpected. You can’t come with too high expectations, but then suddenly you can catch an
absolutely world class wave, and I think that’s amazing.

Can you tell us what you think the role of surfing is in conservation?

Surfing, I think, really has a huge role and environmentalism, and I’m really honored to be
brought back into the Save The Waves team and learn so much more about this continual effort
to refine what surf conservation is nowadays. Surf conservation is a new concept which
probably has been around for ten or maybe fifteen years tops. Then you have the Surf
Protected Area Network program that Mara Arroyo established and this new wave of surf
conservation is really exciting to see how it works, to see the seeds that are planted for more
vast areas. So the Azores are really a huge opportunity. There are many waves spread out
throughout the islands, and the World Surfing Reserves program wasn’t really prepared nor
equipped as a Save The Waves program to help this area continue to leverage surfing, and the
attraction that surfing has in the global surfing community, that isn’t always consistent. It has
some world class waves, but other areas are more family-oriented waves that are consistent.
So this mixture that the Azores has, this huge diversity of waves is something that couldn’t really
be captured or honored by the World Surfing Reserves program. It was really interesting to learn
about these new tools that have been developed and see how well they match here and how
cutting edge the Azores is from an ocean conservation standpoint. We still, as surfers, have a
big role to bring the community together and help the community learn and understand more
about the existing tools. In this case, in the Azores, the amount of marine protected areas that
exist, the amount of national parks and state parks that exist here, and just the amazing amount
of conservation tools that already exist, can be used to protect these areas. And I think the
surfing community can be a good bridge through sustainable tourism to actually help use these
tools so that it isn’t something that is only one siloed piece of the conservation puzzle.
Conservation involves people. It’s something that we’ve been discussing at a lot of the
workshops here, and it’s a really important theme. It’s a theme that everyone at Save The
Waves believes in.

Why do you think conservation of biodiversity matters for our communities?

I think conservation in this day and age is a survival mechanism, so I think it really is protecting
ourselves and protecting our future, protecting our families. And when we protect the places we
love, we’re protecting ourselves, so I think that’s all we have to do.

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