Russell Blackstock meets Sam Judd, the co-founder of Sustainable Coastlines, to find out how he went from a surfer to a 'trash man' and in the process found a new career.
It was a shark attack that started it all. The 3m tiger shark ripped into one of Sam Judd's legs during a surfing trip to the Galapagos Islands in 2007.
Lucky to survive the mauling - his surfboard came off even worse - Judd reported the attack, as required, to a local government official.
The official decided Judd was just the person he'd been looking for and asked the young surfer to help organise a beach clean-up on one of the islands.
Within a month Judd was not only back in the water, but he and Kiwi travelling pal James Bailey had mobilised 300 people to remove a staggering 7.5 tonnes of rubbish from the island's coastline in a morning.
From there came the idea to set up something similar in New Zealand.
The concept for the Auckland-based Sustainable Coastlines charity, of which Bailey is now chairman, was formed over a few shots of tequila in a bug-infested house in the Galapagos.
Five years on, the 28-year-old eco-warrior has no regrets about turning his back on a lucrative career as a lawyer to, instead, clean up New Zealand's world-famous beaches on the smell of an oily rag.
Now the events director of Sustainable Coastlines, Judd regularly clocks up working weeks of 90 hours-plus while travelling the length and breadth of the country.
Staff at Sustainable Coastlines have worked with around 18,000 volunteers to remove more than 100 tonnes of rubbish from beaches and talked to more than 24,000 school students over the past three years.
Judd and his three fulltime workers take home less than the minimum wage but he doesn't regret his career choice after gaining two degrees, in politics and law.
The son of a former New Zealand diplomat, Judd was not brought up to be a "trash man", as he describes himself during talks to schoolkids.
But, like the rest of his team, he feels that mucking in on the beaches is more rewarding than having a high-flying career.
"We are all highly qualified people and we are not doing this just because it is providing jobs for us," he insists.
"We like to surf, dive and fish. We are simply very passionate about what we do and want future generations to be able to do the same."
He adds, with a grin, "Anyway, I'm sure this is much more fun than being a lawyer and I also get to wear Jandals and shorts to my work."
Wellington-raised Judd first felt compelled to do something about coastal pollution when he witnessed "mind-boggling" piles of filth on the beaches of Mexico while there on exchange through Otago University in 2005.
As a youngster, he had formed a strong bond with nature during long summer holidays with his family at a remote part of pristine Abel Tasman National Park.
He was appalled at what he saw overseas. "Every summer, my family used to stay in a converted railway carriage in the park that had no electricity and my two brothers and I were in bare feet for a month every year," he says.
"It was idyllic, so when I saw the mess on the beaches in places like Mexico and then Chile I was shocked.
"It just seemed so wrong but, at the time, I didn't see what I could do about it. I also had no idea that the problem was getting so bad in New Zealand."
After Galapagos, it took Judd eight months to get home in 2008, hitching his way back across the Pacific on yachts.
After a stint diving for sea urchins in Northland, his dream of organising beach clean-ups at home became a reality when he persuaded 700 people to pick up almost 3 tonnes of rubbish from Great Barrier Island the following year.
"We raised $40,000 within five weeks and that enabled us to charter two big ferries to get the volunteers over there."
Still skint and sleeping on a mate's couch, Judd took a further 18 months to secure enough sponsorship and funding to go fulltime.
These days, he doesn't just like his work. He lives it. He stays in a converted warehouse on the fringe of Auckland's city centre that also doubles as the Sustainable Coastlines headquarters.
"We renovated the interior using materials we got from demolition sites and the place now has four bedrooms, a large living area, office, a nice garden and plenty of space to keep our equipment.
"But we do draw the line at storing rubbish there. That would be a step too far, even for us."
Sustainable Coastlines was given another boost by teaming with the Herald on Sunday for the paper's Beach Busters campaign, aimed at getting all of New Zealand out cleaning beaches this summer. "The response from the public to the campaign has been fantastic and people have been coming out to help in record numbers," Judd says.
Judd's powerful eco-message has recently become that bit more personal. He and his partner, Emma, who is another member of the Sustainable Coastlines crew, are due to have their first baby in June.
"This has given us an extra incentive to carry on with our work as we want our kids to enjoy our lovely beaches," he says.
"More than 80 per cent of our work is spent on education and it is the children we need to teach to look after our coasts and about how we can responsibly dispose of our garbage because, unfortunately, most of the rest of us seem to be too stuck in our old ways."
The organisation's long-term goal is not to simply keep picking up more rubbish off beaches, he says. "We have to start tackling this massive problem at its source."
YOUR CHANCE TO WIN BIG
Win a camera every week
Take a photo of your friends or family cleaning up your favourite beach and go in the draw to win a Sony Cyber-shot TX10, valued at $649.95. With an Underwater Sweep Panorama function and 16.2 Mega Pixels you'll be able to take stunning underwater photos, as well as crystal clear shots on land. We have one camera to give away every week for the next 10 weeks to the person who takes the best photo, as judged by Herald on Sunday illustrations editor Chris Marriner. Five runners-up will each receive a copy of the book Beached As - New Zealand Beaches Then and Now by Craig Levers.
At the end of our Beach Busters campaign, the overall winner will receive a grand prize package comprising:
* a Sony Tablet S valued at $749.95
* a dive, snorkel or sightseeing trip for two to the Poor Knights Marine Reserve courtesy of Dive! Tutukaka
* $400 worth of clothing from surf label Sitka.
Entries close each week at Friday noon, and the winning photo will be printed each Sunday. So get snapping, and email your best shot as a JPEG to firstname.lastname@example.org with 'Beach Busters' in the subject line. Make sure you include your name, address and daytime phone number. Include a caption giving the place and full names of the people in the photo.
Please see terms and conditions at www.nzherald.co.nz/HOScompetitions. APN New Zealand reserves the right to store electronically any pictures entered in the competition and to use the images in any of its publications.