Sam Judd is the co-founder of Sustainable Coastlines, an organisation that works with businesses, school kids and criminals to educate, plant trees and clean up our coastlines.

1. When did you become an environmentalist?

I don't call myself an environmentalist. My grandmother used to say "be a tidy Kiwi" and "don't be a litterbug". I've never liked littering and it's not because I'm a Greenie, I'm not trying to save the whales, I'm not a vegetarian, I'm a surfer, you know. I used to fix surf boards,which is fibreglass and foam, awful environmentally. But I love the ocean and it's about creating that line of what's not okay. Littering needs to become as socially unacceptable as drunk driving or family violence. It poisons us.

2. What were your parents like?
My parents were fun people. Adventurous. Entertainers. We had Christmas plays at our house each year all the local kids would come around and turn our lounge into a stage. We lived in Wellington but we had a holiday house in the Abel Tasman National Park. Down there you have to be practical, you have to deal with food that doesn't last very long because there is no electricity. Just gas and candles was how we lived. It was such a big part of our lives, being in that spot for a month each year. It influenced me greatly in terms of who I am and what I do.

3. How did you get into cleaning up the sea?
Our co-founder James Bailey and I were on a surf trip and we volunteered to clean up the coastline of the Galapagos Islands with Ecuadorian fishermen. Five of us removed 1.6 tonnes of rubbish over eight days. No one lives there! Most of it was single-use plastic, stuff that's designed to be used once, made out of stuff that will last forever. We found marine iguanas alive and caught up in rope. Dead turtles and crabs wrapped in plastic sheeting. An intact package addressed from the USA to Costa Rica. That was my eye-opening moment. I thought, okay so this rubbish is travelling internationally. This must be happening EVERYWHERE.

Advertisement

4. How did you meet your wife, Emma?
When I was 10 or 11, I got into a team at my school for Future Problem Solving. It was a creative thinking competition; you take a hypothetical situation 20 or 30 years in the future and you come up with problems and solutions. We got to the national finals in Auckland and this team of girls were in the same hotel. It's fair to say I wasn't best friends with the guys in my team because I thought they were a bit nerdy. I guess I was nerdy too, but I didn't think of myself like that. So I hung out with these girls. We won and their team came second, and both teams got to go to the world champs in the States. And then I pashed her [Emma] in the sand dunes in Rhode Island at 12 years old. She's from the Bay of Plenty. We wrote letters; this was before email. Then I went to university in Dunedin and we didn't see each other for 10 years. I got back from overseas and she was working for the Herald actually and got in touch. "What's up?" "Oh hello, haven't seen you for a while." We hooked up again and it was almost like nothing had changed and we just got straight into it. We had our daughter, Juliette, quite quickly.

5. Could you be in a relationship with someone who drank bottled water?
I don't think so. No.

6. Do you ever feel as if you surf in a dirty ocean in New Zealand?
Absolutely. One of my favourite places to surf is the mouth of the Waikato River, it's an excellent spot but that water has an overload of nutrients in it from fertiliser and effluent - cow shit basically. I didn't feel too good for a couple of days after one of those surfs and I've got a very resilient stomach, I spent a year living in Mexico. That water has changed and I reckon that sucks.

Francis Kora and Coco, Aaron Tokona and Sam Judd collected rubbish at Piha Beach as part of Sustainable Coastlines campaign 'The Big Clean Up'. Photo / NZME.
Francis Kora and Coco, Aaron Tokona and Sam Judd collected rubbish at Piha Beach as part of Sustainable Coastlines campaign 'The Big Clean Up'. Photo / NZME.

7. Is farming the biggest problem for water pollution in New Zealand?

I would say that, overall, environmental awareness is worse in urban areas. This morning I was riding my electric bicycle along Ponsonby Rd and I had people leaning on the horn because they think that me being on the bike is going to make them 10 seconds late for work. And yet they're spewing pollution out of the SUV they're driving by themselves every day to and from the office and to the gym where they pay a bunch of money to exercise. I'm on my bicycle sucking in the crap coming out of their vehicles. And they're giving me stick.

8. What's your greatest fear?
That endocrine-disrupting chemicals that exist in plastic and other pollution will poison the food chain and create an imbalance in hormones in Juliette that could make her infertile and stop me from becoming a grandfather.

9. What kind of teenager were you?
I was a misbehaving bastard. I never tried hard at anything throughout school and university. I always did the absolute minimum. I worked full time for a year after high school and realised it meant less fun time than being a student, so I did six years of university and surfed a lot. I'm a qualified lawyer but I never worked as one. I never really applied myself to anything properly until I started this.

10. What kind of hours do you work?
I reckon I'd average about 80 hours and I get paid for 40 and it's well, well below market rates. But I enjoy getting up in the morning and getting a bunch of thank-you cards and pictures from a class of kids. That's more important to me than owning some flat. I'm unlikely to ever be able to buy a house in Auckland. I'm here because we survive on corporate relationships and this is the logical place to do that.

11. How did you come to work with offenders?
We have a collaboration with the Department of Corrections. The offenders are a group that really don't get a lot of love but they do care about the beach, they love going there just like you and I. Everyone cares about the beach pretty much. And that's why we've been able to grow from nothing to employ eight people and deliver these solutions around the country.

12. What do you think of scientists who say it's too late to save the planet?
I think that's pathetic. We know what the problems are and we know the solutions. Put trees near the water, stop letting nutrients get in there, buy organic products, stop littering. You don't need a plastic bag to line your rubbish bin - just wash the damn thing. Stop being so lazy! We tell this stuff to 5-year-olds and prisoners and journalists. We get tired of the cynical science.

Sustainable Coastlines has joined Phoenix Organics on The Love Project, which involves community riparian planting projects with the goal of cleaning up our rivers. To get involved go to sustainablecoastlines. org/events.