It all started when
A friend sent me an Instagram post. It was Tre Packard of Pangeaseed Foundation, diving with sharks, and the post described the #ThisFirst contest that Volcom had just launched. The contest was looking for people with a passion, and Volcom wanted to give people with a passion the opportunity to make it happen.
I didn't really give the contest a lot of thought, and let the video fall back into my inbox. A couple days later, I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, and figured this contest was as good a way as any to spend my time during a slow summer. I spent a little time writing the submission and attached one of my best photos: a turtle with several fish surrounding it in Cozumel, Mexico. And I again let the contest slip into the back of my mind.
About two weeks later, I was a finalist. A couple weeks after that... I'd won!
I was one of fifteen global winners chosen out of 10,000 entries. I was going to Volcom headquarters in California and the adventure was just about to begin. The four other US winners met us there, a cliff jumper, an artist, a break dancer, and a music journalist.
So I went. It was crazy. We were surprised with unspeakable amounts of silly string upon entering the headquarters and greeted by the CEO of Volcom remotely from France. It was ridiculous. They told us that the contest was more of an opportunity for us to have our passion enabled. For Volcom to assist in the achievement of your wildest goals.
Naturally, I wanted to get underwater.
A few weeks later, I was headed to the southern part of Baja California in Mexico for Environmental Defense Fund, where I had just started an internship as an Ocean Communications Intern. I managed to tack a trip to Cabo Pulmo National Park on to the tail end of the trip. Volcom would up sending a videographer and who else but Tre Packard, the very reason I entered the contest.
We met up at a bus stop in the desert that was more of a parking lot with a convenience store on a scorching day. The thermometer in the bus I rode in reached 49°C or 120F as we crossed the cactus filled wastelands. Heat was a consistent theme of the trip.
After turning onto a dirt road and driving for about 40 minutes, we reached Cabo Pulmo. We were itching to jump in the water, as we'd both heard amazing things about the local wildlife. Unfortunately Tropical Storm Franklin had other ideas, and nixed our first dive day. Leaving us to sleep off our travel in our beds, too wiped out by the heat to do much else.
We made it in the water on our second day, after a dicey entrance where a truck put our boat into the water in a way that can only be described as "shoved and ran."
Our first dive made the whole trip worth it.
We were initially pretty disappointed with the poor visibility in the churned up waters, but about halfway through the dive, we struck gold. I was a bit behind Tre and our guide, photographing the reef when I realized that they had shot off ahead of me swimming hard. As I looked up, Tre turned and waved me over really fast. I swam up and saw a young male whale shark loom out of the blue-green water.
During every dive we encountered biomass and biodiversity unlike anything I've ever seen. In the first 14 years of the park's protection, biomass (the amount of life in an area) within the park increased 465%. Protection has continued for another 7 years, and biomass is sure to have climbed even higher since then.
Cabo Pulmo is one of the best success stories of conservation in the world. Protection can result in overwhelming recovery and positive change like this in other places if it is well enforced and respected by those around the park.
In September, the rest of the #ThisFirst crew assembled in Austin, Texas to celebrate the contest and meet each other, many for the first time. The Volcom crew turned out in large numbers, and a short documentary about our time and journeys was shown alongside an exhibition of work from the few months that we’d all been working on our various passions.