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Hugo Tagholm: The Campaigner

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hugotagholm
campaigner

Leader of national marine conservation charity, Surfers Against Sewage, Hugo Tagholm shares what’s motivated him to spend decades campaigning for clean oceans

'The huge diversity of life in what is effectively one ocean is endlessly brilliant and breath-taking.'

Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) was founded in 1990 as a single-issue pressure group, campaigning on the issue of sewage being pumped into the sea. Surfers were at the sharp edge of the impacts of that pollution. We were getting sick from surfing in polluted waters, so the organisation was formed. 

We’ve had great successes on water quality over the last 30 years, and have now evolved into a broader marine conservation and campaigning charity, also fighting on other environmental issues from plastic pollution to climate change.

I joined SAS a year after it formed and became chief executive in 2008. I’m so proud to lead the charity and grateful to be able to work on issues that combine my passions for people, planet, sports and the environment. I have a deep affection for the ocean. It’s a nexus for all I love. As an environmentalist, it is the ecosystem that most captivates me. The huge diversity of life in what is effectively one ocean is endlessly brilliant and breath-taking.

'surfing is more of a spiritual pursuit than a radical sports pursuit... it's a powerful metaphor for life.'

As a sports enthusiast, the ocean is where I spend some of my most meditative and fulfilling time. And as a parent, watching my son with that gleam of contentment shining in his eyes when he’s in the ocean is just incredible. And this all stems back to my connections as a boy, finding creatures in rock pools, and riding my first waves.

In many ways, surfing is more of a spiritual pursuit than a radical sports pursuit. Every surfer has to find their own perfect wave and set-up; it’s a powerful metaphor for life. Pursue what makes you tick, find your perfect. It’s such a motivator for me. And a great leveller.

© Kelvin Trautman
'You have to believe you can create the change you want to see.'

As a campaigner, you have to be optimistic. You have to believe you can create the change you want to see. I believe that we can deliver a thriving and protected ocean, with an active community of people around it. We are a charity for people and planet. We also have to have the courage to campaign knowing that you might not get to see the fruits of your labour. You have to be comfortable being a step in the journey, a cog in a struggle that’s larger than any one of its constituent parts.

You have to believe in what you do. You have to be tenacious. You have to have grit and determination. You have to have a thick skin. You have to be a good communicator who can radiate your passion to the world and empower others to help you on your journey. You can’t do it all yourself.

'It’s time for #GenerationSea to rise and restore planet ocean.'

I’ve had to sacrifice so much for the cause – the endless travel, the sleepless nights, the loss of time spent with my wife and son. And I’ve sacrificed many surfs to do the work I do. I regret missing time with my family, but I know they are proud of me for what I do.

Looking to the future, SAS has exciting plans for a new marine-protected areas campaign next year, and some new work on the relationship between climate and ocean, and the impacts on surfers and other ocean users.

Watch this space. It’s time for #GenerationSea to rise and restore planet ocean.

Head to the SAS website to discover how you can take action with Hugo.