Interview: Jaimal Yogis
Photos: Ryan Craig
As much as we might like to, we can’t all be super environmental activists saving the seas from encroaching coal plants and pulp mills. But all of us have to go to the bank. Santa Cruz surfer Kyle Thiermann realized this and made a film about how where you bank can directly affect the water where you surf – and much more. I caught up with Kyle recently in his hometown. We shot some hoops and chatted about his new film project, Claim Your Change. Check it out. It might just change where you stash your cash.
Jaimal: So you’re a student Kyle?
Kyle: I’m just completing my first year of a Bachelor’s program at Gaia University.
How old are you?
Wow, and you just made your first surf film. Can you talk about what “Claim Your Change” is about?
Claim Your Change is a four minute youtube video about how you can support your community and stop destructive projects, all at the same time. It shows how banks use our money to fund projects all over the world. I documented an example of this by going on a surf trip to Chile where a coal plant is being proposed in a surf town and being funded by Bank of America.
How did this get started?
Basically it got started because I feel like there are a lot of things going on that make people feel pretty helpless, and depositing our money in local banks instead of big national ones is one thing that people can do that makes a real difference in their community. Banks use our deposits to fund projects so we can stop destructive projects and fund good ones—all in one move. I was really interested because it was a way for the average person to become hugely effective. I thought that people would care if they could see the results of what their money was doing, so I went to Chile to show the effects of a project funded by Bank of America.
How did you make Claim Your Change actually happen?
I wrote a grant to the Chris Carter Foundation, who was a surf writer who went on to create the X Files. I thought his foundation might be interested and they were. I got the grant and I went to Chile with Ryan Craig who is a professional photographer from Santa Cruz. I heard about this coal plant that was proposed to be built in Constitution Chile. I learned that Bank of America (B of A) is funding AES Gener, which is the energy company proposing this coal plant down there. The whole local economy is going to get destroyed by this coal plant because it’s a fishing community and the coal plant is supposed to get built on the beach, which also has really sick waves that are going to be polluted. Coal is the largest air polluter in the US and the largest contributor of mercury contamination worldwide so it makes the fish too toxic to eat.
Since the project needs money to be built and it gets its funding from B of A, I knew that getting people to withdraw their deposits would be one way to have the project lose its funding. And I thought that people would want to do that if they saw the destruction they were causing – and the good things their local banks are funding that they could be supporting.
So you found that out when you were down there?
I knew about the coal plant but going down there still had a big impact. I could see all the locals were against it. Local fishermen took us down to the site of the coal plant when they found out about this project I was doing. There was so much awareness – even little kids. The impact will be huge – It will totally ruin this whole town. It’s different to see that directly than to read about it. That’s why I wanted to show it in a quick movie, so people could see what they’re money’s doing – and the power they have to do something different.
How were the waves?
It’s undiscovered perfection. It’s the first time I’ve ever rolled up to a place off a dirt road and surfed perfect waves with no one out. It’s pretty much like Santa Cruz 100 years ago but the waves are better, left point breaks, really long left point breaks, and really long barreling point breaks. Dave Rastovich was down there last year because he’s trying to raise awareness about the coal plant, too.
Have activists like him had any success in slowing the project?
The project got approved but lost partial funding so AES is trying to get the rest of the funding for $1.3 billion. It still has a chance to be stopped. If Bank of America backs out that will make a big difference. Bad publicity for AES Gener and for the bank are both things that help stop it.
Has the video had much impact?
Yea, so far just from the video coming out, I’ve documented $400,000 dollars coming out of centralized banks like B of A and into community banks – which is $4,000,000,000 worth of lending power for the bank. There’s a surf company called Livity Outernational who have committed to moving millions out of out of B of A into San Francisco’s New Resource Bank as a result of it as well. They’re one of my sponsors and they’re really conscious. All the rest of my sponsors like Patagonia and Sector 9, they’re all supportive of the project.
Where has the $400,000 come from?
Surfers who have gone to the website claimyourchange.org and watched the video and written in, and that’s only what’s documented so it’s probably much more. And then all that is multiplied times 10 so it’s a lot of lending power.
Must make you optimistic about activism.
Yea, I love going on sick surf trips and doing something bigger and me. That’s what I want to do with my life. Have a relaxed lifestyle, surf, travel and do projects that benefit more than me.
It would be cool if my project inspires someone else to go follow a dream or do a project that makes a difference in the world.
Any memorable moments from the trip?
The day this local Rodrigo took us to the site of the coal plant is pretty memorable. I’d read about the place, and we had to hop this fence, and it looked like Big Sur, so insane, and we were filming, and I was like this is a really bad place to put a coal plant and it hit me: AES really doesn’t care, and B of A really doesn’t care what they’re funding. It’s pretty crazy that the coal company can come in and build this plant wherever they want when all the locals are against it and it’s going to destroy their main source of income and all the marine life for miles.
So what happens next?
This coal plant is just an example of a larger issue that we have the power to dictate where our money goes. We have the choice to know where our money goes. Bank of America is the largest funder of coal worldwide, or you can have your money go to a local bank that is staying in your community. Like New Leaf Market in SC is made possible by local banks, and on my website, surfingforchange.com, there’s info on how to find a local bank.