(hey, type here for great stuff)

access to tools for the beginning of infinity

"Let My People Go Surfing", a book by Yvon Chouinard

Let My People Go Surfing is a collection of memories and reflections of Yvon Chouinard, legendary climber and founder/owner of Patagonia clothing company.

Let My People Go Surfing is the history, told in first person, of an adventure lover who was accidentally converted into the much-admired businessman behind the technical clothing brand, Patagonia, that is part of the creed of many activists and mountain sports lovers in the United States.

Yvon Chouinard, grew up in California in a humble household and succeeded in converting the challenge of climbing and outdoor adventure sports into the beginning of a prosperous professional career.

Yvon Chouinard (image by Tom Frost)

Let My People Go Surfing, as unpretentious as it is an indispensable biography for who those who think that it is impossible to make money without compromising the environment or causing “collateral damage.”

Ignoring academics or society contacts, Chouinard began his private road into the business world selling hand-forged climbing pitons to friends, friends of friends and adventure lovers on the United States West Coast.

Chouinard simply stopped his old car at surf and climbing spots, during the start of the counterculture, and sold enough to be able to spend most of the year climbing the main pitches of North America, with El Capitán, in the Yosemite National Park, always a favorite.

Quality, resistance, the search for the practical, avoiding obsolescence

Quality and constant improvement of materials were the main pillars of Chouinard Equipment and Patagonia, a brand founded to make room for technical clothing that, as Chouinard personally verified, had not evolved much.

Since the seventies, Patagonia has become a successful clothing business headquartered in Ventura (California) that, despite not having the most competitive prices, uses recycled PET soda bottles to make high performance fabrics for extreme conditions, as well as jackets, shirts, pants, interior clothes and accessories that their owners use for years until, in the words of Chouinard, “until wearing it becomes a question of indecency.”

That is to say, until they become unrecognizably compromised by holes. Taking into account the destruction of the planet

Probably, as he acknowledges in Let My People Go Surfing, Chouinard would have taken his company public or simply sold it if he had not felt obliged to prove how a business can continue being very profitable without opting for the business school recipes that wreaked havoc in the seventies and eighties: competitiveness based on cutting prices and lowering the quality of materials, as well as a lack of conscience regarding the damages caused to the environment or worker communities.

Like the company Chouinard Equipment, Patagonia allowed the businessman Yvon to continue, for six months of every year, to become a wild adventurer and maintain hundreds of dependent families through the activities developed in Ventura.

The adventurous Yvon, has not stopped traveling the world since the end of the fifties, verifying without a doubt the collapse not just of ecosystems but of entire regions of the planet, increasingly more different than he had known them.

Objective: to eliminate Patagonia’s footprint on nature
Consciousness about the destruction of the planet moved Patagonia to redefine its existence.

If the firm was going to move forward, it would do it its own way. Here are the values that were defined in a company meeting in 1991 (summarized from the values of Patagonia related in Chouinard’s biography):

  • All company decisions are made in the context of the environmental crisis.  We must strive to do no harm, and wherever possible, our acts should serve to decrease the problem.
  • Maximum attention is given to the product’s quality, durability, and minimum use of natural resources, multi-functionalism, non-obsolescence, and the kind of beauty that emerges from absolute sustainability. Concern over transitory fashion trends is specifically not a corporate value.
  • The board and management (of Patagonia) recognize that successful communities interact sustainably with the environment.
  • Without making it our priority, we seek financial gain from our activities.
  • The imposition on ourselves of 1% of our total annual sales, or 10% of our benefits, as a tax to mitigate the environmental consequences that are a by-product of our activity.
  • At all levels of operation- board, management, and staff- Patagonia encourages pro-active stances that reflect our values, including the financial support for workers who, demonstrating in non-violent direct action, have legal problems.
  • In the internal operations, the business management will work as a group that encourages maximum transparency.  At all levels of corporate activity, we promote a collaborative atmosphere.

Patagonia has used large quantities of recycled plastic PET bottles to make some of their signature fleece jackets, and much of their clothing is now made from PCR (post-consumer recycled) materials.

Old Patagonia purchases can be recycled in any Patagonia store, where customers receive a discount, besides being assured of the garment’s reuse.

Patagonia was the first textile company in the world to print their commercial catalogue, sent to thousands of people throughout North America, on recycled paper.  In Let My People Go Surfing, there are many of these examples.

One Percent For The Planet

In 2001, Yvon co-founded the organization 1% For The Planet, an alliance of businesses that freely contribute at least 1% of their annual sales to finance approved and researched environmental groups and projects.

Patagonia publishes an annual report covering the many environmental and social initiatives it subsidizes.

Let My People Go Surfing has been defined by the prestigious writer and UCLA professor Jared Diamond, author of the recommendable Pulitzer Prize winning tome Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997), as:  “Here are three wonderful books rolled into one: a moving autobiography, the story of a unique business, and a detailed blueprint for hope.”

Technical Facts

  • Title: Let My People Go Surfing
  • Author: Yvon Chouinard
  • Publisher: Penguin Group
  • Genre: Autobiography
  • Pages: 272
  • Year: 2005