For those in the surfing world, Southern California native Strider Wasilewski is nothing short of a living legend. A child prodigy who made a career out of riding some of the biggest waves in the world, he’s still living his dream as a commentator for the World Surf League. He’s also a successful entrepreneur, having founded the eco-friendly sunscreen company Shade.
To us, Strider embodies what California is all about: a passion for nature, a respect for one’s environment, and a drive to create products that are additive - not polluting - to our quality of life. Here, he shares some lessons he’s learned on his journey growing up on the mean streets of Venice to raising a young family in Malibu.
You often speak about learning to stick up for yourself as a kid. What was your childhood like?
I went from patent leather shoes and limos in London to welfare and government housing in Santa Monica. I learned to defend myself because the neighborhood [along with Venice Beach, it was nicknamed “Dogtown,” the birthplace of skateboard culture] was a crazy place in the late Seventies and early Eighties. But the beach was free, so my brother and I would wait for surfboards to wash up and we’d ride them until the surfers came running back out to claim their boards. That led to competing, and at one point I landed on the cover of Surfer magazine. Quiksilver then sponsored me to surf around the world; it was a crazy 20-year run.
How did you land your gig as a WSL on-air commentator?
Well, at first, they told me they were done hiring. So I told them they were missing something. I said, “Look at your crew. Which one of those guys actually looks like a surfer?” I knew I could do the job, but I wasn’t really proven as a broadcaster. But I guess I did a good job, because here I am five years later.
What led you to found the sunscreen company Shade?
I’d never found anything I really liked as far as a great sunscreen that performed well for what I did, which was spend four hours at a time in the water. It’s all reef-safe and humanely and carefully made. Our signature product is expensive because it’s hard to make, but our only by-product is a grain of sand.
In what other ways is the company eco-conscious?
We will be completely sustainable with our packaging by 2020. There’s so much waste and excess in the world, so the goal and should be 100 percent to create something sustainable if you are going into business. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
As someone who spends a ton of time in the ocean, you see first-hand the effects of climate change. How has the ocean changed?
Climate changes are pushing the seasons into different time frames, some almost two months later. Our jetstream used to go straight over Alaska and now it’s come down over Northern California, so there’s a huge difference in weather patterns. We’re gonna have a lot of rain for the next five years. Everything in nature goes in cycles but our habits as humans are also eating away at the ozone layer.
You surfed for Quiksilver for 20 years, then worked there as a marketing executive. What did you learn about the apparel industry from that experience?
In the surf industry every quarter there’d be a whole new line and they would try to predict what would sell, then whatever didn’t sell they’d offload to outlets. Now a lot of customers are pre-booking. The business environment has changed – it’s not just about making money. In the beginning [Quiksilver] was cool and small and fun but as they grew they were just trying to keep up. Now you can keep up in ways that are better for the environment, like taking unused products and recycling them.
Do think your job would have been different had social media been around in the Eighties and Nineties? How do you think it’s changed the game?
Social media is the number one outlet for everything good and bad. Media itself has been that for a long time, but social media is a much better tool to get your word out there. I know a lot of people are over it, but you can use it to spread a good message.
Do you find it challenging to raise a family in today’s world?
Being a parent is the hardest job I have ever had. I try to lead by example. If you can teach your kids how to better people and push on happiness and create a well-mannered human… it makes the world not seem so heavy.
What do you enjoy doing most with your kids?
We go outdoors and skate or snowboard on drop of a dime.
I have opportunity to take them with me around the world as I work so that opens up their scope in a great way. It shows them that this is our world and we need to take care of it.
How do you raise your three sons to be responsible global citizens?
The ocean will teach you respect the minute you go into it.
That’s where I learned patience and respect. My kids love the ocean and they know if they throw trash in the street, it will go out there. When they see other people doing that, they go, “Hey, that’s going in that drain and it’s going to end up in the water.” It’s pretty amazing to watch.
Why do you choose to call California home?
It’s a place where you can have everything from my perspective. From snowboarding to surfing to skateboarding, everything is right at your fingertips. Plus L.A. is an amazing melting pot. I don’t know anywhere else in the world that is so compressed but where you can also do so much.