Rob Caughlan is a surfer with a cause. He has dedicated his life to trying to make the world a better place. As a high school student, Caughlan began to develop a passion for the ocean along with the beauty and health for the environment through surfing. While in college and working for the school paper, the seeds began to sprout with the words from a life directing interview he conducted with Captain Jacques Cousteau.
“I asked him if he had any advice for young people who wanted to help protect the ocean,” Caughlan recalled. “He [Cousteau] said,”Yes! Don’t follow gurus like me. Go out and do it yourself.”
For more than four decades, Caughlan has continued to nourish the quote, given life to it, and made it his life mission. His life’s work has been focused on saving endangered wildlife, reducing motorcycle fatalities, and championing environmental protections.
As an activist, Caughlan co-founded Friends of the River, a conservation group dedicated to preserving California’s rivers. The purpose of the organization is to change public perception about what rivers mean, as not just a resource to be exploited, but a treasure to be enjoyed.
The Surfrider Foundation, founded over 30 years ago by a group of surfers who wanted to protect the ocean they loved, elected him to be the first president of the organization. His leadership resulted in continuing in the position for six terms. During his tenure he acted as their plaintiff and won the largest victory for clean water in American history.
Over the course of his life, Caughlan has worked tirelessly to promote and elect politicians invested in sound, productive government. He has collaborated with U.S. Presidents, congressmen, and average citizens in advocating, creating, and promoting legislation and law supporting environmental issues. In addition, Caughlan has brought recognition for corporate leaders making commendable efforts and achievements for the cause.
Rob Caughlan agreed to an interview with Christina Gregg for The Desert Pulse regarding his documentary–“Pete McCloskey: Leading from the Front.”
Rob Caughlan (RC): When I was president of the Surfrider Foundation we got into a fight with two paper pulp mills that were polluting the ocean. With Pete’s [Pete McClowskey] crucial political and legal assistance, in 1990 we won the largest clean water victory in American history. I realized that someone should tell Pete’s story.
CG: What is your hope for this documentary? What is your overall message?
RC: Pete is a great example of a true maverick. My hope was to show that politicians are NOT all alike. Voters make good choices sometimes.
CG: How did you meet Pete McCloskey?
RC: In l967 I was a political science student at San Francisco State College. Pete was running for Congress in my home town. He was a war hero that was speaking out against the war in Vietnam. I shared that feeling and volunteered to walk a precinct in his campaign. Pete was a Republican. My Mom, a good Democrat, thought I had gone over to the dark side.
We have been friends ever since. When I first went to work for President Carter, and was looking for a home for my wife and kids, Pete let me stay at his home in Washington.
RC: I started surfing when I was in high school. When I was in college Captain Jacques Cousteau came to campus and made a speech. I was working for the paper and did an interview with him after his talk. I asked him if he had any advice for young people who wanted to help protect the ocean. He said,”Yes! Don’t follow gurus like me. Go out and do it yourself.”
CG: What would you tell someone who wants to make a difference in the effort to save the environment?
RC: I would say what Captain Cousteau said to me. 25 years after he said that to me I was in Egypt making a TV show about overpopulation. Cousteau came into the room. I introduced myself and told him that he had been an important influence in my life. He asked how and I told him that story. He laughed and said, “I was right!” It was very cool to be able to tell him.
RC: Pete McCloskey is a perfect example. He was the co-founder of the first Earth Day, a lead author of the Endangered Species Act and a war hero that has dedicated his life to the quest for peaceful solutions.
CG: You have quite a list of achievements of your own; environmental and public safety activist, director, producer, just to name a few. What would you say, you are most proud of? What do you feel are your greatest achievements?
RC: I was proud of this film. I was proud to have President Carter tell my kids that I was one of his first supporters and one of his best friends in California.
I was proud to help start the Surfrider Foundation. Winning the case against the pulp mills was wonderful. I’m still involved with them.
RC: I believe that people need to be socially and politically active to solve the gigantic problems that confront us. Issues like climate change, energy, population, endangered species, demand smart effective action.
I believe in high ideals. Teddy Roosevelt said we needed “gritty idealism.” I agree. But my favorite story about high ideals is about a man named Carl Schurz. He was a friend of Abraham Lincoln. He was accused of being too idealistic because he wanted to abolish slavery. His friends told him that the pyramids and Rome were built with slaves and that there would always be slaves. His response was one of my favorite perspectives. He said, “Ideals are like stars. You will never succeed in touching them with your hands, but like the seafaring man, on the desert of waters, you choose them as your guides. And following them you will reach your destiny.”
CG: Is there anything else you would like people to know about this documentary or Pete McCloskey?
RC: Lead from the front.
Both, Rob Caughlan and Pete McCloskey will be attending two local screenings. The film will be shown at the historic Electric Theater in St. George on Friday, April 29th at 7 PM. and again on Saturday, April 30 at the Zion Canyon Theater in Springdale at 7 P.M. Tickets for The Electric Theater are available for $10 at the door, by calling 435-652-7574 or at the Jennings Building on the campus of DSU from Phil Tuckett or Christina Merrill. Tickets in Springdale are available at the door. Visit DOCUTAH@TheElectric Facebook page for more event information.