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Surf Shacks 039 – Ronnie Silva & Staley Prom

Ronnie and Staley are independently good friends of mine with very different personalities, but a very cool & chill couple who also manage to surf together on a regular basis. Professionally, they make a living as an editor for Vice Media and a lawyer for the Surfrider Foundation respectively. They may both work a little far from where they live, but like so many others who call Topanga home, the natural beauty and solitude of the canyon coupled with a great right hand point break at the bottom of the hill is too hard for them to give up.

Who are you? Tell us a little about yourselves.

Staley: Hello there. We are a couple who lives in Topanga Canyon. I’m a beach and nature lover who likes being in the ocean. Ronnie is a writer/poet/philosopher/filmmaker and former professional athlete. We are both introverts that live in a cabin in the woods that we call “Roadhouse” (after Patrick Swayze’s 1989 action thriller), who occasionally venture out for travel, sport, food, and entertainment.

Where are you both from?

Ronnie: I’m a goofy-footed mid-towner from Santa Cruz, California, and Staley is from the Jacksonville Beaches, growing up mostly in Palm Valley, Florida.

What do you both do for a living?

Staley: I’m an environmental attorney for The Surfrider Foundation, a non-profit organization that advocates for the protection of our ocean, waves, and beaches.

Ronnie: I’m a filmmaker. I’ve spent the last two and a half years cutting documentaries for Vice Media.

Staley, what is the most challenging part of your job? And the most rewarding?

Not having enough hours in the day has to be the most challenging aspect. Unfortunately, there are many threats up and down our coasts, from things like sand mining, coastal armoring, development, water pollution, and people illegally trying to prohibit beach access – there’s never a shortage of battles to fight. The most rewarding aspect is definitely seeing our work result in better protection of beaches, whether through legislation banning single-use plastics, keeping beaches accessible, protecting the ocean from offshore oil drilling, and cracking down on unpermitted sand mining. It’s also extremely rewarding to assist our inspiring volunteers, with Surfrider’s 80+ chapters around the U.S., working on local campaigns. The opportunity to travel and meet chapter activists in some of the most beautiful places in the world like Kauai and Montauk is also pretty sweet too. As an environmentalist and beach lover, working for Surfrider is a dream come true.

Is there a recent Surfrider legal victory that stands out? Give us some hope in these troubling times.

Despite the troubling times, the good news is Surfrider has had a record setting year, with already 38 victories so far. It’s hard to choose, though one recent legal victory that stands out is in our campaign to improve public notification of water pollution in Hawaii. This came about after our water testing program in Kauai revealed some major water quality standards violations in places where kids and families recreate, and yet the Department of Health wasn’t posting legally required warning signs. After years of advocacy to relevant government agencies, earlier this summer, the EPA told the Hawaii Department of Health it had to start warning the public of the pollution and health risks. The DOH put up its first warning sign in Kauai in August, and we’re continuing to work with them on other postings at majorly polluted beaches, and also working to stop the pollution itself. Other pretty cool recent victories include the federal ban on plastic microbeads last year, and several more single-use plastic bag bans around the country. We’re also continuing to work on stopping unpermitted sand mining that’s happening up in Marina, California, and had some initial success a few months ago when the California Coastal Commission issued a Notice of Intent to begin Cease and Desist proceedings.

Ronnie, tell us more about the Vice Sports series you’ve been working on.

Vice World of Sports is a documentary series on VICELAND that gets on the field and into the ring, so to speak, telling compelling stories at the fringe of culture and politics. It’s great to be part of a show that’s bringing transcendent sports stories into the homes of millions of people. We get emails from parents all the time telling us how these pieces have become wonderful tools to teach their children about the lesser known parts of the sports world. It’s also cool as a former pro-soccer player getting to blend my passions for sports and storytelling.

What’s it like working at the Vice office in Venice?

Everyone there is talented, smart and really passionate about what they are doing. It’s quite unreal to be a part of Vice’s Media revolution.

What are your favorite parts about Topanga and the area in which you live?

Staley: We both like being surrounded by nature, within walking distance to hiking trails, and just a short drive to our favorite surf breaks. We have coyotes, deer, green parrots, woodpeckers, mountain lions, snakes and lizards up here. Both being from smaller beach towns, Topanga is the perfect spot for us. It’s a really nice sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of L.A., with a very nice community. Local favorites include Red Rocks and Eagle Rock for hiking, Rocco’s Pizza, Waterlily Café, and Froggy’s when it’s open.

If your house was burning down and you could only get out with five items, what would you take?

Staley: This almost happened this past summer, and we both almost ended up with only our shirts, shorts and sandals. Luckily, it did not. We’d each take one surfboard, I would take my box of photo albums, and Ronnie would take chips and salsa.

Any parting thoughts, words of wisdom, sage advice?

Be here now. Fire insurance.

/ Photography & interview by Matt Titone

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