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James Pribram Blazes the Eco-Warrior Way

Ex pro-surfer James Pribram makes clean beaches his mission.

They say professional athletes die twice: once at the end of their career; the other, as we all do. As a surfer on the pro circuit, James Pribram tackled some of the world’s most awe-inspiring surf for more than 20 years. But when a life-threatening staph infection sidelined him from competing, and the subsequent loss of corporate sponsors derailed his professional surfing life, this Laguna Beach native was ushered into a new existence he wasn’t entirely prepared for.

“I really felt that when my career ended overnight in 2012, there was a part of me that died,” Pribram says. “As a surfer, I never had a chance to prepare for my ‘afterlife.’ ”
Since 2006 he had been the face of Eco-Warrior, a project launched by Ocean Pacific and the Surfer’s Path to bring awareness to the degradation of coastlines around the world from pollution and overpopulation.

He sailed one of the ocean’s most dangerous passages from Rio de Janeiro to South Africa, protested industries contaminating rivers in Chile, fought against pollution in the Great Lakes and challenged whale hunters in Japan.

But after 2012, he says, he did some soul searching. He changed direction, not only within himself but in the Eco-Warrior efforts, recasting it as a local nonprofit, the Eco-Warrior Foundation, with the simple goal of keeping litter off local beaches and out of waterways so it doesn’t end up in the ocean.

“Our primary purpose of the Eco-Warrior Foundation is boots on the ground, getting our hands dirty. It’s not brain surgery, but we don’t always need the hardest thing in order to have the biggest impact,” he says.

Last year, the Eco-Warrior Foundation picked up more than 3,000 pounds of trash from South County beaches, and this year is on its way to picking up more with efforts like an upstream initiative at Aliso Creek and a June cleanup with Higher Ground, an Idaho-based nonprofit serving injured veterans. Pribram says there’s much more work to do in his new life: “I’m only just now finding my feet.”

Neighborhood: Laguna Beach.

Why I live here: I was born here. I was born into who I am in this water. There has always been a love affair with this place. Growing up on the beach at Pearl Street, the older guys looking after me like a little brother, my mom and dad – every facet of it is home. As much as I give to Laguna, Laguna gives that much and more to me. Sometimes special things just happen and you don’t know why. My mom and dad are here, and I have tea with them every day at 4 o’clock – my mom grew up in Northern Ireland, in Belfast. Laguna Beach will always be my home. It’s the most special place on Earth.

My perfect day: Can I go back in time? I remember the summer of 1995. There was a group of about 20 of us. Sadly, a couple of those guys have passed away, but there was a time when everyone was safe, everyone was healthy, everyone was at the beach, and it was another family. One of them would always be the first person in the water. At the time I thought every beach was like a big brotherhood, the camaraderie. When I turned pro, it was so hard to leave that beach. Then I realized all those other guys on tour – they didn’t grow up on a beach like that.

Favorite late-night haunt: Hmm. Got to think about that. I don’t really get out that much anymore! Well, there’s always the world-famous Sandpiper. It’s an institution. I like The Cliff in Laguna; seeing my good friend Nick Hernandez and Common Sense play, those guys are always great. The Wine Gallery. There’s this new place downtown, the Skyloft, that’s pretty fun. Coyote Grill’s happy hour – all these places are family-run.

My sanctuary: You know what I’m going to say: the ocean. At sunset it’s definitely the place for reflection. Watching the sun go down, the different patterns and colors in the sky. The texture of  the water, and the light. The most poetic time of the day.

On my nightstand: Water.

“My astrological sign is __” (Pisces?): Nope. Libra.

iPhone or Android: iPhone.

Angels or Dodgers: Neither.

Shortboard, longboard or gun: Shortboard. Any board.

Pet peeve: I hate to say it, but I’m just going to be frank. I hear and I see so-called environmentalists all talk about “raising awareness.” At some point caring has to translate into action. We are all aware. It’s time to start doing.

What keeps you awake at night: Life.

Personal motto: Never give up.


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