Tabatha Knudson: Limitless Sides to Outside

There are so many ways to enjoy time outside. This is one of many unique stories we’re sharing as part of our effort to highlight the Limitless Sides to Outside.

Anyone who knows surfing knows the sport is all about complementing nature—while surfing, we glide across the waves in a graceful dance while also respecting the power of the water. This delicate balance is one that unites the surfing community; the interplay between self and nature has helped me define my understanding of my identity and purpose.  

I was raised on the beautiful south shore of O’ahu, in the islands of Hawai’i. My family and I loved spending our days on the beach, basking in the island’s natural beauty. The first time I stood up on a surfboard was when I was 2 years old, in 2002—and I instantly connected to the sport. By 7, my family began surfing every day and competing in local amateur competitions. For the next decade, my life was defined by competitive surfing and the ocean. 

I have countless memories of being outdoors while growing up in Hawai’i. Many times, when nothing else seemed to help, the ocean offered its company—its beauty took me in. Surfing has been a sanctuary for me from the time I was in elementary school; even an hour in the water can cleanse me of my worry and help me feel grounded. Gazing into the water, riding waves and watching the sun disappear over the horizon, I find refuge in the outdoors—something I’m eternally grateful for. 

But my memories aren’t exclusively of solo experiences in nature. More often, I remember times spent surfing with friends and family after a long day at school, connecting with my community while being present in a healing and beautiful space. The ocean and the outdoors are and have been a source of escape and enjoyment for many. To be able to share those experiences with others makes every moment meaningful. It’s through surfing that I’ve learned the power of the outdoors in building community.  

After being in the water every day for 10 years, I began to witness both the beauty and the flaws of the way we humans interact with nature. Over the course of my childhood, I watched as coral reefs near my home of Honolulu died, shores disappeared, water quality deteriorated, and fishing nets and microplastics ended up on shore. I saw the impact humans were having on the environment as I got older. No matter how many incredible experiences nature had provided us, we were undeniably contributing to its demise. 

I began to develop a sense of shared responsibility to limit human-induced environmental harm. In high school, I got involved with our local beach cleanup club, the Wipeout Crew. This was where I learned the power a community can have in targeting and addressing a problem. My experience with the club made me passionate about fighting for the ocean. For the past five years, I have been involved with several nonprofit organizations, including the Surfrider Foundation, where I’ve had the opportunity to plan events and advocate for state and federal policy to support climate initiatives. I wholeheartedly believe the solution to climate change is in empowering individuals and groups, and I’ve witnessed firsthand the power that communities can have in creating positive change. The outdoors has helped affirm these values and has shaped my life forever. 

To anyone who has a deep connection to the outdoors, or yearns to develop one, I encourage you to take a step back and reflect. Not only on your life, your stressors and your successes, but also the essence of your relationship with the environment. Consider its role in your community, in your circles and how you can uplift and preserve it. So much of our time is spent on appreciating the beauty of the outdoors, which is undeniably valuable and important. However, we must also be sure to see the flaws in our relationship with nature and let that inspire us toward positive change. 

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