Gabe Davies has tran­si­tioned from full-time pro to in­dus­try in­sider seam­lessly. Steve Eng­land pinned him down for a catch-up.

New­cas­tle's Gabe Davies fol­lowed the surf­ing dream after be­ing shown the way by le­gendary east coast surf Veitch, who ended up win­ning na­tional ti­tles and surf­ing third reef Pipe­line. After 20 years of be­ing a pro­fes­sional free surfer, lead­ing the big wave charge in Ire­land with tow part­ner Richie Fitzger­ald, get­ting in­volved with SAS and win­ning a Bri­tish ti­tle he got a job; Euro­pean surf cat­e­gory man­ager for Patagonia. It in­volves or­gan­is­ing tours, surfers, and he’s played a part in the wetsuit de­vel­op­ment, eco and Fair trade pro­grammes. In­ter­est­ing stuff!

Steve Eng­land caught up with him to ask if he still man­ages to surf, and more.

How long have you been at Patagonia now?

Nearly five years now.

Was it a smooth tran­si­tion from pro surfer to like, well, proper work!

Haha, well it was the right time, and it was the dream job, but I’d never say the tran­si­tion from full-on pro surfer to any nor­mal po­si­tion is go­ing to be an easy one! At that time, I was still surf­ing Mul­lagh­more, and I had been at Quiksilver for over 20 years, and now I am on the lap­top more than I am in the sea. I’d al­ways looked with ad­mi­ra­tion at what Patagonia was do­ing, but I had to bide my time for an op­por­tu­nity to open up.

What have you been most proud of in that time?

I think the most ex­cit­ing as­pect for me, right now, is the abil­ity to help peo­ple make a change and to in­spire ac­tivism amongst surfers. No one at Patagonia is go­ing to pat you on the back for sell­ing more T-shirts – but hav­ing the right con­ver­sa­tions about Fair Trade and Yulex could help swing both the surfers them­selves and the surf in­dus­try into a more pos­i­tive fu­ture.

I heard some­one say Patagonia is a bil­lion dol­lar, pri­vately owned com­pany that acts like an en­vi­ron­men­tal NGO. Is that what it feels like?

Yes, I think so. In the most ba­sic terms, the more money Patagonia makes, the more it can do­nate to NGOS through its 1% For the Planet con­tri­bu­tion (1% of turnover, not profit). That is just nec­es­sary sums, and the busi­ness’s good­will and good work go well beyond the reach of that 1% For the Planet fund­ing of grass­roots NGOS.

By be­com­ing a more suc­cess­ful com­pany, it also wields more power, in­flu­ence and in­spi­ra­tion to other brands, be they star­tups that are in­spired to do great work, or es­tab­lished brands who need to clean up their act. The world is smaller and more trans­par­ent than ever be­fore, which means you can’t hide any­more and con­sumers are start­ing to ask more test­ing ques­tions about busi­ness, the en­vi­ron­ment and space we all ex­ist in to­gether.

You have been quite heav­ily in­volved in test­ing out the Yulex. How are you find­ing the suits now?

As a surfer (from the sub-trop­i­cal north­east coast!) I judge our suits with as much of crit­i­cal eye as any­one and my feed­back is di­rect to the point in per­son. Right now, we have the most so­cially re­spon­si­ble and en­vi­ron­men­tally sound suit go­ing, and most im­por­tant of all, it surfs great. The new suits are in­cred­i­ble com­pared to what has gone be­fore. In au­tumn 2016 Patagonia launched the world’s first neo­prene-free wet­suits made with Yulex® nat­u­ral rub­ber, from sources that are For­est Stew­ard­ship Coun­cil® cer­ti­fied by the Rain­for­est Al­liance. This re­duced CO2 emis­sion by ~80 per­cent, com­pared to our old suits, but they did not per­form like the new suits, so we are in a new place right now.

Yulex is a mar­ket leader for­mula that has taken 10-years to get to this point. We helped by run­ning 200 ma­te­rial tests - and many it­er­a­tions and tweaks have taken place be­tween 2014 and the new for­mula we have now. To be clear, mak­ing suits from lime­stone, petro­chem­i­cals or non-fsc cer­ti­fied rub­ber is not the fu­ture: they are not good for the en­vi­ron­ment, and there’s more ev­i­dence mount­ing that the emis­sions caused by neo­prene pro­duc­tion can have harm­ful ef­fects on peo­ple’s health. The process is filthy and waste­ful of nat­u­ral re­sources and en­ergy.

Must be tough try­ing to lead in and test prod­ucts in a very young mar­ket?

We are push­ing for­ward, but, luck­ily, Patagonia can in­vest in R&D, to make the changes that oth­ers won’t - be that due to risk, or cost. How­ever, we are al­ways up for hav­ing open con­ver­sa­tions with all brands about do­ing the right thing. The more brands that come on board with in­no­va­tions such as Fair Trade and Yulex, the bet­ter the fu­ture will be for the surf in­dus­try and the end con­sumer.

And also Patagonia is push­ing the Fair Trade Cer­ti­fied™ pro­gramme pretty heav­ily.

Fair Trade Cer­ti­fied™ wet­suits is an­other mas­sive step for­ward for the surf in­dus­try, and it is a way of sup­port­ing the very skilled peo­ple that make all our gear. Al­most all the surf wet­suits are made in the SHEICO Fac­tory, who we worked with to gain the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. Once the fac­tory is Fair Trade Cer­ti­fied™ – any of those brands who have their suits made here, can now choose to pay the Fair Trade pre­mium (or not).

The Fair Trade pre­mium pay­ment is a small ex­tra per­cent­age of the cost price of a wetsuit. That pre­mium goes back di­rectly to the work­ers who make our suits. The Fair Trade pre­mium is spent on es­sen­tial items such as child­care fa­cil­i­ties or other ways to try and bring up the stan­dard of liv­ing for th­ese work­ers, with a very com­pet­i­tive gar­ment in­dus­try. Beyond that quite sim­ple fi­nan­cial bonus which goes to the work­force, the fac­tory own­ers are also re­quired to open a dia­logue with the work­ers who de­cide how they spend their pre­mium, and this can of­ten lead to other ben­e­fits for the work­ers, who had maybe not dis­cussed with the own­ers the day-to-day is­sues they face.

In ad­di­tion to wet­suits, Patagonia gained Fair Trade Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion™ for its whole swim and board­short line in Spring 17. We now have 15 Fair Trade Cer­ti­fied fac­to­ries and over 480 styles of gear – that’s 38 per­cent of the line.

What is an av­er­age day in the life like for you? Are you al­ways on the road?

Lots of travel, phone calls and emails. I work with

I judge our suits with as much of crit­i­cal eye as any­one and my feed­back is di­rect to the point in per­son

some in­cred­i­ble hu­mans across Europe, some of them surf, oth­ers climb, ski, ride bikes or are just pas­sion­ate about what they do.

Do you get much time to surf?

Haha. It’s not quite the ‘Let my peo­ple go surf­ing’ dream, but it’s damn close! I’ll try and jump in quickly if I see waves, but it’s all about find­ing the balance.

Do you think we will see any east coast surfers com­ing out and do­ing the pro surfer thing soon? In the '80s Veitch ended up at Pipe. You also lived the dream fol­low­ing his ex­am­ple, as did Sam Lamiroy. Elouise Tay­lor did well as did Gor­don. Now Sandy is on an am­bas­sador pro­gramme, so there have been role mod­els. But there seems to be a gap in the east coast tal­ent pool while we have good kids from Scot­land and Wales com­ing through and mak­ing a mark out­side the reg­u­lar tal­ent pools of Bude, Croyde and Newquay.

The east coast has al­ways had a solid crew who can han­dle them­selves in most line­ups around the world. I guess my gen­er­a­tion chased the com­pe­ti­tions and a rad­i­cal dream from the crew above! There is Louis Thomas-hud­son, who surfed as a Ju­nior for Team GB and com­petes in long­board. I think most kids up here th­ese days are more about trav­el­ling and surf­ing abroad, or up in Scot­land rather than driv­ing to chase the south­west con­test scene. I won­der about who the next east coast ‘pro surfer’ will be, but I think the world of pro surf­ing has changed and per­haps the glory years for the UK guys are go­ing to be harder to find. I feel the level around the world is stretch­ing away from home­grown tal­ent. I’d love to be proved wrong of course. Also, I ques­tion the need for kids com­pet­ing th­ese days, I know the kids love it, thrive from it, and it’s as much about ca­ma­raderie and friend­ship, as it is about win or lose. I’d ar­gue there is an op­por­tu­nity for surfers to shine out­side the vest, and be creative in their surf­ing and their ac­tions, that could be the an­swer to find­ing their own space within the surf world. Con­tests cer­tainly push the level of surf­ing up, but on the east coast, there isn’t that grass­roots sup­port for the ju­nior con­test or grom surfers in gen­eral. I look back and think that was prob­a­bly my driv­ing force dur­ing the con­test phase of my surf­ing, was more to prove to my­self, that I was good enough, rather than chas­ing an endgame plan. I feel for­tu­nate to have gone on that jour­ney.

On plas­tics and busi­ness ethics we are in the midst of ex­cit­ing times po­lit­i­cally, but in gen­eral, it seems like we are fac­ing a sea change on ma­te­rial use and cir­cu­lar economies, re­al­is­ing that we are liv­ing in a bub­ble in a vast un­in­hab­it­able space. Do you feel that up there?

I think the world is crazy right now. Patagonia is not tak­ing it lay­ing down and en­cour­ages em­ploy­ees and part­ners to stand up, vote and en­gage. If we don’t do it, who will? In the US, Patagonia is part of a group fil­ing law­suits against the White House! We want to pro­tect pub­lic land from de­vel­op­ment after Trump il­le­gally re­duced na­tional mon­u­ments and al­lowed change of use away from na­tional parks.

We don’t have time for cli­mate de­niers or any of that BS. Closer to home, In Europe we launched Save The Blue Heart of Europe, a

cam­paign, in part­ner­ship with some NGOS we sup­port, telling in­ter­na­tional banks to stop in­vest­ing in the de­struc­tion of the last wild rivers of Europe. Over 3000 pro­posed hy­dro schemes threaten the wild places, species, com­mu­ni­ties and eco-sys­tems of the Balkan re­gion. Very few of th­ese gives any ben­e­fit to lo­cal economies or peo­ple, and once the con­crete is down, this un­spoilt nat­u­ral area will be dam­aged for­ever. Rather than their per­cep­tion as a green en­ergy op­tion, all dams are dirty and so is the hy­dropower they cre­ate.

As a brand, we have no Balkan's stores, nor any other com­mer­cial rea­son for fo­cus­ing on an is­sue in the Balkans. Many peo­ple don’t even know where the Balkans are or still think that hy­dro equals green. How­ever, it’s some­thing that we feel is too im­por­tant to ig­nore and that’s why this is our first global en­vi­ron­men­tal cam­paign fo­cus­ing on a Euro­pean is­sue.

In April we launched the fea­ture-length doc­u­men­tary Blue Heart, pro­duced by Farm League. In Europe alone, we have screened it in 30 coun­tries, 146 cities and even within the EU Par­lia­ment. Added to this, over 120,000 peo­ple, world­wide, have signed the pe­ti­tion telling in­ter­na­tional banks to stop in­vest­ing in the de­struc­tion of Europe’s last wild rivers. Watch it on­line here or find your near­est screen­ing here. https://blue­

What ex­cit­ing things are you work­ing on at the mo­ment?

We just launched the first Euro­pean Worn Wear Surf Tour, start­ing at an event in Newquay fea­tur­ing Lau­ren and Keith Malloy (who came up with the Worn Wear con­cept in the first place). Over the next few months, we will hold 27 events in the UK, France and Spain, where we will re­pair any brand of suits, or cloth­ing, for free. Check the FB page for de­tails.

It’s a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion from the Black Fri­day ‘Don’t buy this jacket’ ad­vert we ran in the New York Times in 2011, chal­leng­ing con­sumerism and ask­ing peo­ple to think be­fore they buy, only to pur­chase what they need and then to take care of their things so that they last as long as pos­si­ble.

We now have the largest re­pair fa­cil­ity in North Amer­ica and in 2017 we re­paired over 70,000 gar­ments glob­ally. Ac­cord­ing to WRAP UK, us­ing cloth­ing an ad­di­tional nine months re­duces the car­bon, wa­ter and waste foot­prints by 20-30 per­cent each. Also, re­pair­ing and reusing re­quires typ­i­cally fewer re­sources than the en­ergy and chem­i­cals needed to re­cy­cle a gar­ment, or cre­at­ing a new one!

I met the cig­a­rette butt board boys this sum­mer. It seems like a lot of surfers think they can change the world. Why do you think that is?

If you look back at surf her­itage, our fore­fa­thers were all trail­blaz­ers, and I hope that DNA still ex­ists in the kids fly­ing around the line-ups to­day! Th­ese guys are the em­bod­i­ment of that. I mean pick­ing up 10,000 cig­a­rette butts off the beach would be rank, but cre­at­ing a surfboard from them is rad!

Do you think we are win­ning?

I think surfers are by na­ture very anti­estab­lish­ment, or, at least, dream of be­ing. I was in­spired by the rad­i­cal side of surf­ing - not the guys who could do the best turns, but the colour­ful char­ac­ters who thought out­side of the main­stream. Those rad­i­cal guys and girls started Surfers Against Sewage, went on the pro tour, trav­elled to the four cor­ners on a shoe­string. So, by na­ture, surfers are at the fore­front of so­ci­ety and are hope­fully the first to go against the grain. In this day and age, we do need ac­tivists, and a surf ac­tivist is some­one who gives a shit, who stands up and makes a dif­fer­ence, do­ing the right thing. It’s some­one who leads by ex­am­ple and, if we as surfers or the folk who run the surf in­dus­try don’t do, this, the right thing, then we are all screwed!

Wetsuit test­ing trips ain't all bad...

Gabe maybe more of a desk jockey th­ese days but he's still the man when the east side gets solid.

There's a se­lect group of elite bar­rel hounds in the UK. Gabe's honed his craft at home in the north­east, through many months in Ire­land and a good few years call­ing Hossegor home.

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