Yvon Chouinard 2023 Surf Culture

Chouinard has shown that you can run a successful business and still prioritize the health of our planet


PHOTO: Courtesy of Yvon Chouinard and Patagonia

One of the most influential figures to ever step onto a surfboard, Yvon Chouinard has always put his passion for the ocean and the environment first. Born on November 9, 1938, as the founder of outdoor sportswear company Patagonia, his passion for adventure and love for the natural world has led him to become a pioneering figure in the environmental movement.

Growing up in Southern California, Chouinard developed a deep connection with nature and quickly embraced the adrenaline-fueled activities of rock climbing and surfing. Over the years he’s been known to refer to himself as an “existential dirtbag.” Embracing the freedom of the outdoors and pressing need to make the world a better place, surfing and rock climbing not only shaped his character but also instilled in him a sense of responsibility towards the environment that served as his playground.

In the early 1950s, Chouinard discovered his love for climbing while exploring the rugged cliffs of Yosemite Valley. He soon became known for his bold ascents, pushing the limits of the sport and introducing innovative equipment. Recognizing the need for reliable gear, Chouinard began hand-forging his own pitons, which were essential tools for climbers. This led to the creation of Chouinard Equipment, a company that became a catalyst for the modernization of climbing gear. As Chouinard honed his skills as a climber, he also devoted his time to traveling and chasing waves in the true spirit of surf adventure.

In 1973, Chouinard founded Patagonia, initially as a small company producing climbing gear. From the outset, his vision extended beyond creating high-quality products. He aimed to build a business that was deeply committed to environmental and social responsibility. This commitment became the cornerstone of Patagonia’s philosophy and set it apart from other outdoor companies.

Chouinard’s dedication to the environment manifested in a multitude of ways within Patagonia. The company implemented numerous initiatives to reduce its ecological footprint, such as using organic cotton, recycling materials, and promoting fair labor practices. Furthermore, Patagonia was at the forefront of the sustainability movement, urging customers to repair and reuse their products rather than constantly buying new ones, thus reducing waste.

Chouinard's environmental activism extended beyond Patagonia's operations. In 2002, he co-founded 1% for the Planet, an alliance of businesses committed to donating at least 1% of their annual sales to environmental causes. This initiative has since grown into a global movement, with hundreds of companies contributing millions of dollars to environmental organizations.

“Yvon Chouinard has shown that you can run a successful business and still prioritize the health of our planet,” explains big-wave surfer and environmentalist Greg Long. “He’s an inspiration to all of us who love the ocean and want to protect it.”

“Yvon’s commitment to sustainability is unparalleled,” echos 11-time world champ Kelly Slater, who’s own business venture, Outerknown, is also waving the sustainability flat. “He’s not just talking about it; he’s actively taking steps to make a difference. We need more leaders like him.”

In 2022, Chouinard made headlines around the world when he announced he was donating all profits from Patagonia to fight the global climate crisis.

“If we have any hope of a thriving planet—much less a business—it is going to take all of us doing what we can with the resources we have,” Chouinard wrote.

“Instead of ‘going public,’ you could say we’re ‘going purpose.’ Instead of extracting value from nature and transforming it into wealth for investors, we’ll use the wealth Patagonia creates to protect the source of all wealth,” he continued.

“Here’s how it works: 100% of the company’s voting stock transfers to the Patagonia Purpose Trust, created to protect the company’s values; and 100% of the nonvoting stock had been given to the Holdfast Collective, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting the environmental crisis and defending nature. The funding will come from Patagonia: Each year, the money we make after reinvesting in the business will be distributed as a dividend to help fight the crisis.”

From dirtbag to environmental savior, nobody’s ever done it like Chouinard has. To echo Slater’s sentiment, the world could use more leaders like him.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Yvon Chouinard and Patagonia