This process of collecting has increased my awareness of how much of a problem the entire world has with plastic pollution. It has encouraged me and my husband to try to make changes and better decisions in our daily lives to consume less, and especially use less single-use plastics.
An eccentric and colorful postcard saying « Greetings from Los Angeles » sold in a overloaded souvenir shop of the Santa Monica pier. For most of us, this is the very first picture that comes to mind when we think of California. Surprisingly, Rebecca Kudela Grettenberger is not so familiar with bodybuilders wearing this bad fake orange tan look. No. Becca grew up in a small, country, mountain town called Catheys Valley, just outside of Yosemite National Park in central California, surrounded by vast valleys where she developed a strong passion for nature. « At your feet lies the great Central Valley glowing golden in the sunshine, extending north and south farther than the eye can reach, one smooth, flowery, lake-like bed of fertile soil » described naturalist and author John Muir who became an early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the United State.
Rebecca is definitely a creative spirit. Today living in Biarritz, France, our Panthalassa Society member works as a digital designer for Billabong Women, one of the biggest surfwear brands. At the end of the day, she uses her creativity to raise awareness of plastic pollution. « Small changes can have a huge impact, » she said. We sat down with Rebecca to learn more about the environment that inspired her passion for the ocean and her decision to participate actively in an environmental movement in order to save our ocean’s biggest threat.
Hi Becca, can you talk a bit about your background
I grew with lots of animals (my parents have a ranch) and spent a ton of time outdoors, hiking in Yosemite with my dad, swimming in the Merced River with my friends, riding horses with my Mom, exploring the ranch with my sister. We grew up without a television which I think encouraged us to be really creative at a young age, and spending so much time outside increased my appreciation for nature, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.
How was it like to live in Southern California?
When I was 18 and headed off to college, I pursued my dream and moved to the beach. I lived in San Diego for five years while attending San Diego State University, studying art and graphic design. I met Brent, now my husband, in an art class and he was the one who helped me buy my first surfboard and taught me how to surf. We spent a lot of time at the beach together during these years, surfing in Pacific Beach, eating California Burritos at the beach while watching the sunset, driving down to Baja for the day for a morning surf and lobster lunch. San Diego very quickly became my favorite place! Then when I got my dream job working for Roxy in Huntington Beach as a graphic designer, I moved up to Orange County. The office was pretty close to the beach so we would spend a lot of our lunch breaks surfing, SUPing, laying out by the beach, running at the beach. Pretty much any time I wasn’t in the office I was at the beach.
This is where your passion for surfing and the beach lifestyle come from?
Even though we didn’t live right by the beach growing up, our parents would take us to the beach during the summer. We would go camping in Santa Cruz and spent a lot of time in Monterey and Carmel, so I have a lot of great beach memories. My interest in surfing and surfing culture started when I began to get magazines (Moxie Girl, Surfing Girl) and catalogs (Delias) in junior high and I would see those 90’s Roxy ads that are still so iconic today. I would stare at those pictures of those fit, tan, happy girls at the beach in Hawaii and dream about making that life my reality someday. I collected hang tags, starting at the age of 12, from all the Roxy clothes I ever bought - and I still have them! They were my initial inspiration that I think eventually led to manifesting my dream job at Roxy.
You live in Biarritz today. What do you like most about France and Biarritz?
Where to begin! I love France for so many reasons - I think most of all for the slower pace that people live life here, and take time to enjoy, but also the food, the bread, the wine, the history, the architecture, the language, all of it! And we especially love Biarritz for the beach and surf culture that manages to make France feel more like ‘home’ for us Californians. The Basque Coast is one of the most beautiful places in the world and we get to call it home! We also love to travel and it was my dream to travel Europe before moving here, so getting to have a home base in Biarritz and easily get around Europe is a dream come true!
Everyday, you go out, run and collect trash on the beach. Your platform and project entitled « Sea and Gather » tends to turn plastic pollution into well organized visuals in order to raise awareness of plastic pollution. Tell us more about your passion for beachcombing.
I’ve always been a treasure-hunter - when we were little our parents would take us out on the ranch and we would explore around old rock house foundations from the gold rush days in the 1800’s, and we would find old objects - metal tools, glass bottles, bits and pieces from the past. I think that sparked my interest in hunting for old objects in nature, and beach combing is just another form of that! I love finding old treasures (and especially older treasures over here in Europe) washed up on the beach - those bits and pieces of sea glass are little bits of history that tell a story from the past. Unfortunately I find more trash and plastic than I do treasures, but it’s those special days when I find those treasures, pieces of pottery, porcelain dolls, old chunky glass bottles with typography, metal coins, toys… - all worth the hunt!
You’ve been collecting beach trash in France, Spain, Italy, the UK, Malta, Greece, and even more recently in New York! What would be your message to our readers and community of ocean lovers?
I think that this process of collecting has definitely increased my awareness of how much of a problem the entire world has with plastic pollution. It has encouraged me and my husband to try to make changes and better decisions in our daily lives to consume less, and especially use less single-use plastics. It’s not easy to change your daily habits, but if we all work together to make small changes, it can have a huge impact! Instead of buying a plastic water bottles, bring your own and refill it. Same with coffee cups. Bring your own reusable shopping bags to the grocery store, use stainless steel straws instead of plastic ones, use paper Q-tips / cotton buds instead of plastic ones, try to buy vintage before buying new. The less single-use plastic we use as a population, the less will end up on the beach and in our oceans!
Discover more about Sea and Gather on Instagram.