Some Thoughts by Paul Kelway

International Bird Rescue responds to oil spills around the world and save seabirds at our California wildlife hospitals year-round. Their Executive Director Paul Kelway shares ‘Some Thoughts’ on the connection to surfing and wildlife.

To Surf And Protect

This weekend, the Malibu Surfing Association is hosting the MSA Classic Invitational and generously invited International Bird Rescue to feature our mission in the contest’s commemorative program, which we’re stoked about. 

Being both the director of a bird rescue organization and a surfer, I think a lot about the synergy between my favorite ocean pastime and the birds we work to protect. For many people who ride waves, surfing is so much more than a hobby. It’s a return to wilderness — even when you live in crowded Southern California, as I do. It’s a privilege to connect directly with the power and magic of the ocean environment and the diverse array of life that calls it home.

The desire to give back, to help protect the world’s oceans and their inhabitants, naturally arises from this experience.

I often find myself thinking about how surfers have so much in common with seabirds especially. And I often wonder how many other surfers think this way or notice the array of bird species hanging out in and around the line-up.

In California, you can’t help but notice the Brown Pelicans flying low in single file, using the wave energy to give them a little extra push as they glide just inches above the water. But do surfers look out at the Surf Scoters (a seaduck found on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts) with a new-found appreciation for who really invented the duck-dive? Do they also notice that we’re not the only ones who wake up early and head out on dawn patrol? The shorebirds are always at the water’s edge before I am, and the line-up is already teeming with gulls, terns and some cool pelagic bird species before I’ve caught my first wave of the day.

If I paddle out in high surf or bad weather, I always take a moment to appreciate that these birds are out there whatever the conditions. It’s their home. It’s where they feed. It’s how they survive.

Over the past four decades, International Bird Rescue has saved thousands of birds from oil spills around the world, so we also know that it’s very easy to threaten their survival. It’s not just oil: Injuries from marine debris such as plastics and fishing line account for a high percentage of the thousands of birds that arrive at our rescue centers every year.

As surfers, we have even more motivation for making a difference to issues of marine pollution and ocean debris. After all, this is our home, too. The scale of some of these environmental challenges can often be overwhelming. So it’s so important to re-energize and renew our inspiration to help, even if that help is just in small ways. It may sound overly simplistic, but that inspiration always comes back when I stop to appreciate the seabirds while I’m out catching waves.

So the next time you’re in the line-up or checking out the sets as you prepare to paddle-out, take a moment to look around you. We human beings are not the only surf riders out there. Notice them, enjoy them, appreciate them — from a seabird’s-eye view, so to speak — and, if you feel so inspired, you can help us protect your fellow riders. Find out how at


Paul Kelway
Executive Director of International Bird Rescue

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