A year or so ago, when the British Columbia-based environmental group Raincoast Conservation Foundation (RCF) decided to use surfing to convey its opposition to a pipeline proposal in Canada, one name immediately came to mind: Chris Malloy. The result is a short film titled "Groundswell," due out this fall.
Malloy's surf movie production experience is lengthy, and his 2010 feature "180° South" documented the conflict in Chilean Patagonia over the building of hydroelectric dams. That film required sailing from Southern California to the bottom of South America.
"At the very essence, we consider surfers as close to marine mammals as possible among humans," said surfer and RCF science director Dr. Chris Darimont. "When we pitched it, [Malloy] was very interested." What RCF pitched was a tour of the craggy British Columbia coastline aboard the Achiever, its 68-foot research vessel, to absorb a stretch of wilderness that would be affected by the building of the Northern Gateway pipeline.
"My brother Keith came home with stories about the rawness of the coastline and the unique people that live there," Malloy said of B.C. "I had recently been through the interior working on a film about the First Nations salmon harvest and fell in love with the place. As a surfer, I'd seen maps and could not stop dreaming about exploring for unridden waves."
For his part, Malloy doesn't surf in the film; he only directs. Younger brother Dan, and friends and fellow pros Trevor Gordon and Pete Devries play the on-screen talent. Malloy and RCF intend to premiere the 20-minute short in October. Where "Groundswell" will debut remains uncertain.
The project is a chance for Malloy to offer a peek into a region and an issue unfamiliar to many. "Surfing is helping to perk interest with a group of people who otherwise might not have an opinion on the topic," he explained. "Not everyone can experience the Great Bear Rainforest in person, but [seeing] it on film it might help them understand that there is a massive amount at stake there."
Enbridge, Canada's chief natural gas provider and operator of the world's longest oil and liquid transportation system, wants to erect a twin pipeline system to carry oil -- extracted from the tar sands in Alberta -- from near Edmonton to a marine terminal at Kitimat on the coast of its western neighbor British Columbia. The $5.5 billion project would connect the oil wells in Canada's Prairies to tankers bound for China. Enbridge says the westbound pipeline would deliver an average of 525,000 barrels of oil a day for export, while the eastbound tube would import 193,000 barrels of condensate (used to thin petroleum products enough for pipeline transport).
Opponents fear the pipeline would disrupt the wilderness it would cross, not to mention raise the risk of oil spills. "The lessons and wounds from the Exxon Valdez [1989 oil spill off the coast of Alaska] are still raw, especially among the First Nations people," Darimont said. Enbridge did not respond to ESPN.com's request for comment.
Early last October, Malloy, his brother Dan, Gordon, British Columbia surfing standout Devries and the Raincoast crew set sail on a 10-day adventure, documenting the intact ecosystems the pipeline would cut through, and surfing chilly waves in to which few others have paddled.
Any open ocean crossing is dangerous, Malloy emphasized, "but 40-knot wind and freezing temperatures add a whole new dimension. Bad judgment can put you in a serious situation very quickly." On shore, the group trekked into areas along trails shared by native peoples and wandering grizzlies to remote waterways where bears intercepted running salmon.
A sense of discovery was pervasive. Malloy described one unforgettable session: "We met with the chief of the village on a peninsula and explained our intentions. He gave us permission and we hiked through the forest and found a world-class wave that had never been ridden."
Ultimately, Darimont said the aim of "Groundswell," among other things, is to provide a voice to the wildlife that depends on the B.C. coast for survival -- that includes the men and women who make their living from it. The way he sees it, "this is the very least we can do as surfers."