“Below the Surface” Goes From Trestles to TJ

by on August 15, 2012 · 1 comment

in California, Environment, Popular, San Diego

By Danny Cappiello

At first impression, Jared Criscuolo and Kristian Gustavson seem like typical San Diegans. And in some ways they are. They both love the water. They both surf, stand up paddle (SUP) and anything else you can do on or in the water. And they both detest those days when rains make the water inaccessible to them. What makes them different is that they decided to do something about it.

Jared, who owns a consulting business that markets water recycling and renewable energy projects, and Kristian, who teaches Oceanography at Cuyamaca College and the New School of Architecture, each came to the realization that they had to do something while out on the water. For Kristian, after paddling down the Mississippi River, something two of his uncles had done in 1966, he discovered that the Mississippi delivered more pollution to the coast than anything else in the U.S. Jared, who moved to San Diego from the northeast, was surprised to find out you are not supposed to surf for 72 hours after a heavy rain here, something he found out when he got sick from going surfing after a rain. According to Criscuolo, “that was unacceptable. That was the moment I realized I need to do something, that there is a bigger calling here.”

So in 2008, the two of them, with the help of a grant from Surfrider, started the non-profit Below the Surface (BTS). “We’re not only trying to highlight the problems, we’re also looking for solutions,” Gustavson told me. And he means it. The approach Below the Surface takes is three-pronged.

First step is to get people involved and active. There is an over-arching philosophy of “Exploring with a Purpose,” that BTS espouses. When people actually participate in expeditions, they have fun and learn to appreciate these natural resources. Ideally that appreciation then brings about a greater understanding of how everything we do affects our waterways and coastline. The most recent expedition was a stand up paddle along the entire coastline of San Diego called Trestles to TJ {see video below}. They hope to do this paddle annually, integrate a 70 mile endurance race and build participation year-to-year.

However, getting people involved is more than just building a sense of awareness… -which is where the second step comes in. Jared and Kristian aspire to engage people on a personal level with watersheds, and engender a sense of personal responsibility and initiative to be active stewards of rivers and coastline. To enable this grassroots movement – capturing the spirit of expeditions and engagement in a greater purpose, Below the Surface has created an app, backed by both the EPA and US Geological Survey, called the Riverview Project. The basic idea is that people are able to be part of a greater community and social network,crowd-sourcing images of rivers all over the country so anyone can review paddle routes and river conditions, but also see where and what the issues affecting water quality are. It is Google’s Street View for rivers. Internally, they are also acquiring the same equipment used to film Street View to enable the creation of 360 degree panoramic maps and online exploration routes of America’s major rivers.

The third step is about finding solutions, a part of BTS they call Driving Innovation. We know that wastewater and pollution in our rivers are an issue, but what can we do about it? Well, apparently, we can do a lot. From what Kristian has explained, a lot of the upstream pollution leads to huge algae blooms at our shores. And these algae blooms can actually be turned into biodiesel. So we can actually take water pollution and turn it into fuel. That seems a bit impractical to many people. To demonstrate the feasibility of this, Jared and Kristian have run an old pick-up truck over 120 thousand miles on biodiesel and this year they are going to race a motorcycle in the Baja 1,000 with the algae-based fuel.

Granted, it will take some time before algae-based biodiesel can realistically become mainstream, but at least people like Jared, Kristian and the rest of the folks that work with Below the Surface are engaged in making a difference. And they are trying to have fun while doing so. The more fun the expeditions are, the more people will want to do them. And the more people that get on board and start exploring, the greater the impact of their efforts will be.

If you would like to learn more about exploring with a purpose, go to www.belowthesurface.org.

Danny Cappiello is a digital media consultant and producer currently living in Solana Beach



{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

avatar Kristian Gustavson August 20, 2012 at 1:40 pm


Thanks for taking the time to write this up! Very nicely done!




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