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Sailing And Surfing From Tahiti To Hawaii To Measure Microplastic Contamination

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Travis Rice and Ian Walsh set off on this Outside Ocean Epic, sailing and surfing 2,500 nautical miles from Tahiti to Hawaii via the Line Islands. Along the way, they will partner with Adventure Scientists to collect water samples to measure microplastic contamination. Meet the crew of Falcor and their hopes for the voyage.

If you’ve ever had the time to take a long rambling road trip with no set itinerary, you know how fun it is, checking out whatever catches your interest as you discover the wonders of being off the beaten path. Now, imagine doing that but on a small sailboat in the South Pacific! There is a final destination in mind, Hawaii, but the plan is to start in Tahiti and head vaguely north, checking out tiny atolls and reefs along the way. If a beach looks promising, spend a few hours surfing it. If the fishing looks good, well now you know what’s on the menu for dinner. It’s total freedom, almost in paradise, and each day’s goal is simply adventure.

In this 10-part Outside original series, Lines to Hawaii, the film crew joins professional snowboarder Travis Rice, professional big wave surfer Ian Walsh, and their small crew as they set off from Tahiti. While that part of the world seems like a dream, crossing half the Pacific in a small sailboat, the Falcor, is not to be undertaken lightly. As Travis points out, going out to sea is very similar to heading up into the mountains – you’re on your own. “There’s no support at all.”


The general plan is to sail the Falcor approximately 2,500 nautical miles, roughly following the Line Islands, and end up in Hawaii. The group is a little wistful to be leaving Tahiti but very excited to meet what might be out there on the journey across the ocean. There are new horizons to reach, places to see, and areas to explore. How could there not be adventure on a trip like this?! Tellingly, Travis remarks as they begin that they hope to experience “something not quite as dreamy” as the perfect sand and waves of Tahiti.

Global Microplastics Initiative:

Adventure Scientists has amassed one of the largest and most diverse global microplastic pollution datasets to date. These data are being used by businesses, governments, and individuals to limit plastic waste.

Even if you are accustomed to Outside’s first-class video and photography techniques, you will still frequently sit spellbound at the visuals in this series. To begin with, the South Pacific is almost unimaginably beautiful … pristine sky-blue water, lush island foliage, sparkling white beaches, you name it. And the film series captures so many different aspects of it all … shooting stars at night, whales cruising silently underneath the ship, moon rises in the dead of night. I had the feeling this must have been a really fun documentary to do, not to mention some beautiful underwater videos featuring reefs, tropical fish of all colors, and tortoises. The videographers do an amazing job of bringing viewers right into the action, so much so that you can almost smell the salty tang of the ocean.

The rough itinerary is to play connect-the-dots across the Pacific’s Line Island chain. The Line Islands were formed from volcanic activity long ago and are one of the world’s longest island chains. Flint Island is the very first stop. What do they know about this remote island? Travis tells us, “What we’re gonna find, I have no idea.” And that’s the heart of an explorer and adventurer. The island is here, and now we’re here, and we’re going to see what it’s all about! He continues, “You’re out in the middle of the ocean, and you see a tiny speck on the map. You have to wonder, and you have to check it out.” Flint Island, as it turns out, is a beautiful tropical “turtle paradise.” While quite scenic, there wasn’t enough to keep the travelers there for long as the rest of the trip beckoned.

Malden Island became their next port, a much larger island filled with mysterious prehistoric Polynesian ruins. It honestly looked like a Disney set for an island adventure movie … the lush palms, pristine beaches, and everywhere you look, these incredibly old bizarre stone ruins left behind by a vanished civilization. They are believed to be mostly temples and houses, with a few graveyards thrown in for good measure. But first things first. Malden Island has some fantastic surfing spots! With so much experience behind them, Roam Media has mastered the use of drones to follow and capture motion, and in these surfing sequences, they pull out all the stops. The surfing imagery is nothing less than dramatic and spellbinding. And to think of being able to surf in such a locale! The guys wonder if they might be the very first ones ever to surf those waves. The best part is, they can stay as long as they like, or decide to travel to a new place tomorrow. Total freedom.

The voyage isn’t entirely just fun and games, however. They are doing some valuable data collecting on the way. They partnered with Adventure Scientists whose motto is “Explore. Collect. Protect.” to take water samples along the way. Every 100 miles, they fill a large canteen, mark the date and position, and store it below. By the end of the trip, they will have a linear progression of mid-ocean samples to give to scientists who are researching levels of microplastics in the world’s ocean environments.

Eight days in, the Falcor is closing in on Christmas Island. But they decide not to tarry because they are chasing a large sea swell that promises to make for great waves if they can catch up with it. Plus, they reached an important juncture where they are about to cross over the equator. Not too many people get to have that particular adventure of crossing the equator on a boat, but those who do are inducted into a rare group known as Shellbacks. Usually, there is a light-hearted ceremony to go along with it.

This line-crossing ceremony is kind of a rite of passage for sailors, and everyone remembers their first crossing of the equator. Now it so happens there is something else special about the Line Islands … the international dateline goes right through them. And when someone crosses the equator for the first time and the international dateline, one becomes a Golden Shellback. This is the honor bestowed on Ian. The others suggest he think of some suitable offering to Neptune to show his worthiness for this accolade. It’s a great scene in the film, although perhaps not for the squeamish.

One of the great parts about being out on the open ocean is that you can have your fishing rods out at all times, and you can catch some pretty amazing fish. One of Falcor’s fishing lines gets a bite, and when they reel in their prize, nobody knows what to make of it. The fish is only identified after consulting a fish encyclopedia. The fish is a rainbow runner, also known as a rainbow yellowtail, Spanish jack, and Hawaiian salmon. It turns out no one in the group had ever caught one, let alone eaten it for dinner.

The Falcor catches up with the swell just in time to encounter Fanning Island on day 12 of the journey. The surfing off Fanning Island turns out to be amazing, as is the Roam Media footage of it all, and the viewer can be forgiven for feeling just a bit envious. These guys are out there in a tropical paradise, obviously having the time of their lives on these incredible waves with no pressure of a clock, just day-to-day enjoyment of the adventure … and the feeling of simply being on a tiny dot in the middle of the ocean. Travis says, “We feel entirely remote here, there’s just nothing around here, at all.” Blissful isolation.

It turns out Fanning Island has some amazing palm trees, and so everyone decides the time is right for a coconut hunt! They gather about 30 or 40, and in the spirit of exploration, they decide to have a taste-off to discover the perfect kind, because why not? Then, they take a couple dozen of the best aboard the ship, to be gratefully opened a few hundred miles down the road.

The ship encounters the dreaded Doldrums as they finally aim for Hawaii. Travis describes them perfectly as being a “windless desert.” Back in the day, sailors could be stuck in the Doldrums for many weeks as they waited for any sign of moving air. But with modern technology, the adventurers aboard the Falcor simply use this opportunity for a little open ocean swimming. There is something magical about being in the water when you can scan the horizon 360º and not see a single thing, not even a wave. And then you can think about how the water extends beneath you at least 15,000 feet!

It was here when the weeks of practically perfect weather ended. On day 19, a pretty nasty squall rolled through. Using the ship’s satellite communication system with their laptops, they saw it approach and had enough warning to trim their sails and not get swamped by the sudden 26 knots of wind blowing through. The video is yet again stunning, as the storm’s power and force are captured, and above all, the sinister roiling water of the Pacific all around them.

The storm was an “all-hands-on-deck” affair for a couple of days, but it suddenly left. And in the aftermath, it felt like “turning a corner,” and literally by the smell, the crew could tell they had entered the weather environment of the Hawaiian Islands. The adventure had played out, and after nearly three weeks, they would soon return to dry land and the world of people. All in all, it was an unforgettable trip. What an adventure! And one gets the feeling they are ready to have some order and structure back into their lives. But at the same time, “It’s nice to be removed from the rest of the world sometimes.”

Skyblue Featured Video: Adventure Scientists Marine Microplastics Project

Although smaller than 5mm in size, microplastics may pose a severe threat to our oceans and rivers — and also our health. Adventure Scientists equips partners with a global network of trained volunteers — from mountaineers to surfers — who collect research-grade, hard-to-reach data in extreme environments.

Why Care About Microplastics?

Microplastics—plastic particles smaller than five millimeters in size—pose a significant environmental risk when they enter our waterways.

Pollutants including pesticides and manufacturing chemicals can adhere to microplastic particles and bioaccumulate in aquatic life. Microplastics have been shown to affect feeding behavior and predator avoidance, and can interact with other pollutants to affect cell function in fish. They’re also able to move from the digestive tract of organisms into the bloodstream.

Microplastics have several sources. They’re laundered from nylon clothing, they wash down the drain with many cosmetics and toothpastes, and they weather from debris like bottles and bags.

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