Here at Hipcamp HQ, we might spend our workdays helping list more mountain campsites, but our lives are surrounded by the ocean. San Francisco Bay and the Pacific coast don’t just serve as landmarks for us—they occupy a part of our hearts. Our Adventure Book of the Month explores that human-ocean connection, and manages to weave together exploration and conservation, personal redemption and global engagement alike.
Author Liz Cunningham fell in love with the ocean on an Outward Bound expedition in the Gulf of Florida, and afterwards supported her scuba diving and sea kayaking interests through a career as a political reporter. Through adventure and discovery, she forged a strong bond with the Pacific and the diversity it contained, only to have the tables turned in an instant. A brutal sea kayaking accident left her temporarily paralyzed, and set the stage for a transformative process of both recovery and relating to the Ocean—the topic of her memoir, Ocean Country.
It’s an engaging, highly personal tale of exploration as a way to heal and learn. Liz travels all over our blue planet from Indonesia to Spain to California, chronicling her new friendships and what they’ve taught her about the vastly different ways people can connect with the ocean. She’s not interested in laundry-listing issues, but rather focusing on the stories of individuals motivated out of love to help conserve marine resources.
We were lucky enough to sit down with her (at a picnic table after a hike, actually), and chat about her post-memoir perspectives on inspiration, conservation, camping, and gratitude.
Photo of Fort De Soto Park Campground by Adventures of Frolick and Finnley
Hipcamp: Are there any works of writing that served as inspirations to you earlier on in your career?
Liz: Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us for sure… but one of the books that inspired me most, interestingly enough, is a book called Caught Inside, by Daniel Duane. He went to Santa Cruz for about a year to write about surfing. And there was one quote in that that was really a catalyst for me. He said that he was dying to go be by the ocean, so he could finally become vaguely bored with it so he wouldn’t have the anguish of leaving. And I remember that so resonated with me, because whenever I left the ocean, I just felt like my soul was being sawed in half.
He wrote about surfer culture, but he also really evoked the really specific beauty of the California coast: the cold, the moisture, the way you have cold winters and then this miraculous sun that comes out. And just understanding the tides… that was oddly enough more important than Rachel Carson’s book to me, because it was just about this love of ocean. I think people underestimate expressions of love. I think that it may not be powerful if you tell people “you must do this,” but if you say “I love this so much so I am doing this,” that actually—even though it doesn’t seem initially powerful—it actually is tremendously so.
H: Here at Hipcamp, we’re passionate about connecting ocean conservation with camping and getting outside. What do you see as potentials for growth in that field?
L: One of the most important things is to connect people with things they love so that they see how their actions can support those activities. The first thing is allowing people to get more exposure and have the opportunity to be in a diversity of settings; not everybody’s button gets pushed by a shark or a tidepool or going diving or going kayaking. Then for people to express their values—like why you got involved with Hipcamp and what you care about—is an invitation for other people to continue their journey into how they love the environment and what they can start to do to support it.
H: Are there resources that you think are great places for people to start with for connecting a love of nature to actionable steps?
L: Absolutely—and I have a list on my website as well—one of the big actionable things is that you can sign up with WWF, the NRDC, 350.org, etc… they will send you emails to sign petitions, and then you can choose that and sign petitions. You can say to yourself, “oh this is just some hopeless enterprise,” but I decided that I would sign 2-3 petitions a day. And the plastic microbead ban here was petition-driven. We have a sleepy democracy, but this is what’s going to push change.
Also, working locally. That work comes from what you love, so it really depends. My husband doesn’t scuba dive, but he’s a huge urban gardener. That lowers his carbon imprint and that actually helps the ocean, so I think making a difference has to be connected to what you love.
For local marine conservation though, Save The Bay is a great resource. The Marine Mammal Center works from here down to LA, and we had over 3,000 marine mammals strand in the last year so their work is tremendous. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is another tremendous force. The other thing is if you go to a state park and you put your money in the little bin, you could always shove a little more in there!
H: Any final thoughts?
L: Yeah, it’d be really terrific when people go camping or kayaking or diving somewhere if they could have some thought of making some kind of contribution to local conservation, even if it’s the price of a beer. But do something for the place, even a small amount—it’s really tremendous if you can. Just an act of gratitude for the opportunity to be outdoors feels good and it does matter.
Hipcampers, Aaron and Joleen with Liz (center)
Cover photo of Long Key State Park by Adventures of Frolick and Finnley
Check out the corresponding post on Hipcamp’s Instagram page for a giveaway of Ocean Country. Liz make you wanna go camping? Check out the campsites below—they’re some of our favorite ones with ocean views!
Syllables and sass by Aaron Altabet
Aaron is one of Hipcamp’s loving and dedicated Interns this spring. He enjoys thinking about airplanes while he’s in the woods, boats while he’s in the city, and ice cream all of the time. Sometimes he remembers to put photos from his travels on Instagram.