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OSOM inspires paddlers to pitch in

Hand most kayakers a GoPro and they’ll attach it to their helmet and charge through the surf. Shay Bickley, Chris Bensch and Jason Self—known as Team Out of Sight, Out of Mind (OSOM)—mounted their camera on a grocery cart and filmed themselves trying to buy food without plastic packaging. “We couldn't do it,” recalls Bensch. “We couldn’t make a single meal without plastic.”

The three Portland friends formed Team OSOM when the Deepwater Horizon gushed oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days in 2010. Environmental disasters usually cause more fear and despair than action. But Bensch, Bickley and Self went from spectators to activists. Three years later, they’ve launched a nationwide cleanup contest; kayaked 100 miles down the Columbia River collecting litter and towing a garbage-filled canoe for their first film project, Trashpedition; and are working on a three-part film series, The Search for the Perfect Day.

“We’d been complaining about things that affect paddlers: water pollution, salmon dying off and ocean health,” says Self. “We didn’t have money, but we had access to Facebook,” he adds. “We started the Never-Ending Cleanup Contest, where people pick up trash, post photos and win prizes. It was a place to start with what we had.”

OSOM provides an end-run around barriers posed by science and politics. “Most people are motivated by emotion, not science,” says Self, who has a background in environmental science. But voting with dollars is something everyone can do relatively easily. “Cleaning up beautiful places is a launching pad to thinking about purchasing habits,” says Bickley.

Their latest endeavor, The Search for Perfect Day, was filmed in Northern California, Florida and Kauai. Set for release this summer, the series will highlight outdoor exploration and the intersection of natural beauty with less picturesque elements.

“Kauai is a paradise,” says Bensch.“But it’s also where the Hawaiian Chain bumps against the Northern Pacific Gyre—a.k.a Great Pacific Garbage Patch—where plastic degrades and enters the water column and food chain. Some of the highest concentrations of PBDEs (an endocrine-disrupting chemical in plastics) ever measured are in the breast milk of Pacific orcas.”

The Search for the Perfect Day begins to blend in the science and politics of trash, featuring interviews with researchers, wildlife rehabilitators and advocates such as Jennifer Savage of the Ocean Conservancy, who surfs both ocean waves and the rougher seas of the California State Assembly.

OSOM’s future will be experimentation and evolution.“We’re still finding our voice and how much we can do balancing day jobs,” says Bensch, who works as a kayak coach. He’s also an avid surf kayaker, organizing the Pacific Paddle Surf Series and traveling to Australia in July to compete in the 2013 Surf Kayak World Championships. Self is a kayak instructor and kayak fishing expert, giving him yet another reason to think about ocean health. Bickley, a designer and artist, holds down the fort at Portland’s REI outdoor retail co-op.

They constantly push the limits of a 24-hour day, but don’t regret it. “Everything is scrambling and we never feel fully prepared,” says Self. “ There’s never a good time to start something. Do it anyway.”

Neil Schulman is a kayaker, photographer, writer and environmental advocate. You can see his work at www.neilschulman.com/neilschulman2. Learn more about Team OSOM at www.seatrash.blogspot.com or find them on Facebook.

 

 This article appears in Adventure Kayak, Early Summer 2013. Download our free iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch App or Android App or read it here.

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