I sure wish that headline read, "Roaming the Isles" and this column was coming to you from a sea kayak in Fiji or a sailboat in the Bahamas. Instead, I just returned from the aisles of the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida where I make an annual pilgrimage to the Surf Expo Trade Show.As far as trade shows go, fondling boards and hanging out with legends like Shaun Tomson at Surf Expo is probably a helluva a lot more fun than, say, schmoozing with a bunch of morticians at the Casket and Funeral Supply Association of America (CFSAA) Fall Conference & Trade Show held in November in Indianapolis. Or investigating the latest porta-potty technologies at the Portable Sanitation Association International (PSAI) Convention & Trade Show held every year in Daytona Beach. Maybe not quite as exciting though, as checking out Foxy Roxxxy, the world's first sex robot that was unveiled at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas last month. The dark-haired, negligee-clad, life-size robot comes complete with flesh-like synthetic skin, artificial intelligence and can converse about football.
I really didn't see any innovations as titillating as Roxxxy at Surf Expo (even though Roxy was there). Unlike the Reef sandals with the built-in bottle opener (which addressed a true need), the new Tube Flop from Sanuk just didn't do it for me. "Wearing socks and sandals used to be an absolute fashion faux pas; now, it's a chic statement! A light and breathable tube sock connects to the footbed through a molded channel in the flip flop," the product description reads.
Being in the biz, I know how difficult it is to come up with truly cool new stuff. It's really the people you meet at trade shows who make them worthwhile. Tomson, a former world-champion surfer, was friendly and unassuming and his book is going to be my surf read this winter: Surfer's Code: 12 Simple Lessons for Riding Through Life. My favorite of the twelve: "I will catch a wave every day, even in my mind."
Another fascinating person I met was Tom Jones. No, he cannot sing "What's New Pussycat?" The Tom Jones I met is a seven-time Muay Thai kickboxing champion, with four U.S. titles and two world titles. He is small and solid with a shaved head, the cauliflower ears of a fighter and the intensity of a tiger. He told me about his own abusive childhood and the Tom Jones Foundation, whose mission is to create awareness and funding to find solutions to problems that threaten the future of our society. The way he accomplishes that is by doing things most people would consider crazy (not me).
"I have run the length of California three times, at a pace of a marathon (26.2 miles) per day to raise funds for abused children. In 2000 - for the same cause, I ran from Huntington Beach, California, to New York City, requiring 121 consecutive daily marathons. A couple of years ago, I took up surfing and oceanic paddleboarding just to try something new, and that's when I became acutely aware of the plastic pollution issue in our oceans," said Jones.
A recent study off the coast of California found that there is six times more plastic in the ocean than plankton. A United Nations Environmental Report estimates that more than 5.76 million tons of plastic enters our oceans every year - enough to put two-thirds of California in a plastic bag.
So, Tom started the Campaign for Plastic-Free Oceans (www.plasticfreeocean.org) and proceeded to traverse the entire 1,250-mile coast of California on nothing more than a 14-foot standup paddleboard to raise awareness.
"A plastic-filled ocean is a 100 percent human-caused disaster and a plastic-free ocean is a 100 percent human-accomplishable goal," Jones told me.
"The problem was only recently discovered. The scientific and academic community needs support to do the research required to identify the best means to prevent new plastic waste from entering the oceans, and ways to recover, reprocess and otherwise reduce the tremendous threat that already exists," he said.
Tom Jones will launch his latest awareness-building expedition on May 16, 2010, with a target finish date of August 12th. What will Tom do? He'll attempt to set a new world record by standup paddling from Key West, Florida to New York City. Of course.