Harnessing Sports Diplomacy to Teach About Ocean Conservation in Mexico

Both surfing and a love for the ocean transcend the border between the United States and Mexico. These two things unite southern California and the Mexican state of Baja California.

Surfers from both countries often comb the coast, crossing into Mexico or the United States, in search of big waves. During their search, they embody the spirit and shared values that define life on the border in the Tijuana-San Diego mega-region, fondly called “Cali-Baja.”

But ocean sports aren’t the only things that unite both sides. In my first year working at U.S. Consulate General Tijuana, it became clear to me that these neighboring cities, economies, and countries also share the same desire of protecting the environment for future generations.

In the spirit of “all diplomacy is local,” we harnessed the Cali-Baja frame of mind by designing clinics to teach ocean conservation and surfing. Through the clinics, we connected young people from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Tijuana and Rosarito Beach with a local non-governmental organization, Proyectos Fronterizo de Education Ambiental. The clinics targeted at-risk youth from Boys and Girls Clubs and orphanages to teach them surfing basics about the challenges to their local watershed, as well as the danger of garbage to marine life. They also participated in a beach clean up.

During the clinic, each of the youth also took their turns riding waves with volunteer surfers from the binational Surfrider Foundation. Our Consul General even hung ten with the youth. By partnering with the binational Surfrider Foundation and Proyecto Fronterizo de Educacion Ambiental, the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana raised oceans conservation awareness and conducted innovative sports diplomacy in Tijuana and Rosarito.

Sports Diplomacy has emerged as an integral part of efforts to build ever-strengthening relations between the United States and other nations. It uses the universal passion for sports as a way to transcend linguistic and sociocultural differences and bring people together. This dynamic was evident as we witnessed the young people reach a level of confidence that only comes with mastering a skill like surfing in the cheering and huge smiles during our clinic. It was heartening to see the participants walk away with a deeper appreciation for their Cali-Baja “neighborhood” and a commitment to do their part to keep the oceans clean for surfers, and for the rest of us too. Full disclosure -– my talents lie elsewhere, and I didn’t even try to get on a surfboard!

About the Author: Preeti Shah serves as a Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana, Mexico.

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Surfer rides a wave during a surfing contest in Half Moon Bay, Calif. [AP Photo]
Posted by Preeti Shah
October 18, 2016


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