Photo: Jackson Berger

Photo: Jackson Berger

From the Mag | Water Warriors | Justin Riney

Paddlers making a difference in the Ecosystem

By Eugene Buchanan

Funny, but at birth, we're not given much actual substance. Sure we receive a few treasures, like our parents and their DNA, if we're lucky, and siblings and grandmas and grandpas. But mostly, we're given things. Disposable possessions like baby pajamas and boxes of diapers and pacifiers and cute plastic objects that make cute sounds.

Often overlooked is one of the greatest gifts of all, given to each human the moment they enter the world: Earth. It's rivers and oceans and lakes are something we all share, as is the health of those waterways.

None of us can solve all of Mother Earth's problems in one sitting. But the following seven paddlers are thinking globally, and acting locally, to bring awareness to important water problems in their areas.

Justin Riney
In 2013, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Ponce de Leon arriving in Florida and help preserve the state's waterways, Justin Riney paddled 2,500 miles around and through Florida. Dubbed Expedition Florida 500—for which he won the 2013 SUP Award for Top Expedition and was featured in The New York Times—he took an entire year to complete the project, launching from Pensacola Jan. 1 and finishing 365 days later.

"The primary goal was to highlight the importance of stewardship efforts as they relate to Florida's ocean, coastlines, waterways and marine ecosystem," says Riney, who documented the journey through blogs, photos and videos, and is writing a book on the trip. "Florida is unique in that it embodies the entire freshwater to saltwater waterway system from source to sea. It's one of the few places on Earth with such thriving wildlife and natural environment based around water."

Riney spent the first six months exploring the coastline: chasing swell in the Atlantic, freediving Spanish shipwrecks, spearfishing in the Marquesas, birding in the Dry Tortugas and more. Along the way, he stopped at beachside communities to host cleanups and speak with locals about the importance of protecting their waters. During the second half he turned inland, exploring the state's rivers, lakes, estuaries and marshlands, at one point counting 183 alligator sightings in a single day.

"I want to inspire and empower ocean advocates worldwide," says Riney, who learned to swim before he could walk. "I want to merge my passion for ocean advocacy with a storyline that resonates with the masses."
This Water Warrior feature originally ran in the Spring 2015 issue.

Water Warriors are helping the environment everywhere.