Tell me about your relationship with public lands. What do they mean to you?

I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t grow up with access to public lands. I was born in NYC and lived in Queens for a few years before my family decided to move to the Jersey shore.

Up until moving to NJ, I didn’t really know what it meant to be fully immersed in nature. Having access to green spaces and beautiful non-concrete parks was mind-blowing for 8-year-old me. I feel so lucky to have been able to grow up with access to beautiful beaches, salt marshes, and pine barrens.

Had I not had access to public lands, I may have never become a swimmer and a runner. I may have never become a lifeguard. I may have never started surfing! After growing up in a city, I was able to see how moving to NJ and gaining access to the outdoors was such a pivotal moment in my life. Without access to public lands, I probably wouldn’t have developed a connection to the outdoors.

I feel like this is a perfect example of why public lands are so important. If more people had access to public lands, more people would feel connected to the environment; in turn, more people would be willing to make lifestyle changes for the environment in order to protect it.

All of the things that make me the happiest have something to do with spending time in outdoor spaces. I chose to pursue a degree in Environmental Studies because it was my dream to get some sort of job that would allow me to work with public lands.

How has learning about the environment impacted your actions?

Graduating with a degree in Environmental Studies opened my eyes to several environmental issues we currently face and will be forced to deal with in the very near future. Learning about the environment has taught me that every decision we make has a profound impact on the world around us. This perspective has definitely changed the way I live my life.

I’ve learned that we as individuals are able to stand for what we believe in by being more intentional with how we spend our money. Do you want to know what the biggest takeaway was from being an environmental student? It was that we can significantly reduce our environmental impact by having a plant-based diet.

Some of the changes I’ve made in my own life:

  • I have cut back my meat consumption. I’m not vegan, but I know I’m still reducing my carbon footprint by being conscious about what I eat.
  • I try to get most of my produce from a local farm. By doing this, I’m able to reduce those transportation emissions by locally sourcing my food.
  • I repair my clothes and shoes so I can get more use out of them. Did you know you can have Birkenstocks resolved? I had mine done at a laundromat/dry cleaner down the street from me, and it only cost $15. By doing this, I kept a pair of sandals out of the landfill and supported a local small business – win, win!
  • I bought a compost tumbler and started growing my own veggies. Composting reduces the amount of waste I produce and returns nutrients to the soil in my garden. By growing some of my own food, I am able to cut back on emissions caused by transportation, plastic packaging, fertilizer, and pesticide use.
  • I try to buy second-hand as much as possible. Almost all of my furniture was either purchased used, a hand-me-down, or trash picked. (People throw out such nice stuff sometimes!) But more importantly: by repairing and reusing, we can keep more out of the landfill and create less demand for production.

What can concerned athletes, scientists, artists or creatives do in the face of global challenges?

I believe that all concerned people, in general, have the ability to inspire others by living an environmentally conscious lifestyle and setting a good example. If everyone came together and used their voice to spread information on living a more eco-conscious life, it would make a huge difference by furthering the environmental movement and interest in sustainable living/development.

There isn’t a singular solution to the environmental crisis. We all need to come together and do what we can and remember that there is no such thing as being a “perfect environmentalist.”

How important is mitigating climate change to your life?

It’s definitely something I think about every day. I try my best to live minimally, stay informed, and make environmentally conscious choices.

Can you tell us a bit about your passions beyond “work”?

If I had to list my top three passions, they’d be travel, surf, and photography. From a young age, I have been so fascinated by the idea of traveling to new places.

Growing up, my family didn’t travel much outside of the Northeast US. My brothers and I would ask my parents to tell us stories about what it was like to live in Ecuador and Colombia. My mom grew up in rural Ecuador. My dad grew up in Bogota but left in his 20s to travel by way of working on a cruise ship.

I think that growing up and seeing photos of my parents' travels and hearing their stories fostered my own passion for travel. I love the amount of learning and self-growth that traveling gives me; it’s the thing that makes me feel the most fulfilled.

Do you find these passions tied to given environments or landscapes?

Absolutely, my passions are very dependent on the environment. Pursuing photography, warm weather, and good surf has taken me to the most magical places across Peru, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. I’ve been able to see so many new places through surf travel. The first time I had ever been to a desert was when I visited Peru two years ago!

Do you find that these passions blend, merge or complement your work?

All of the above! An example of my passions blending with my work is when I was hired to photograph a surf contest in my town last year — The Coquina Jam. It is an all-female surf contest and charity event. Funds raised benefit the conservation of our oceans and waterways through the Jetty Rock Foundation as well as David’s Dream and Believe Cancer Foundation, which works to aid families in our community that have been affected by a cancer diagnosis. A surf event that supports the environment, our community, and uplifts women — literally my dream gig!

How do you give back to your community or the underserved?

When traveling abroad, I’ve tried to use my surf photography as a way to give back to the local surf community.

There are so many talented surfers in every place I’ve traveled to surf, and many people don’t have access to the photo gear or the ability to pay a professional photographer. It is such an amazing feeling to be able to gift photos to people who have been surfing for years but have never had a single surf photo or video taken of themselves surfing.

Another reason I started doing this was because I believe that BIPOC are so underrepresented in the surf industry. I wish I had grown up seeing more people that looked like me represented in media. I’m trying to do my part to change that for future generations.

Is there a specific moment in life or a series of events that instilled in you a passion for your craft or passions?

My craft is photography, and I’d have to say that pivotal moment that sparked my interest happened when I was eight years old. I found a Polaroid camera under the seat of my parents’ newly acquired used car. It was love at first shot, and I’d carry this hunky camera with me everywhere!

From that day on, I would save up my allowance to buy those $20 Polaroid cartridges from the local pharmacy. It’s been rewarding to see how my photos have evolved over time, as well as being able to document all of the different phases of my life through photography.

At the end of the day, why do you do your craft? Are there goals ahead, a constant love for the process, or a yearning to learn more?

I take photos for fun and because I love that feeling of nostalgia you get from looking back at old pictures. It feels like opening up a time capsule and being able to relive beautiful moments long after they’ve passed.

I love the challenge and personal growth I’ve gained from the whole experience. I hope to one day be able to use my work to uplift marginalized communities and inspire others to follow their dreams. I definitely have some shoot-for-the-stars type goals I’m working towards. At the moment, I’m focusing on growing my small photo business.

Getting my photography business off the ground has been such a valuable learning experience! As a sole proprietor, you’re forced to wear many hats – bookkeeper, graphic/web designer, manager, salesperson, etc. I’ve been humbled by the whole process, and I’m enjoying the journey.

Do you have any “heroes” to speak of? How are you inspired?

I’m honestly so inspired by all of my friends and family out there chasing their dreams, however that may look. Whether that means grinding at that nine-to-five job to buy their dream home or traveling the world for fun. Everyone is on their own timeline. I have so much respect for all of the goal-getters in my life.

A key ingredient to building a sustainable future?

Putting progress over perfection when it comes to living an environmentally conscious lifestyle. If everyone worked towards being more sustainable in a small way, we could make a huge difference as a whole. Do what you can with what you have!