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Let my people go surfing

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Let my people go surfing – The Education of a Reluctant Businessman
Yvon Chouinard
Esseen arvioitu lukuaika on 5 minuuttia.

Let my people go surfing



Patagonia is an outdoor clothing and gear brand that is known for its commitment to sustainability and environmentalism. The company was founded in 1973 by Yvon Chouinard and is based in Ventura, California. In addition to its focus on product quality, Patagonia is also widely recognized for its commitment to environmental sustainability. The company has implemented a number of environmentally-friendly initiatives, such as using recycled materials in its products, partnering with environmental organizations, and donating 1% of its sales to environmental causes.


Patagonia has been one of my favourite brands for a long time. I love the durability and versatility of the products, but most of all the brand’s ideology and values. When I was reading the book “Let my people go surfing”, I recognized myself from lot of struggles the Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard went through.


In a way, I am too, a reluctant businesswoman.


Earth is now our only shareholder.


Yvon Chouinard gave up his billionaire status after giving the company to a trust and a nonprofit in September 2022. In his letter he is talking about how we don’t have much time to act on saving our planet. They were pondering many different options to make a bigger impact; they were already doing.


They were thinking of selling Patagonia and donating all the money to fighting climate crisis. However, they could have not been sure, that the next owner will continue their work. They were also thinking of making the company public, but after careful consideration, it was not a good option either. Finally, they came up with this solution.


100% of the company’s voting stock transfers to the Patagonia Purpose Trust, created to protect the company’s values; and 100% of the nonvoting stock had been given to the Holdfast Collective, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting the environmental crisis and defending nature. The funding will come from Patagonia: Each year, the money we make after reinvesting in the business will be distributed as a dividend to help fight the crisis.


How it all started?


How reluctant businessman Yvon became a businessman? Yvon was someone who wanted to do everything but be a businessman. He didn’t appreciate big corporations at all and saw them as a major cause of the destruction of nature.


For Yvon, sport and nature were the most important values, work was just something that made his lifestyle possible.


I identify a lot with Yvon’s way of thinking and see much the same in my own path. I love nature and outdoor sports, and I absolutely don’t want to be a part of destroying the environment. I’d rather have a lot of freedom to do the things I love than make a lot of money without freedom. It’s only in the last year that I’ve realized I can have both and reading this book only reinforced that. If I make more money, I will also have the resources to spend money on environmental conservation.


Yvon started climbing as a teenager. He spent all his time surfing and climbing with a $15 Chervolet as his vehicle. Food was sourced free of charge from the wild and water was drunk from natural water sources. Yvon had spent his youth practising his manual skills in a variety of odd jobs, mainly as a mechanic.


Yvon found the climbing equipment on the market to be inadequate and started making his own. The first ones were made from the blade of a mower. Yvon’s friends started to buy equipment made by him, and the word got out. Eventually, Yvon borrowed about $800 from his parents to buy a tool for forging and he and his father built the first forge in their backyard. This was the beginning of the Chounaird Equipment story and the first steps of Patagonia.


Start of Patagonia’s environmental work


In the 1970s, outdoor sports began to grow in popularity, with climbing in particular becoming very popular in the United States. Yvon began to notice the damage that climbing was doing to the natural environment, got upset, and decided that Chouinard Equipment would no longer make steel hooks to be used to hammer into cracks in the rock. Instead, they started making a more rock-friendly product, wedges.


The company’s first catalogue was published with an editorial on the environmental risks of climbing. There was resistance to abandoning the old style of climbing, so Yvon and his friends climbed the famous El Capitan Nose route entirely without steel hooks. The hook business dried up and more wedges were needed than they had time to make.


I think this shows how important it is to set an example yourself. You can’t tell others to do something unless you show them how. Big companies have a lot of power, and more companies could use that power better. By being an example to others.


Social factors at Patagonia


Patagonia’s business culture was ahead of its time. The United States has not become known for its family-supportive business culture; in most cases, maternity or paternity leave is virtually non-existent or at least not paid. From the very beginning, Yvon wanted his company to be a place where people wanted to work. He wanted it to be flexible, which was ahead of its time in the 1980’s.


In Yvon’s speech at the University of California, Yvon said he wanted to break the rules of business.


“We don’t care when you work, as long as the work gets done. You go surfing when there’s surf, you go powder skiing when there’s powder. We wanted to have a job where we would be allowed to do that. And we wanted to go to work with friends – we didn’t want to work with MBAs”


And as he said in the speech, lot of the times it was their closest friends who were hired. As the first employees started having children, the culture evolved, and Patagonia started offering free childcare and paid maternity and paternity leave. Today, Patagonia remains a pioneer of gender equality and family life in the United States.


I personally have often struggled with the idea of traditional work life. I was always an A student, who loved studying. But as I took my first steps as an employee, lot of things were annoying me. I think, that is why I ended up on the path to entrepreneur from very early on. I wanted to make my own rules and build my work life around my passions, and not the other way around.




I think the story of Patagonia is a great example, that it is in fact possible to lead a business ethically. More companies should lead sustainability first, not the money first. We are living on an era, where we really need to take planet’s crisis seriously, and big corporations play a huge role in this.




Chounaird, Y. Suuri seikkailu – vastahakoisen liikemiehen tunnustukset. Talentum 2012. Helsinki.


Patagonia website. Earth is now our only shareholder. Read on 27.3.2023.



Yvon Chouinard: Let My People Go Surfing. UCLA Institute of Environment and Sustainability. Published 17.10.2013.


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