This is the first in a series on Active Outdoor Vegans that will feature on The Vegan Junction. The series will include interviews with a number of different vegans who live active, outdoor inspired lives. The many pursuits of these individuals demonstrate that not only can you be happy and healthy on a plant-based, vegan diet, but that you can also push your limits even further and accomplish many great athletic endeavours in the process. Hopefully this series will help to encourage aspiring and seasoned vegans alike to live a healthy, active, plant fueled life and to enjoy all that nature has to provide!
John Merryfield is a long-time outdoors enthusiast with a passion for water-based adventure. He is a competitive Stand Up Paddle racer and has accomplished many inspiring feats on the water. He is also very active in the vegan community and animal activism, and he is a long-time promoter of a vegan and plant-based lifestyle.
You live a rather active and outdoors life. What began your love for the outdoors?
My love for the ocean began early, growing up in So. California and Hawaii. As a kid, I spent every waking hour in, or near, the water. I was a fish. I learned to surf at Ala Moana, Oahu, Hawaii when I was nine years old. My mother told me to take my younger brother out surfing with me, but make sure we both come back. Haha! The older Hawaiians, out in the waves, took care of, and looked out for both of us. As a kid surfing in Hawaii, I would see the outrigger canoe paddlers, further out in the ocean, paddling, and training for races. Their tradition, and love for the ocean inspired me.
What are your favourite outdoor activity/ies?
I still love to surf, and I also love to kitesurf and Stand Up Paddle (SUP). I also paraglide, which is a form of flying that uses ridge lift and thermals to stay in the air.
Where do you live/spend time pursuing these outdoor passions?
My wife and I live in Lake Tahoe, California in the summer where I work as a painting contractor, and in Los Barriles, Baja, Mexico in the winter, where I surf and paddle. It’s been in land-locked Lake Tahoe that SUP and paddling on the lake allowed me to maintain my love and connection to the water.
Do you enjoy races/competitions? If so, what do you like most about them?
Yes, I enjoy elite SUP paddle racing, and what I like most about it is being on the water (ocean, lakes, rivers), and pushing myself at the age of 49 years old, to compete at these international events with guys younger than myself. I also love the Aloha spirit of SUP. To be with a community of people who love the water and cheer for the last place finisher, as much or more, than the winner of the race. In fact, last year, at a race here in Lake Tahoe where I finished in the top ten, the last place finisher was a man in a wheel chair on a large, modified SUP. It was an incredible effort for him to paddle, and stay balanced on a board while in a wheel chair! We all paddled out to accompany him in, as he crossed the finish line. It was a beautiful moment.
What is your most memorable outdoor adventure or experience so far?
Well, some of the most memorable waves for me have been at a place I used to surf, called Mavericks in Half Moon Bay. It’s a big wave location where the waves can be huge! 20-50 feet huge! I’ve also SUP paddled with dolphin, Humpback and Gray whales, Hammerhead sharks, Manta rays, and even a family of 12 Orcas (Killer Whales) on the Sea of Cortez in Baja, Mexico. The consciousness of marine life is often misunderstood or minimized. Much of ocean life seems so alien to us humans, with their fins, gills, and camouflaged bodies, but from what I’ve seen and experienced, all of us, humans and ocean beings alike, want the same things in life. To live free, and to be with our friends and families.
What led you to the vegan and plant based lifestyle?
I’ve had a plant based diet (vegetarian) for over 30 years and now vegan for the last 8 years. Many years ago, I questioned the confinement and slaughter of animals as a way of life. I see the inherent violence of factory farms and in the slaughterhouses, and I don’t want to support that. I love animals, all animals, including humans, and I see the thread of connection between us all, and I don’t want to cause harm to any of us. If we could live happy, healthy lives without killing animals, why wouldn’t we?
What motivates you to continue with it and to spread the message to others?
Animals are amongst the most vulnerable in our society and thus, the most exploited. There is a lack of education about the sentient nature of animals, as well as a lack of awareness about how the consumption of animals is totally unsustainable. There were people before me who helped educate me to the cruelties inherent in the meat industry, including dairy and eggs, so I feel that it’s very important for me to help educate others.
Could you describe your perfect outdoor adventure-inspired day, as well as your favourite plant-based fuel for that day?
Ahhh yes! That’s easy. A day on the ocean in Baja, surfing or paddling, and then a home-made meal with my wife; re-fried bean tacos on fresh corn tortillas, with some avocado and papaya on the side, and a smoothie for desert.
Do you have a favourite post-activity vegan snack/meal (and/or restaurant)?
I eat an unprocessed, organic, whole food, vegan diet. Lots of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. My “go to” snacks are green smoothies. They’re easy, and full of nutrition. One of my favorites is a kale, mint, banana, apple, blueberry smoothie with some maca, pea protein, spirulina and hemp milk. And I’ve never found it difficult to get sufficient nutrition from plant based foods to fuel my pursuits. In fact, the more I learn about plant based nutrition and training, the healthier and stronger I get. My wife Carol, is originally from New York, so we love going to Candle 79 (all vegan) when we’re in N.Y.C.. We’re also finding more and more vegan restaurants serving good, nutritious food everywhere we go.
You’ve accomplished some great athletic feats, and you like to use outdoor activities to bring awareness to the vegan and plant based lifestyle. Could you tell us about the “Vegan 1 Day Project”? When you started it and why?
The Vegan 1 Day Project is a grass roots effort to encourage people to eat more plants and fewer animals. I help support people transitioning to a plant based diet by stand up paddling the entirety of Lake Tahoe in one day. This year will be the 7th year I will embark on the solo, non-stop 72 mile paddle around the circumference of Lake Tahoe, which takes me about 15-16 hours to complete. It will be the evening of a full moon (so I can navigate at night) in August. Many people mistakenly think that committing to a vegan diet is restrictive and difficult, when in reality, a whole food plant based diet is healthy, compassionate, and easy, and does a lot of good in the world! For example, if everyone adopted a vegan diet for just one day, we would save 2 BILLION animals globally (land and ocean), 100 billion gallons of water, 4.5 million tons of animal excrement, and 1.2 million tons of CO2. Paddling alone all day and night, 72 miles around Tahoe for the Vegan 1 Day Project is difficult; but pales in comparison to what animals experience on factory farms and in slaughterhouses; like chickens in battery cages or pigs in metal crates, which are crammed in so tight they can’t turn around for most of their lives. We can do better for ourselves and for animals!
Thank you John, for taking the time to do this interview. I’ve really enjoyed learning a bit more about you and your experiences, as well as being able to share your project with others!