Propelled by Passion
“I just feel that there is so much beauty and life here that we are so blessed to have on this Earth that we all live on.”
Photographs provided by Peggy Oki & Glen E. Friedman
Cover Photograph by Glen E. Friedman from the book MY RULES
Introduction by Lee Nentwig
Interview by Lee Nentwig & Theo Constantinou
When the legendary Zephyr Skate Team emerged from California in the mid-1970’s they did not shift the paradigm, they shattered through it! The Z-Boys skated with a style so gritty, so raw, so gutsy, and so pure that it could not be measured by the conventional criteria of the era. For the Dogtown crew, there were zero precedents to follow and zero limitations to obey. A true sense of freedom could be felt and admired in their skating because they were driven by an intuitive passion that shined through.
That same wave of passion continues to propel the Zephyr Team’s only female member, Peggy Oki, in her endeavors today. After her competitive skating career ended, Oki continued to pursue her own path. Combining her artistic talents with her love for nature and wildlife, she has now devoted herself to creative activist projects that raise awareness and appreciation for our planet. Programs such as her Origami Whales Project and the Whales & Dolphins Ambassador Program not only educate youth about our planet and our fellow inhabitants, they encourage youth to utilize their own unique individual creative abilities to contribute to a more sustainable future.
Whether through skateboarding, art, or wildlife activism, it is a radiant vitality that distinguishes Peggy Oki as a pioneer. She lives in sincere devotion to her awe and passion for life and commits whole-heartedly to following her own path. In doing so, her sense of joy resonates in those around her as she inspires us all to follow our own bliss along the paths we each pursue.
Lee: Not only were you the only female skater with the skills to skate with the Zephyr team, but in your earliest skate competitions the other female skaters even protested against you because of your raw, gritty style of skating, claiming that you skated too much like the men. Based on these experiences, it would seem that you were a bit of an outcast in some regards, but you had the courage, will, and tenacity to maintain and strive to be the strongest version of yourself. Could you discuss the effects that these types of experiences may have had in making you the woman that you now are?
Well, I would say that it strengthened my sense to believe in what I thought was the right thing to do and that has always been a driving force in my actions. So even after I left the skateboard competition scene and went on towards my studies and learning about the different things that were happening to the environment and threatening dolphins and whales and other forms of life on the planet, I felt very compelled to, no matter how adverse the circumstances have been, stand my ground for animal life.
(Photograph by C.R. Stecyk III from the book, DogTown: The Legend of the Z-Boys)
Theo: Through yoga I have learned that you must learn to live your inner life without undue tension. Introspection can mean enlightenment, but it can also mean self-destruction. In the process of learning who you are and what you are, there may come a time when you may not like what you see, and deep down you can become your own harshest critic. A high level of introspection can be constructive, but it can also by destructive. How do you systematically start to change, develop, and grow?
I think that it is a life long challenge to learn to know when your mind needs to be quieter and to grant yourself that by doing things that give you a balance. For me, yoga is a great way to quiet my mind because I become internally more focused on the yoga. The same is true for me with the physical activities that I like to do – the surfing, and the rock climbing, and the skating, and cycling – all of those things require focus and give my mind a break.
L: For someone like yourself, very ambitious in everything that you strive to accomplish and challenge yourself with, all of these things – yoga, skating, surfing, biking – help to let go and I think it’s very significant to let go at points in life and not get too caught up. It sort of puts things into perspective and you’ve got to kind of laugh at yourself once in a while. Yeah, keep striving to get better and better and better, but you’re always going to get knocked down. Just take a breathe and let things go because it’s not going to go your way all of the time and things are bigger than yourself, so break that ego. It’s good to fall on your ass off the skateboard or have a bad day out on the waves…
And it’s an amazing thing when we let go of our attachments and expectations such as going out surfing and saying to yourself, “Well, I’m just going to go out and see what I get and have fun!” It’s not about the mindset of, “I’m going to go out and get all the best waves!” And it’s amazing how much better it can be when you just release yourself from those expectations.
L: It’s an extremely marvelous and uplifting sensation to begin to really consider the symbiotic marvel of life. Everything, past and present, correlates and resonates to make life possible in this moment on this planet. Not only every human being, but every plant, every insect, every bird in the sky, and every fish swimming at the deepest depths of our ocean plays an integral role in the cooperative process of life on this planet. Can you discuss the inspiration that has driven your work as a marine wildlife activist?
Well, I’m a total natural history nerd (laughs). I am fascinated when I learn about things, not necessarily about marine species alone, but whenever I learn about the life-forms on this planet I am in awe! Because it’s not just one creature that has unique qualities or survival features or behavior, it’s how beautiful all animals can be. And I get chills, I feel so amazed, and I really appreciate these things! I feel that for whatever life-forms there may be in this entire universe, and there could be limitless life out there, I really feel so grateful to be alive on this planet and I treasure this planet for being home to such a diverse range of life – it’s just so inspiring to me. I just feel that there is so much beauty and life here that we are so blessed to have on this Earth that we all live on. It’s endless beauty, and there are so many beautiful natural places – waterfalls, deserts, and mountains and then a whole undersea world of coral reefs and kelp forests. I am constantly in a state of awe as I continue to learn more and more about all of these things and what continues to be discovered and revealed about all different kinds of life-forms.
For example, take a look at cephalopods, the squid and the octopi, and the more and more that scientists are revealing about their behavior and the sense of intelligence of these beings – it’s just mind-blowing! To me, it’s all so precious and when I see things happening that are destroying the life on this planet it gets to my heart. It’s heartbreaking because we are so blessed to be here and it seems that humanity is just not fully respecting and appreciating nature the way that it needs to in order to continue. There’s talk that we are entering the sixth mass extinction of life on this planet and it’s sad to think of the extinction of any species on this planet… except for maybe mosquitos and leeches (laughs). And I know that those creatures also have a role, so I can’t give them a hard time. But I just see that this planet is so amazing – the stones on this earth, the gems, the water, the ice, all of the magnificent life-forms in the Arctic, and glaciers, and icebergs, it is truly awesome!
“…there is so much more to learn about and probably learn from these animals that we humans just seem to overlook. We’ve got to lose this human, it’s all about me, anthropocentric attitude or we’re going to lose so much of the beauty that is here…”
L: I agree, and it’s so wonderful to hear you speak about these things with such vigor and enthusiasm. As you were saying, I think appreciation and gratitude are so important because you just sit back and you are in awe about how astonishing everything around you really is and you’re humbled to be a part of it.
It really is, I mean every single life-form is truly amazing, you know? Millions and millions of years of evolution to become what these different beings are today, it is fascinating. To me, in learning about dolphins and whales, and their social intelligence, as well as elephants and other animals, there is so much more to learn about and probably learn from these animals that we humans just seem to overlook. We’ve got to lose this human, it’s all about me, anthropocentric attitude or we’re going to lose so much of the beauty that is here and ultimately the quality of life is just going to deteriorate to… who knows? Who knows if humans can survive without whales and dolphins and corals, our ocean, and clean air and water?
Theo: I recently found this poem by Alberto Caeiro which correlates with your work, it reads:
If sometimes I say that flowers smile
And if I should say that rivers sing,
It’s not because I think there are smiles in flowers,
And song in the rivers’ flowing …
It’s so I can help misguided men
Feel the truly real existence of flowers and rivers
Since I write for them to read me, I sometimes stoop
To the stupidity of their senses …
It isn’t right, but I excuse myself,
Because I’ve only taken on this odious role, an interpreter of Nature,
Because there are men who don’t grasp its language,
Which is no language at all.
From what we’ve been discussing, I’m curious to hear your reaction to Caeiro’s words. Can you talk about how you interpret this poem and how it relates to the responsibility that you have taken on in becoming a wildlife activist? What thoughts and emotions does this poem makes you feel as relates to your own efforts as a wildlife activist? And what do you think Caeiro is speaking about in regards to helping misguided men and women feel the truly real existence of flowers and rivers?
I interpret this poem as saying that each person as an individual, whether it’s Alberto Caeiro or another poet, or another painter, or myself, has our own sense of perception of nature, beauty, and joy that we experience and a hope that we may try to relay that beauty and transmit it so that other people, especially those that are abusive of the Earth, will hopefully begin to share that sense of love and feeling for it and then begin to understand that need to protect it. And it’s a real challenge, I think, to change people’s perceptions, but it’s got to be done somehow. Many do not see the precious nature of this Earth and its living beings and only, I would say, a false sense of beauty in life – which are materialistic things that aren’t really so meaningful. And I can’t determine what’s beautiful for one person versus what’s beautiful for another, I really don’t want to sound critical of people who chose a more materialistic path, but I know that speaking for myself, boy, the feeling that I get when I’m out in the desert looking at that open space, the magnificent rock formations, or seeing the colors in sky, the clouds, and breathing fresh, clean air… I just wouldn’t get that inside of some multi-million dollar house! And again, I don’t want to sound judgmental or critical and call them “misguided” men or women, but I really feel that in order for this planet to keep going that the greed and the sense of values has got to shift.
(For more information regarding the “Free Lolita” campaign and how you can help, please visit here.)
L: Certainly, and understanding that we’re not in control, that there are significant things far beyond ourselves. I think that part of the awe, which we discussed earlier, is knowing that we’re not responsible for this. As much as we may want to hold onto things and accumulate in life, and achieve, and earn, and build ourselves up…nature, this planet, and this universe ultimately existed long before us and it will go on long without us. Maybe it’s just a motivation to open your eyes and the eyes of a few around you to all that this moment really is. All that you accumulate, all of the material wealth that you may compile in your lifetime, the giant house, the car…it’s not going to mean much after your dying day.
It’s a very interesting thing, the obsession of humans for possession, the idea that if one has more, then one will be happier and people will appreciate this perception of wealth. This kind of mentality is really leading to the demise of this planet as well as sociologically… it’s really not helping.
L: So whether it’s skateboarding, art, or wildlife activism, you have chosen to live your life as trailblazer who continues to explore, evolve, innovate, and pave new paths for others to follow. What advice would you lend to future generations of ambitious youth, aspiring to set out on their own paths?
Well, because of my fame through Dogtown and having been on the Zephyr team, I’ve been invited to do a lot of public speaking. And while some people want to hear about the skateboarding, I feel that it is really important to inspire everyone. So when I give my talks I talk about my background and then I also share about those who inspired me – leaders, artists, and activists who are doing things to evoke love for this planet, people like Bob Talbot, the Dalai Lama, Jean Cousteau, different people that have really moved me and have all followed their own paths towards their passion and have been in service, which to me is such an ultimate blessing, to be able to do that.
When I talk to people I tell them to really try to find what their passion is, to follow that, and to try to be of service. Really think about what you can do that will help make the world a better place. Even if someone is working a “regular” job, perhaps as a plumber or a bookkeeper, no matter the type of work, there has got to be some ability that they have to help make a contribution. For people who really do feel that they have a passion for something, whether it’s helping wildlife, or animals that are in shelters, or people who want to do beach clean ups, or re-vegetating areas that have been cleared and need to be replanted, or helping the elderly, or getting involved with youth groups to keep our youth on a healthy path… I believe that everything is connected in one way or the other and that whatever good energy is put out there, it is all contributing in one way or another to the greater good.
L: Like all parts of nature, human beings alike, each individual has something different to offer to the greater whole.
Yep, that’s what I believe! I believe that people will find their own power and willingness to do something and make the most of their lives. And again, I don’t want to sound judgmental or overly critical, but too much television time is a disappointment! If someone really thought about how many hours they actually spend watching the television versus doing something that’s truly productive (laughs)… that would be a good thing for people to think about!
When I meet people that are at the end of high school or just entering into college, I may ask what their major is and they’ll tell me what it is, or maybe they’ll tell me that they don’t know and I just say that it’s all good. Just continue to follow what you’re interested in, even if it may seem like a strange combination of interests or you’re not so certain. As long as you explore and continue to search for what’s for you, that’s just the path that you’re walking and eventually things will come together. That’s how it worked for me. I studied field biology because I was really interested in natural history and animal behavior, and then I was also studying art before that. Then, through my own life and path, the two things, which some may seem opposites, have come together into environmental art! So life is interesting and whatever those passions are, as long as people follow them, they’ll have the tools and they’ll put something together.
Take, for example, my Whales and Dolphins Ambassador Program that formed as a result of my Origami Whales Project. It’s an environmental art project that came as a result of a thought five years ago that besides the whaling, there are so many other things that are harming life in the ocean and I felt that I needed to do the whole cause justice and lend help! So I teach kids about all of the different things that are threatening and how we as humans are impacting the lives of these dolphins and whales and marine life, and the things that we can do with art and in personal life choices that can reduce our impact and help.
For further information about Peggy Oki’s artwork, wildlife activism, and public speaking please visit her official website.