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Rough Cut
Puerto Rico: Samurai Surfers
Eco-warriors in Puerto Rico
 

 

Reporter Sachi Cunningham

Sachi Cunningham grew up in Pittsburgh, PA. She learned to surf while working in the film industry in Japan. A graduate of Brown University and the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, she has reported for FRONTLINE/World in Afghanistan, Kashmir, China and Japan. She lives and surfs in San Francisco.

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Length: 16:02

Introduction

Angel Rodriguez, aka "El Doctor," is a former accountant turned full-time surfer and coach of Puerto Rico's surf team. He's also a tenacious defender of his marine environment. Just ask the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that made the mistake of dumping harbor dredge on El Doctor's favorite surf spot.

"Hey, who the f*** are you?" asked a hostile construction engineer who was busy bulldozing the beach when El Doctor implored him to stop.

"Who the f*** am I?" replied the irate surfer. "You're going to know who I am."

What ensued was what Rodriguez calls "environmental warfare" -- a protracted battle between surfers and engineers over the fate of a reef near Arecibo on Puerto Rico's north shore.

FRONTLINE/World reporter Sachi Cunningham, herself a surfer, ventures to the Caribbean island to tell the tale of El Doctor and his surfer activists who challenge the army's assault on their beach with sit-ins, the ingenious deployment of an inflatable doll and, ultimately, a successful lawsuit against the Corps. El Doctor even dons the costume of a comic super-hero, in the style of Mexico's masked, caped crusader, Superbarrio, defender of the downtrodden.

"Surfers should be like samurais or knights," declares Riki Desoto, another protest leader. "Their mission, their adventure is the protection and enjoyment of the beach and the coast." Founder of the Puerto Rican chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, Desoto bears a double-take resemblance to Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong fame, and he's just as gnarly.

For the record, this is the first FRONTLINE/World story to use the term "dude." Consider yourself warned. It's August, we know many of you are waxing down your surfboards. But for those of you confined at home or in the office, click on Cunningham's video, check out the waves and watch these surfer dudes defend their beloved reef.

Stephen "Beach Boy" Talbot
Series Editor

REACTIONS

Ismael Bonilla - Dorado, Puerto Rico
Thats what we need more people willing to give it all for the treasure we have in Puerto Rico. Thanks Doctor....Isma

David Soto - Dorado, PR
There is a fundamental problem with a society that does not wish to protect its natural resources without which it could not survive.Thanks to people like El Doctor, one more patch of land in Puerto Rico has been saved. I just wish this would be more front page news because no one on this Island cares about the environment.

abner C - ontario, canada
VERY NICE..hope we have more of these eco-warriors in our world today. HEY YUKI (from NJ) -- the name of the song is by Superaquello - La Emergencia..: )

Joy Farinacci - Guaynabo, PR
You are a night in shining armor, keep up the good work! If you need new recruits let me know I will come out of retirement to lend a hand. US Navy Retired Chief Farinacci!!!!!!!

Angel Rodriguez - Arecibo, PR
My thanks to: Miguel Sarrieara, Ricky Di Soto , Edwin Hernandez, Ken Linderman, Teddy Gibson, Jay, Chino, Chessy, Naldo, Luis "Polli", Cecilia, Anita , Carlos Rivera, Fernando, Gugo, Popo, Sammy, La familia Charneco, Ceda Foundation, Surfrider Foundation, Lic. Fuertes, Tito "Kayak" and to all the other persons who where part of my army, who where capable of holding our flag and not letting it down. And a very special thanks to Sachi Cuningham for making this story available to everybody, " Hey Sachi, youre just great!"To all you people who have written, a very special thanks for your support and just remember that you guys rule. Don't let nobody destroy our enviroment. You guys are the power of this world and this is are only home and we have to protect it with our lives. Love the earth and GOD will give back to you.--"The Doctor"

Lexington Park, MD
Great video, glad to hear the Army has to clean up its mess, bad to know it will take the reef 10 years to recover...How is damaging the ECO SYSTEM justified?

D. Frank - Sebastopol, CA
Thanks Doctor! Thank you Surfriders! So, what plan was made for the future dredge dumping? What impact will this have, if it is dumped further out at sea?

(anonymous)
Never surfed in my life but as a SCUBA diver I appreciate the importance of saving our beaches and our reefs!! Great Work!!

Bonnie Kellum - Allen, TX
"El Doctor" provides a positive example for so many others to follow. When he began his quest to stop the US Army Corps from destroying the reef, El Doctor probably didn't realize the effects his actions were going to have. Undoubtedly, he taught the surfers around him to stick to their convictions and stand up for what they believe is right, but El Doctor couldn't have known what an impact he'd have on others far away. In viewing the comments made on the article, it's obvious that the story has touched people across the nation. It is truly refreshing when someone can make such a difference by merely doing what is right and protecting nature's beautiful creations.

Stephen Hunter - Allen, Texas
This is a prime example of Civil Disobedience in which brave people stood up for what they believed in, and were able to eventually succeed and have their message hit home with the people and the US Government. The Corps of Engineers were way out of line in this situation, and I hope that when unlawful, or immoral actions such as this take place, we all are able to follow the example of these surfers, and fight for what we believe in. Way to go guys.

(anonymous)
This is a wonderful story! Everyone should take steps to protect our environment. El Doctor is a true inspiration, showing that a few people (and an inflatable doll) really can make a difference. More people need to step up and do their part, like El Doctor.

(anonymous)
This is great. I love the ocean, and to see someone doing anything to ruin it and show disrespect for it makes me so angry. So when someone decides to go against the grain and stand up for what's right, I can't help but give them praise. Just keep doing what you're doing Mr. Rodriguez. And thanks to Sachi Cunningham for showing the world what's going on so that we can do something too.

Alex Rider - Denver, COlorado
As terrible and reprehensible as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' actions were in this case, I'm even more concerned about the lack of passion about safekeeping the environment among great numbers of citizens on the island. Great credit is to be given to people like "El Doctor", the Surfrider Foundation, and other dedicated groups in Puerto Rico for putting up a good fight and for educating the isle's residents. May they inspire everyone on the island to express true and actionable appreciation for their precious natural resources.

Alex Rider - Denver, Colorado
Nice work and good job!!!! :}

(anonymous)
excellent story! would love to this as a series, showing global empowerment and the ability for people to fight and protect their natural environments around them. Great work!

Krystal Flores - Orlando, FL
I admire El doctor aka Angel Rodriguez aka my uncle. I have always looked up to him since I was just a young girl. I give him much props for standing strong to keep our waters safe in our beautiful island of Puerto Rico. I am also glad that he has been able to inspire other people to do so as well. Much love from your family tio. Sonny, Jenny and me.

vasilios Maniatis - Grenada, West Indies
Way to go dude! Army Corps are notorious for their contempt of the environment. Your theme song should be the reggae tune, Ocean Warrior by Pato Banton!

crystal rodriguez - pasco, washington
Puerto Rico is so beatiful, I love it. I love the way the peple talk. They talk like Daddy Yankee. So yeah, if you didnt know who that was, he is a famous Spanish reggaeton rapper. I love Puerto Rico.

Jake Stock - Honolulu, Hawaii
Right on for respecting the ocean. Lets do this all over the place and show these culprits that we mean business. Forget about the cops man! Our oceans are the most important things. Aloha.

Carlos E. Vega - Astoria, NY
FELICITACIONES! To all those involved in this effort. Thanks for putting up a fight and looking out for our natural resources. Thanks for keeping Borinquen, la hija del mar y el sol. Que Dios los bendiga.

Miguel Angel Jimenez - Las Vegas, NV
To Doctor: great job for keeping our coast clean and ready for all the boys. I surf side by side with Doc; I am really happy to hear from him and what he is up to. My other love took me away from the island and brought me to Vegas but my girl and son are ready to move back home. I will see you guys later.

Hatillo, PR
We as Puerto Ricans are getting tired of being treated as second class Americans. Issues like these have a political meaning for us and it's getting obvious that our interests collide too often with corporate America. I think it's time to stand up and fight for our rights. We deserve and demand a clean coast and a clean beach.

Rafael Velazquez - Longwood, FL
Being raised in Arecibo and with my parents and other family still there, I feel nothing but extreme pride in the way my fellow Puerto Rican brother Angel fought and won this difficult battle against a powerful governmental agency like the Corps of Engineers. This is truly an inspiration to us all. Thank you, Doctor. And thank you Sachi for a wonderful piece.

Cliff Jones - Pittsburgh, PA
Nice job, Sachi! This is a fantastic documentary and it's great to see that you're pouring your heart and soul into something that you believe in.

Yuki - Highland Park, NJ
Very informative and moving... Congrats to El Doctor and his victory!
Glad to see that there are still people in the world who care about the environment... Keep up the good work!Also, I was wondering what the music at the beginning and end were?

FRONTLINE/World's editors respond:
The music was by a Puerto Rican band named Super Aquello. To learn more about them visit http://www.superaquello.com.

New York, NY
Mabruk (congratulations) to all those involved in stopping the Army Corps of Engineers from destroying this very critical marine environment. El Doctor and the rest of the activists at the Surfrider Foundation know the long history of abuses and disregard involved in the U.S. imperialism and colonialism in Puerto Rico. Once again the people of Puerto Rico have stood up in the face of power and said "No!" It's an inspiration for all of us in the global fight against racism, enivronmental degradation, imperialism and injustice of all sorts.

Steve Umphlett - Nags Head, NC
Doctor is the man!

Rebecca Rosa - Brooklyn, NY
I am really inspired by all of the stand-up activists in Puerto Rico and thanks to Sachi and Frontline for sharing their trials, tribulations and success. We know the struggle continues on the island and this kind of exposure and education is what we need more of, to encourage all generations across the world to learn to appreciate and preserve this most precious privilege - las playas!

Peter Hanley - Hendersonville, NC
As a West Coast US surfer from the 60's and 70's, the degradation of our coastal waters and surfing locales has been a sad journey over the years. Bravo to those in the water willing to speak out and make the public aware of the ongoing loss of one of our most precious resources.

(anonymous)
I honestly think is flippin' bull stuff because only people with power and guns get to do what they want, basically pushing [people] around. I am not really an environmentalist, but still I think what the surfers did was a good idea and a good strategy. You let little things like this get out of hand and then other things get out of hand.

peter carley - trumbull, CT
Bravo, el Doctor! I have surfed the Rincon area many times, and I love the place so much. We have to stand up for the ocean. The Surfrider Foundation's success in the Tres Palmas fight is also inspirational. Its a shame that these fights are going to continue, mostly because of greed and selfishness. If only these contractors would get on a surfboard, they would understand!

LUCIANO PEDOTA - CHICAGO, ILLINOIS
Another great leading example of how people within communities need to fight back against the abusive, irresponsible and greedy behaviour of governments and corporations who can only think in one dimension: personal gain and profit by violating, bypassing and ignoring laws, communities and natural resources at whatever cost. A good example to show that "people" can and should fight back to defend themselves from these powerful entities that are destroying our planet and our sense of humanity. Thank you dudes!

DERRICK ROBBINS - CEIBA, PR
Buene trabajo for the efforts of el Doctor, keep the drive alive for all the playas in P.R.

John van den Heuvel - Toronto, Ontario
Like our beaches on the Great Lakes, we all pay the price for polluting our shores -- smoke butts and pop cans, not to mention beer bottles. Teach your kids to pick up litter. It's our duty to protect our beaches. We can't all fly to Bermuda.

(anonymous)
Thanks to all that made this project a reality. Thank you "El Doctor" for providing us with the inspiration to continue the fight. Thanks to Riki for you guidance and wisdom. Miguel, thank you for your legal mind and your true commitment to justice. Thanks to Edwin for his tireless efforts. And thanks to Sachi and her crew for bringing to life this incredible story so it can be shared and used to inspire a future generation of Surfing Samurai. Un abrazo fuerte!

Kenneth Goldman - San Juan, P.R.
Growing up surfing P.R. surf coast in the 70's, the beaches were always kept clean. Living in Hawaii for the last 25 years and seeing how the people of Hawaii take care of their land should be an inpiration to us all. Moving back to P.R. two years ago, I noticed the people do not take the pride they should in the great land of theirs. There are far too caring and people like el Doctor. There should be many, for only then will this land go back to the way it was in the 70's.

Felix Beveraggi - North Bergen, NJ
Just follow el Doctor's orders. We, as surfers, are responsible to take action in preserving our natural resources. The world needs more people like him. I'm giving him a "Perfect 10" score. Viva Puerto Rico!

Jaime Pabon - Mayaguez, Puerto Rico
Gracias to all that made this effort and to those that put it out there for everybody to see. It is not easy, but together we can make a difference in the world, particularly by influencing younger people. By the way, this Saturday, September 17, 2005, its the International Coastal Cleanup. In PR, more than 80 beaches are getting cleaned up by volunteers.

Andres Pachin - Mayaguez-Rincon, Puerto Rico
Loved the article! Great example to follow... Inspirational!
Kudos to "El Doctor", Ricky and everybody involved! Yeah!!! Thanks for protecting Arecibo, Tres palmas and all the other beaches and reefs in danger...We'll always be vigilant!Now please, we need to educate non surfers, local beachgoers and even some university students that are constantly leaving their beers and garbage on public non surfing beaches! Too many times I 've been yelling: "Pick up your trash!" Time to stop it! Remember guys, you dont know what you got, 'til it's gone!!

Carlos Pi - Brandon, FL
As a former frequent waverider of the Arecibo-Barceloneta coastline, I now how Doctor protects the coastal enviroment and the local 'vibe'. We must give praise to guys like this who protect our waves and beaches.

Natick, Massachusetts
That's pure bravery! Keep ruling those waves El Doctor.

carlos chico - hatillo, puerto rico
Congratulations, those are the news that I loved to hear, I live nearby the reef and this victory for El Doctor and his group is also a victory for Arecibo region and all Puerto Rico. Thanks for the good job you are doing keeping our small island clean and pristine.Thanks to Rough Cut for the [video].

Elias Dominguez - Pacifica, CA
I think that El Doctor is doing a great job. A few years ago I thought it was cool to fight fellow surfers on the water for a 2 feet wave. Now, I think I was very innocent at that time. If I was that tough, I would have spent my time fighting beach developers and polluters. As more surf breaks disappear, there will be more fights in the water.

Frances Lausell - San Juan, Puerto Rico
Congrats to EL Doctor. Thanks Frontline for providing a space for others to know and follow his example. We have to fight for responsible development.

San Francisco, CA
When I was a young surfer back in the 80's I was constantly frustrated with the apathy my friends had toward the development and destruction of our beaches. I'm elated to see that today the ideal of surfing, to those who really understand its significance, means that a surfer must act as a kind of guardian of the sea. I can't think of anyone more suited to the task since those with a deep understanding of the beauty and mystery of the ocean are the ones who truly understand what its loss means.

Burlington, VT
Hey hey Doctor man, como esta todo? I am happy to see you are still giving them hell even after they buried the reef. This crime should not go unpunished. This is the same Corps of Engineers that [destroyed] the Mississippi River, destroyed wetlands along most of our gulf coastlines and now is blaming Mother Nature for they shortcomings. Keep up the good fight!!!

Rod Rodgers - Baltimore, MD
The fight to save the reefs, surfing breaks and natural areas continues on in Puerto Rico! Mi Borinquen.

Brossard, Quebec
A "good news" story. We need many more to get our planet back in shape!

Dalila de Soto - Caguas, Puerto Rico
I am really proud of my brother, Ricky, for all the love, effort and pride he puts in defending our natural resources. It is not an easy battle, but he and his friends are titanic environmental warriors and thanks to them our island is healing from the unconsciousness of the human beings.

David Rosencrans - NewYork, New York
The exploitation of the beaches and natural resources in Puerto Rico are being thwarted by these "Eco Crusaders" activists who are not just fighting dvelopment but trying to insure that marine species, habitats and beaches are enjoyed by ALL on the island not just gringo tourists at expensive resorts!

Alex de Soto - Philadelphia, PA
As terrible and reprehensible as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' actions were in this case, I'm even more concerned about the lack of passion about safekeeping the environment among great numbers of citizens on the island. Great credit is to be given to people like "El Doctor", the Surfrider Foundation, and other dedicated groups in Puerto Rico for putting up a good fight and for educating the isle's residents. May they inspire everyone on the island to express true and actionable appreciation for their precious natural resources.

Ricardo de Soto - San Juan, Puerto Rico
I must thank and commend Sachi Cunningham for making of her documentary an exelent representation of what's really going on with the beaches in Puerto Rico. I must doubly thank her for presenting me in such a good light. This was an epic fight where many heroes came forth on their own and did their thing. "El Doctor", Miguel Sarriera Esq., Dr. Edwin Hernandez and many others knew what the stakes where and what the situation required. To them and to the rest of the band of brothers (of course this includes the sisters too), a big hug of solidarity.Riki "Watusi"

Jayson Duran - Arecibo, Puerto Rico
It's our job as surfers to protect our "backyard", and not only in Arecibo, but around the world.

tim anderson - dayton, ohio
One motivated dude, CAN make a difference!! I've been to Arecibo and it is a beatiful place that should be protected from ANY destruction. This Ohio boy supports El Doctor and his peeps! Hang 10 brothers!

Conrad Lucas - Pasadena, CA
I'm not a surfer, but I'm with the brother on this all the way! Another case of Euro/Anglo-US arrogance and disrespect for the majority of this land's inhabitants. Will lend my help in anwy way I can and close ranks on these people!

Lisandro Rivera - Vega Alta, Puerto Rico
This is just the tip of the iceberg. You should see how Hyatt Corp. , Marriott & others hotel chains and "developers" are privatizing and destroying our beaches. Lets all boycott them. Save our beaches.

Charles Gregg - Bella Vista, Arkansas
I am not a surfer mostly because, as a sport, it was not in vogue when I was young enough. However, I have enjoyed watching the many programs on TV that are both entertaining and to a splendid job of educating the viewer to the intricasies of the sport. I am pleased to have this opportunity to lend my support.

Dennis Guikema - Oakland, CA
The fight for Arecibo by this band of misfits, bound together by their love for their coast and this planet, is a call for all of us to stand up to protect our earth and oceans.

Edgar - Encinitas, Ca
People should be questioning what the @#@ the US has been doing there period!! I commend my surfing brother for fighting back!

(anonymous)
El Doctor is an inspiration to coastal activists all over the world. I'm stoked we're right there beside him on these fights. Kudos!
- Executive Director, Surfrider Foundation