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originally in Monterey Herald Sunday, September 23, 2007

Coastal Trek Protests Plastic Pollution

Tom Jones of Huntington Beach has been putting his body on the line for causes most of his adult life.

Endurance runner, champion martial artist and surfer, the 44-year-old ex-Marine, extreme athlete and father of two children has run across the United States once, the length of California three times, and is about halfway through a trip along the California coast from Oregon to Mexico by surfboard.

His runs have been fundraisers for abused foster children, Jones said. This time he wants to draw attention to the trashing of the oceans.

"I was raised in foster care," he said. "I was an abused, neglected kid. I've raised thousands of dollars for abused kids and battered women."

He holds seven championships in Muay Thai kick boxing, including two world titles and three U.S. titles.

In 2000, he ran an unprecedented 120 consecutive marathons — 26.2 miles — in 120 days from his home in Huntington Beach to New York City, where he participated in ceremonies and competed in the New York City Marathon to raise money for underprivileged children.

His California runs to raise money for underprivileged children were made in 1998, 1999 and 2001.

In 2003, he ran a marathon in less than four hours, then immediately fought a five-round sanctioned Muay Thai kick boxing match, scoring a third round knockout.

His latest odyssey, California Paddle, was launched Aug. 7 at the Oregon border. His most recent leg Friday was from Moss Landing to Monterey

Harbor, making the trip in about seven hours.

California Paddle, Jones said, is about drawing attention to the pollution of the ocean with plastic debris.

"The beaches along here are all nice and clean," he said, but those in the most remote parts of the California coast, where no volunteer cleanup crews go, are littered with trash washing up on the shore.

"I've seen harbor seals with trash in their mouths, pieces of plastic washed up on rocks," Jones said.

A few years ago he took a break from running and prizefighting to take up surfing.

Over time, Jones said, he began seeing "more and more debris in the water," and began studying the issue.

"For every pound of plankton in the ocean," he said, "there are six pounds of plastic." Scientists, he said, believe a tipping point beyond which pollution damage will be irreversible is about 30 years away.

Jones sees the solution as making biodegradable products for packaging, rather than trying to cope with plastic waste by recycling, and hopes companies will begin addressing the problem by packaging their goods in containers that break down harmlessly in the environment.

"Recycling," he said, "is absurd."

The Earth, he said, "is a great gift, and those to whom much is given, much is required. Why use your living room for a trash can?"

Because humans have the power of reason, "we have the ability to see what's coming," Jones said, "and the arrogance to turn our heads the other way."

He hopes to wake people up to the problem.

"If I do this right, I'll never know the good I did — and I don't care."

In the course of his journey, Jones said, he has been charged by a killer whale, stalked by a great white shark, seen a dolphin born and a great variety of other marine life.

Anyone who isn't scared by a shark following him, Jones said, "is lying. But I'm 100 percent more scared by the fate of the world."

Surfing buddy and professional surfer Zoltan Torkos, 26, has been following Jones along the coast, using Honda Aquatrack waverunners, similar to Jet Skis but using lower-polluting four-cycle motors, providing him with food and water and occasionally fending off nosy sharks.

A great white stalked them for a mile and a half, Torkos said.

"I brought the waverunner in close to play the 'I'm bigger than you' game," he said.

He said he has clocked Jones at a consistent speed of 3 mph, using the "Polynesia stand-up" technique of standing on his board and using a long-handled paddle.

In some areas of the coast, the waverunners aren't allowed, so Zodiak inflatable boats provided by the Surfrider Foundation of Santa Cruz and the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation escort Jones in the water, said Sean Van Sommeran, executive director of the Pelagic Shark Foundation.

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