How I Sea: Zach Donovan

Zach is a 23-year-old surfer from Long Island, NY. He’s spent the past 4 years living in Hawaii where he studied writing and education, and has worked as a lifeguard for the majority of his professional career.

Zach is a 23-year-old surfer from Long Island, NY. He’s spent the past 4 years living in Hawaii where he studied writing and education, and has worked as a lifeguard for the majority of his professional career. Zach definitely has an addiction to the sea, and anytime there’s swell in the water you’ll be able to find him out there.

How long have you been surfing for? And what’s your home surf break?

I caught my first wave at Tobay beach when I was ten years old and I’ve been hooked ever since. I enjoy surfing anywhere on Long Island from Long Beach to Montauk. We have world-class surf when all the stars align, especially in the fall with hurricane swells and in the winter with Nor’Easter storms.

When the wind is blowing from the west and the swell is up, I take the two hour drive down to New Jersey. In the wintertime, Jersey pumps perfect barrels. We have some of the best surf on the East Coast up here in the Northeast. My favorite spot to surf at home is Lido beach when it’s firing.

What made you want to start surfing? And do you still have the same motivations for surfing today as when you started?

My mom would always take my friends and I down to the beach when I was young. I instantly fell in love with the beach and ocean. Riding my first wave all the way to the beach is one of my clearest memories.

Surfing became my lifestyle of choice, and Long Island is a great place to grow up as a surfer. You can actually get in the water quite often if you have a solid quiver of boards for the smaller days. We have waves anywhere from ankle slappers to double overhead perfection.

The ocean can be powerful and humbling at times. When a big Nor’Easter comes up the coast, we brave the harsh elements and frigid water to score perfect waves.

Long Island breeds a special type of surfer. Good swells are generally fickle around here, and we wait patiently all year for those perfect days. I have always stayed motivated to keep surfing because you can push yourself harder each time you surf and get the wave of your life.

My passion for surfing led me out to the island of Oahu for college, where I studied English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Hawai’i. I’m thankful to have spent my free time charging legendary surf breaks on the North Shore, as well as many hidden gems found all around the island.

The Ocean never stays the same and is constantly changing each day. This always makes every surf experience new and exciting. I think that’s what draws me to surfing so much. It’s the never-ending search for those perfect days.

How have you seen the beaches on Long Island change in your lifetime?

The biggest difference I have seen happen to our beaches on Long Island is beach erosion from sea level rise. Hurricane Sandy was a heavy hitter for many of our beaches and coastal communities on Long Island. Coming home from my first semester in Hawaii, I couldn’t believe the destruction this one storm had on my hometown and beaches. The boardwalk in Long Beach was also completely destroyed.

Fortunately, we now have a brand new boardwalk, and there has been an incredible effort done to replenish the sand and dunes for our beautiful beaches. Everyone came together as a community and helped each other out in such a devastating situation.

Surfing is also more popular then ever, and there is some incredible talent coming out of New York these days. I can’t believe the amount of surfers I see in some of the lineups around NY today. It’s getting more crowded for sure, but that’s inevitable and it’s nice to see more and more people smiling from ear to ear out in the water. Everyone is catching on to the stoke and happiness that the ocean can give you.

What do you think is the biggest threat to Long Island’s waters and ocean? And why?

I believe the biggest threat to Long Island’s waters and Ocean is plastic pollution.

I have seen plastic bags floating around Long Island’s waters and ocean for as long as I can remember. I see more and more plastic in the water each year. Not only are there large pieces of plastic floating around the ocean, but most of the plastic is broken up into tiny pieces. This means there is plastic all around us in our waters at all times. This may not necessarily effect human beings, but plastic is detrimental to the abundance of marine life we have around Long Island.

I have seen this problem with plastic almost everywhere I have traveled around the world to surf. When I was surfing in Hawai’i, I couldn’t believe how beautiful and crystal clear the water was. Once I took an Eco-Poetry class, and learned that much of the plastics in our oceans are broken down into tiny pieces, I realized that there was plastic all around me when I was surfing. I’m sure this is the same case for our waters around Long Island.

It’s a sad reality, but I know that ocean minded people could have a positive impact on our marine environments and oceans.

What do you think could be done (if anything) to better protect/manage Long Island’s coastlines?

For our waters around Long Island, we need to make sure our sewage treatment plants are working well and not spewing large quantities of waste and pollution into our bays, inlets, and ocean.

I’m sure most of the large plastic bags and trash I see floating around Long Island’s waters are coming straight from the beach. If people keep polluting our beaches, all of that waste will just keep washing into the Ocean from rising tides. People need to wake up and throw out their waste in the many garbage cans that we have on all of our beaches.

This simple act will keep our beaches and waters clean and stop harming our marine life and endangered birds we have on Long Island.

What’s one everyday thing that you think surfers could do better to conserve the marine environment?

One everyday thing surfers can do to better protect our marine environments is to limit our use of plastic bags. We don’t need to use plastic bags, and if we stop this wasteful trend, this will guarantee benefit and protect our marine environments.

When a plastic bag or piece of trash floats by us in the line up, we can simply take it and put it in out board short pockets. When we are walking out of the water and up the beach and spot trash on the beach, we can pick it up and dispose of it properly in the trash and off the beach. Spotting and taking away trash away from our waters and beaches will prevent fish and other marine organisms, as well as birds from accidentally eating and harming them.

I’m constantly picking up trash on beaches when I’m lifeguarding or coming in from a surf, and I try and encourage everyone around me and in my life to do the same.

How I Sea is a new effort by The TerraMar Project to dive into the minds of our global ocean community. We highlight opinions on conservation issues such as: marine pollution, overfishing, drilling, climate change, marine protected areas, scientific discoveries, and much more. Stay tuned for more.

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great article!