Back in February, I blogged about Josh Hooten, who rode his bike 600 miles from Portland, Oregon, to Farm Sanctuary in Orland, California, raising funds for the organization and awareness about animal cruelty. Inspired by Josh’s feat, animal activist and athlete John Merryfield recently embarked on a three-day journey around the circumference of Lake Tahoe — 72 miles ― on his stand-up paddle board. He even invited anyone who was interested to join him. John is a great reminder that using our strengths and interests is an easy and fun way to campaign for animals. He plans to make his “Stand Up for Farm Animals” event an annual tradition, and we chatted the other day about his advocacy efforts.

What inspired you to go vegan?

I’ve been a vegetarian for 25 years and was in denial about the abusive practices within the dairy industry for 20 of those years, until becoming a vegan five years ago. Part of my denial was infused with a spiritual practice that included the use of milk in the diet as a form of spiritual connection to the cow. I now see my former practice as antiquated, and ultimately I could no longer deny the harm caused to cows as well as the overwhelming information about the effects to the dairy industry has on the environment. Oh, and not to mention the adverse affects animal fat has on our health.

Was there something you read or saw that was a tipping point regarding milk?

Some talks by Erik Marcus and Gene Baur here in Tahoe had a big influence on me. They made me realize there was no reason to use dairy products.

What was the toughest part about your 72-mile journey?

John Merryfield, third from the left, just before he set off to stand-up paddle Lake Tahoe. Photo by Michael Fish

John Merryfield, third from the left, just before he set off to stand-up paddle Lake Tahoe. Photo by Michael Fish

The logistical components. Who, if anybody will be coming with me? How far will we get each day? What if other people coming along become unable to continue? Where will other people coming with me sleep at night? Will the weather challenge us?  

Where did people sleep?

Eight paddlers started with me, but in the end only my step-daughter, Kim Kerrigan, and I completed the entire 72-mile paddle and needed to sleep overnight. I have a Eurovan, which my wife drove and followed us around the lake. We stopped at camping grounds to sleep.

How did you prepare for the event?

I prepared for the paddle by paddling and stand-up paddle surfing, which is done in the ocean. Not too grueling and a lot of fun. My preparation paddles were six- to 18-mile paddles two to four days a week for a month or so, which isn’t that different from my normal fun paddles. I also got in a couple of surfs on a nice south swell this summer down in Southern California, which I logged as “training.”

When will the next Stand Up for Farm Animals event take place? Will it be another excursion on Lake Tahoe?

The second-annual Stand up for Farm Animals will be in Lake Tahoe the first weekend after Labor Day. I have thought about this idea growing to include other locations, and in the year to come I can see how or if that idea could take shape. Stand-up paddling is a hugely growing sport that is getting a lot of attention and I thought, What better way to bring attention to what really needs our focus ― the cruelty to factory farm animals — than a cool sport people are noticing? I’ve been an athlete my entire life with many different accomplishments with some recognition. I don’t need attention anymore. I can use that former need for attention and translate it into bringing attention to these inconceivably cruel farm animal practices and bringing about change. I stand on my paddle board, paddling Lake Tahoe, while people on the beach look at me and point, [saying] “Look, I’ve never seen that before. I want to do that. Is it hard? Do you have to know how to surf?” Light bulb! Paddle the entire lake and connect the paddle to end cruelty to farm animals! People will take notice.

So how hard is stand-up paddle boarding?       

It can be very challenging for someone with no experience on the water, but the boards are large, which makes it easier to balance. Anyone who has done yoga usually takes right to it.

How can others help or get involved?    

Others can get involved by paddling the second-annual Stand up for Farm Animals with me, or starting a Stand Up for Farm Animals paddle in another location or doing something unique to their own interests that ultimately raises awareness. At next year’s paddle, I hope to have more paddle boards available for people who want to paddle the entire thing, 15 miles of it or as little as 10 minutes. The more the better.

If you’d like to support John’s work by donating to Farm Sanctuary, please click here. Every little bit helps the animals.