Ryan Cruse – Co-Founder of Warm Current

Ryan Cruse is an avid outdoorsman and environmentalist who is constantly trying to blur the lines between fun, work and doing good. He is the co-founder and director of outreach and education for Warm Current, a nonprofit whose mission is to promote fun, learning and sense of place by distributing donated wetsuits to youth with limited access.

Ryan graduated from the Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University with a degree in environmental policy/sustainable transportation. He has worked in the environmental nonprofit sector for the last four years, and he is currently serving as the vice-chair for the Portland chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.

What are you working on right now?

I’m really excited about expanding our locally-based mini surf camps for kids program. These camps are aimed at disadvantaged kids who would not otherwise have access to the ocean and all the fun it has to offer. Over the past two years we have been helping out (donating wetsuits and bringing volunteers to help out in the water) at various local Surfrider Foundation chapter surf camps around the Pacific Northwest.

We now have enough experience under our belts to begin rolling out our own camps. The first one that I am working on will be held in conjunction with the Clean Water Classic surf competition in Westport, Wash. I also hope to organize at least one for city kids from Portland in 2011.

I’m also working on our first round of grant funding, which will help us grow not only our local programs, but also our worldwide distribution of wetsuits to communities in need. Finding a more economical way to move donated wetsuits to our outlets in Peru, Mexico and Morocco is key. Also, having a solid fleet of equipment so that we can roll into any community with a turn key surf camp/ocean education program is high on the list.

3 trends that excite you?

Increased Environmental Awareness — I think folks are beginning to realize just how interconnected we are to our natural world. Green has hit the mainstream, and not a moment too soon … We as a global society need to start protecting the environmental systems that provide for us before they are too far gone.

Ocean Recreation — More and more folks are showing up in the water, and that is a good thing. You can’t protect something if you do not first respect and love it. Our oceans are in a bad state, and the more people who are out there enjoying them, then the more folks we’ll have wanting to ensure their health for generations to come.

Social Media — Although I don’t spend much time checking my personal Facebook account, it (and all the other social media outlets) has been a fantastic tool for getting the word out about Warm Current. Being able to tap into all kinds of networks of people from the comfort of my kitchen table is amazing. I feel like social media networks are the best thing to hit the nonprofit world since the inception of the 501(c)(3) tax designation created the movement.

How do you bring ideas to life?

By collaborating with like-minded folk. First, having someone to bounce ideas off of and to help motivate one other is essential; a partner in crime if you will. Second, and perhaps most importantly, is knowing (and accepting) what you stink at doing and then finding and empowering the people who absolutely geek out on doing just that. It’s much easier to bring something to fruition if you have folks who are the master of their trade doing what they do best.

What inspires you?

Road-trip conversations. This is my preferred forum: You’ve got ample time with good friends to cook up some cool S!%&. A healthy dose of focus and follow-through are required though.

What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?

Overbooking myself. So many cool things to do … only so much time. I haven’t totally got this one figured out yet, but I’m getting better at knowing my own capacity. It’s better to do one thing well, than to try and do a bunch of stuff and end up spread too thin.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Don’t underestimate the value of connecting with people … not just the ones that seem important, but everyone. There are a lot of opportunities that can come from conversations with people you might not think were worth chewing the fat with.

What is one book and one tool (i.e., piece of software) that helps you bring ideas to life?

Book: “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv. This book focuses on how our children have lost their connection to nature, and how to restore it. I found it very moving. If you look around today, kids are totally and completely immersed in the digital world. In some ways this is fantastic (access to knowledge, connection to broader social networks/cultures), and in other ways is dangerous (loss of interpersonal communication skills, inactivity and lack of a relationship with the outdoors). I was fortunate enough to grow up roaming the foothills of the Sangre De Christo mountains in New Mexico. Although I didn’t understand it at the time, those experiences have had a profound positive effect on how I live my life. This book has helped me understand that connection, and it has motivated me to share it with those who, for one reason or another, haven’t experienced it themselves.

Tool: Surfboard. Not only does this tool provide me access to the clarity of mind and perspective I need to stay focused, but I can throw anyone (who doesn’t already surf) on a board, push them out into the ocean, and put a smile on their face. That smile might turn into the next environmental activist, oceanographer, conservationist, who knows… worst case senario they have a good time outside.

(Google Apps is pretty cool, too, for an inexpensive communication suite for nonprofits.)

Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?

Clair Smallwood at SHEJUMPS.ORG. What these ladies are doing is awesome. Empowering girls to reach their highest potential by getting them active in the outdoors. Rad.

What do you like the most about your job?

Whenever we do a kids camp, I end up completely worn out … Once you put a kid in the water it is hard to pull them out. Seeing that level of stoke, and knowing that I helped create it, is incredibly fulfilling.

What has been your best road trip?

Oregon to the southern tip of Baja and back. Waves, desert, solitude and roadside tacos. Enough said. (We also hauled a bunch of donated suits along and dropped them in various remote communities. Nothing like rolling into a town and tweaking the locals preconceived notions of your mission for being there.)