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October 3, 2005

Jack Covert Selects: Let My People Go Surfing

By: Jack @ 10:20 AM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Let my People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman by Yvon Chouinard, Penguin Press, 272 Pages, $26.95 Hardcover, October 2005, ISBN 1594200726


As I am neither a mountain climber nor a clothes horse, I wasnt familiar with Patagonia until I read this fascinating and challenging book. The book was written by the founder and owner of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard. A surfer with a passion for rock climbing, Chouinard started making climbing equipment with a cold chisel and hammer because decent climbing equipment was nowhere to be found. Within a very short period of time, he was creating the best climbing equipment around.

This book is loaded with amusing pictures from the early days of the climbing equipment company called Chouinard Equipment. Their first catalog was a one-page mimeographed list of items and prices, with a blunt disclaimer on the bottom telling customers not to expect fast delivery during the months of May to November. Later Chouinard pursued selling surfing and climbing clothes because, again, they were nowhere to be found. Chouinard started this part of the company by finding rugby shirts during a trip to the UK and Patagonia was born.

The book is equal parts of how Chouinard grew his business and great stories about climbing and the outdoors mixed with a dash of how to make a difference. In the early days, Chouinard published an article about "clean climbing". He wrote about the importance of not leaving equipment behind after the climb. To this day, he has never backed away from Patagonias commitment to environmental causes and to the creation of a great culture. Here is an example of the storytelling included in the book:

From an interview for Life magazine, Tom Brokaw told about his first lesson in climbing on ice on November 26, 2004:

Probably when my friends, including Yvon Chouinard and I did the Kautz Glacier on Mount Rainier. I had never really done ice climbing before, and they gave me a 30-second lesson in crampons and ice-ax use. At one point, we were going across a very steep patch of black ice, and if you slipped, you wouldve gone about 1,000 feet. I said to Yvon, "We should rope up here," and he said, "No wayif you go, then I go, and I don't want to do that. This is like catching a taxi in New York: its every man for himself." It is helpful to me to be [Yvons] friend. He makes me think about things in new ways.

The book is challenging because the author shows how you can make a difference. For example, Patagonia makes its fleeces out of recycled soda bottles and donates at least one percent of their revenue to environmental causes. It is nice to actually see an organization that can make a profit while leaving the world a better place.

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