Skip to content

Justin Fehntrich: The South Shore Surfer and Steward of the Seas

by ericarunsamerica on November 30th, 2013

Hey Stony Brook!

So, it’s the last day of the month: you know what that means…

Time for another Stony Brook Sustainability Studies Program Student of the Month Feature: November Edition!

This month, it is my pleasure to introduce you to a classmate of mine, one with a passion for preserving the local environment, namely, the myriad of marine ecosystems that make Long Island the diverse and unique place that it is…

Justin Fehntrich!

I first met Justin last year, in Dr. Heidi Hutner‘s SBC 325: Environmental Writing and the Media course. My first impressions? By the skateboard propped up against his desk and his copious use of “rad” and “dude” and similar words which he peppered throughout his sentences, I immediately labeled him:

But, after befriending Justin The Friendly Surfer and reading/listening to his thoughts on the environment and its problems and viewing his breathtaking photography (which is pretty much always focused on oceans, beaches, wildlife, or surfing) I knew there was more–Justin is truly a Steward of the Seas!

Justin grew up in Bayshore and South Brentwood right here on the Good Old Island, just about a stone’s throw from the Robert Moses State Park and the mystical Fire Island National Seashore. From a young age his surroundings made a big impact on his values in life, and Justin reports harboring a lifelong love of the shore and sea, “spending [his] summer days building sandcastles and learning how to swim in the bay and ocean.”

Later, Justin got into skateboarding, which eventually led to surfing. Surfing was Justin’s way of escaping–if only momentarily–the frantic and fast-paced “New York State of Mind” kind of life, as Justin puts it. Surfing connected Justin to nature and soon it became his de-facto way of life:

Surfing sort of has this way of creeping into your life where soon everything you do revolves around whether or not there are waves. You start to wake up at the crack of dawn and drive to your favorite beach to see if you can surf before class or work, you avoid making plans on Saturday mornings in the event the waves will be good, and soon you save up some money to buy winter surfing gear because the thought of actually not surfing for 6 months sounds more ridiculous than paddling out in 40 degree water and 32 degree air, while it’s snowing, completely covered in head to toe in 5mm of neoprene.”

Justin had finished school for a few years and had been yearning to return to the classroom, but wasn’t sure what he wanted to study.  Sitting on his board pondering such a notion during a frigid January surf session a few years ago at Lido Beach, something funny happened: a young harbor seal surfaced close by and began barking and diving and swimming gleefully. A few weeks later, Justin saw more of these slick gray spotted creatures while surfing at another Long Island beach. Justin was left feeling inspired by the numerous seal encounters…he had never before, in his lifetime of beach-going and years of surfing, “come face-to-face with a wild seal.”

Why now? Justin wondered. He played out all of the possible reasons why he had never before seen the seals but then had suddenly seen so many in the past month: Improved water quality? New marine protection legislation? Justin was sure “that there had to be something happening here, that in [his] opinion was having a positive effect on local marine life.” Whatever was happening with the seals and the sea, Justin felt a calling to play a part in the restoration and conservation of Long Island’s marine habitats. That’s when he decided to come to Stony Brook to major in Coastal Environmental Studies.

Last spring, Justin worked collaboratively on a film and public education project with a few other students (Isabella Bartoloni, Bryan Flynn, and Troy Petrignani). The group created–among other works–a powerful documentary detailing the causes, ongoing effects, and implications of Hurricane Sandy: a nine-minute-plus feature dubbed “Islands Made of Sand.” Justin and his group mates debuted their findings at Earthstock 2013.  This coming spring, Justin will flex his filmmaker talent, extending his advice to others and sharpening his own skills as a TA for Dr. Huter’s Spring 2014 SBC 325 course (of which fellow Sustainability Studies Program students Chelsea Moccio and I will also serve as TAs!). This year, the course will feature environmental filmmaking, and students will work with two-time Emmy Award winning filmmaker Dave Chameides aka “Sustainable Dave” aka the man who kept a year’s worth of garbage in his basement (but that’s a whole ‘nother story).

Besides surfing and filmmaking, Justin also connects to nature through photography, something which he admits wasn’t something he quite intended to become involved in. As he says, “I sort of just like taking pictures.” Fancy equipment? No…he uses his iPhone! Hard to believe once you take a look at some of his incredible work.

Justin’s favorite subjects to photograph are landscapes, subjects which he feels perfectly preserve the place and time that he experienced outside of the camera. To him, landscapes are spiritual, and he believes that the natural beauty of the outdoors is essential for a person’s mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. His mission?

Maybe if I can take a picture of a really gorgeous sunset, or a picturesque beach with not a person in sight, I can influence somebody else to become more environmentally conscious.  These days there is a lot at risk with rising populations and energy demands. We have our work cut out for us as Sustainability Studies Program students here at Stony Brook.  I’d rather live in a world with blue skies, beautiful oceans and diverse wildlife, as opposed to a world with smoggy air, toxic brown sludge, and garbage laden oceans complete with dead animals covered in oil. The Earth has so much beauty for us to just sit back and enjoy. As my mother always said: “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Couldn’t have put it better myself.

Justin, you have earned #supergreenstatus and more! Keep up the amazing work.


peace. love. run.


From → Erica

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.