Have Aloha, Will Travel
Hawai‘i’s Alison Teal makes a living journeying across the globe, while raising awareness about the pollution that plagues the world’s waters.
Adventure filmmaker, conservationist and TV star, Alison Teal travels the world with her pink surfboard in tow, making waves of change while sharing the myths, mysteries and legends of far-flung locales across the globe.
Education through entertainment is the mission of Alison’s Adventures, an online series produced, directed, edited and hosted by Teal. One look at the iconic photograph of Teal riding a camel (while carrying her surfboard made of recycled coffee cups and plant resin), and it’s no wonder she was given the moniker of “Female Indiana Jones” by Time magazine.
“I was a Tarzan child raised around the world by my adventure photographer parents,” says Teal from her family’s grass-thatched, off-the-grid Robinson Crusoe-style retreat center in South Kona. “My aim is to educate through entertainment. I want to make things fun and showcase the beauty and intrigue of all these cultures I grew up in — the magic of stunning places and far-off tribes. Storytelling is the fabric of culture, whether hula in Hawai‘i or shadow puppets in Indonesia. We can bring wisdom from the past to find solutions for the future.”
From the time she was born, Teal had always accompanied her explorer parents, David Blehert and Deborah Koehn, on their worldwide quests. She cooked lentils on yak-dung fires, slept in tiny tents and trekked miles a day through remote regions of the world — everywhere from the mountainous Himalayas to the jungles of the Amazon. With adventure travel inherently in her blood, she’s now taken up the torch as an engaging and relatable crusader who loves to share the joys of reconnecting with nature while being part of a shift in global consciousness.
“After I graduated from USC film school, I wanted to make a series as if Disney and Discovery had a baby,” says Teal. “The idea was always to inspire future generations to learn stories of ancient cultures and to protect the environment.”
In the last seven years she’s been filming her adventure series, she has also been documenting the problems of global plastic pollution. Her quest for finding the world’s great heritage treasures became a quest to saving the world’s waters. A video of her paddling through garbage in the Los Angeles River in 2016 received 4 million views overnight and was instrumental in leading to a plastic bag ban in California.
In 2014, her trek across Trash Island in the Maldives was astonishing and eye-opening. In 2017, she paddled her eco-friendly surfboard in the Seine below the Eiffel Tower in support of the Paris climate accord. Her film about toxic sunscreens was shown on Hawaiian Airlines, helping to lead the way to the toxic sunscreen ban in Hawai‘i.
Of her approach to conservation awareness-raising, Teal says: “It’s a unique way of sharing important messages by not being angry but by inspiring change through storytelling, adventure, excitement, passion, love for everything and spreading the aloha.”
Teal recently helped launch the world’s first fully sustainable surfing program in the Maldives. In 2018, she partnered with conservation group Orca365 to help rebuild orphanages and implement beach cleanups in Indonesia. Last year, she filmed a documentary with Celine Cousteau (granddaughter of Jacques Cousteau) about the Iraq Al Amir women’s cooperative in Jordan, a village where women partake in entrepreneurial pursuits like cooking and pottery making.
“Celine Cousteau was amazing,” says Teal of their time in Jordan, where they also explored the ancient city of Petra. “She is a true world changer. We were two ocean activists exploring the desert. If you have a passion for world change, it doesn’t matter where you are. A smile or laugh cuts through any cultural differences you might have. At the heart of it, we all want to be happy, laugh, eat good food, make an impact and survive.”
Alison’s episode of Naked and Afraid in 2014 was the most-watched show in the history of the Discovery Channel. Paired with a complete stranger and stranded on a deserted island naked to the world, the two had to survive the elements together. Having grown up in an adventure/explorer family, Alison possessed the survival skills that her chauvinist cast-mate did not. While doing the show, however, she couldn’t help but notice all the plastic waste that kept washing up onshore in the Maldives.
“There was a whirlwind of press after the show, and I did the talk show circuit,” she says. “I decided to bring awareness to this really important issue. I later returned to the Maldives to document the horrible plastics pollution.
“My film and photographs of Trash Island instigated a cleanup and shift of the problem in the Maldives.”
Teal just completed a TED Talks in Santa Barbara Jan. 29. She spoke about why our world waters are our greatest treasures, what’s taking place right now and how to come up with solutions. The talk will be posted online sometime next month.
“In Hawaiian, wai is water, and wai wai is wealth,” she says. “The greatest treasure on Earth is the ocean, and the real quest is protecting the world waters.”
Although Teal always has her passport at the ready for her next adventure, she delights in the opportunity to represent Hawai‘i as a kama‘āina and a purveyor of the aloha spirit.
“I honor and respect and literally wake up every day being grateful that I am from Hawai‘i,” she says. “It always comes down to spreading aloha every day.
“When I speak at the local high schools here, I encourage kids to reach for their dreams and accomplish their goals and be kind to each other. My roots are here, and I don’t take that for granted.”
To follow Teal on her latest adventures, check out her Alison’s Adventures YouTube channel, and find her on Instagram and Facebook (@alisonsadventures). Watch her films for free on alisonsadventures.com.