Glen Casey - Saline Soul Food
Life is a sales pitch.
From the day we are born, we are marketing ourselves to the world, selling ourselves for food, security, status and a million pointless possessions. It’s the basis of socio-economics; our constant need to make ourselves bigger, better, shinier than those around us drives us to continue selling out on the subtlest of levels.
But, as my old man used to say, there are more ways to skin a cat than by stuffing its bum with butter, and there is more than one way to live a life.
Glen Casey’s resume reads like that of a corporate drone. In his early 20s he was initiated into retail. After a couple of years, he ventured to the other side of the great divide into the world of wholesale for one of the world’s leading brands. After a decade, he went independent and developed his own successful distribution business. 20 years on, he established an iconic global brand in Australia and directed the growth of the business for many years.
It’s the systemic checklist of an average businessman...but there’s nothing average about Glen ‘Case’ Casey.
Casey - New Zealand. Photo: Jeff Johnson
Before the world of adult responsibility had even begun, Case knew that he was different.
“You can’t take your million bucks into your six-foot box”, he succinctly yet poignantly states. The subtlest realisation is deeply ingrained in his DNA, fed by a love of the outdoors and a wandering soul and reinforced in all he does.
For Case, life is no longer one long barter, nor has it ever been; life is for investing in.
“I was brought up in the city,” he recalls. “I guess I first found a love for the outdoors when I started skateboarding, in a minor sense, but when one of my mates got his driver’s license, we began exploring down the coast.
“Once we got down there and we were hitting the Great Ocean Road, sleeping in the back of the car, camping out and finding perfect waves with no one around, that instilled a sense of freedom.”
His natural aptitude for surfing soon became apparent, bringing with it a lifelong addiction, not just to the act of surfing itself, but in the immersion in the ocean and the elements. It was a love affair that would shape his whole life. For most, surfing is a fun repast, a good way to exercise, escape, unwind and enjoy nature. We may holiday to destinations based solely on their waves, we might ditch school, call in sick to work or discard our terrestrial obligations when the swells role in and we may take every opportunity we can to paddle back out, but Case is an oceanic junky. The freedom of the sea and wilderness is more than a desire or lust, it is an inherent necessity, and he hasn’t simply injected the ocean into the cracks of his schedules like salty blue grout between dusty grey tiles, he has moulded his entire existence to accommodate it, work for it, invest in it.
“The Indians talk about prana, the Chinese talk about chi and we talk about the life-force,” he philosophises, “but as soon as you hit the ocean, you seem to get another 20,30, even 40 percent of an energetic blast. So in that space, your mind seems to get really chilled - what I would call a soul connection - where you’re out of your head, you’re out of your thoughts.
“Surfing did that for me very early on. Not everyone feels that same effect, but I think it’s similar. Some people may get about 20 percent, I seem to get about 40; I starve, I die if I don’t get a hit in the ocean within at least 36 or 48 hours. I’m shriveling up, I’m drying out, I’m feeling really crazy, my head’s doing me in, I’m starting to feel depressed, anxious…”
When Case left school, he moved into an apprenticeship in the heart of the Melbourne metropolis. His periodic coastal sojourns soon became unquenchable and he opted instead to move to Torquay and commute into the city for his work. Though starting later than many Australian surfers, Case improved quickly, and it didn’t go unnoticed. Bells Beach was his backyard, his local break, alongside Winkipop and the several nearby waves, so when the Rip Curl Pro took place at Bells, Case was first in line for the qualifying trials prior to the main event.
Securing a wildcard into the pro division, he made it to 17th place, knocked out by then-World Number 2, Cheyne Horan. An admirable performance, though a long way from the top, it was enough for Case to get himself noticed and he was offered a retail position, along with a small sponsorship package, with Rip Curl.
Perhaps it was his absenteeism, maybe his wanderlust, but the retail costume didn’t fit Case, despite his talents as a salesman: “The shop manager used to call me crocodile because I was the best salesman he’d ever seen. The customers would come in and would just launch on their calves and drag them in and sell them a wetsuit!”
A 9-to-5 isn’t conducive of a life immersed in nature, so Case manipulated his position. A wholesale role allowed him the freedom he craved, journeying up, down and around the Australian coastline, always with a board strapped to the roof and opportunities for waves around every corner. The temptation when given such liberation is to run to the end of your tether, straining, tugging and pulling until it eventually snaps, but where he fights the boundaries of the establishment, Case is also rational and proactive. He knew his job was a gift, a perfectly balanced package of income, progression and freedom. So, for nine years, he remained on the road, plying the wares of his employer from one surfshop to the next along the great Australian coast.
Over the next two decades, Case would establish his own distribution agency, collecting five or so brands in his portfolio and securing success. Yet through it all, even the flexibility offered by owning his own business, he knew there was something missing, that the sales pitch was carrying him into turbulent waters.
A life spent in the ocean doesn’t come without its consequences. Corporate life wasn’t for Case - he already knew that - but neither was grand success or financial gain. Unlike several of his friends of adolescence, he chose not to pursue a professional surfing career, despite his obvious talents. Later in life, he wanted his company to succeed, of course, but his efforts were in spite of this, not because of it. From his first steps into the frigid waters of Victoria, he had felt a greater sense of purpose - a love of the natural world unified with the need to protect it.
Case's yurt, built in part as a means to protect over 400 acres of the Otway ranges from logging.
At the beginning of the millennium, the surf industry was in flux. Since its inception as a viable industry only a few decades before, it had engorged itself into a behemoth of intractable proportions. Companies were going public, shareholders were needing their pound of flesh. What had begun as a means to supply and finance a surfing lifestyle had become a rabid, disfigured, insatiably hungry monster of corporate growth.
This was counterintuitive to a man who had championed environmentalism, bought hundreds of acres of old growth forest in the Otway ranges to battle logging and ventured to remote corners of the nation solely to escape into nature.
“I’d always had this activist mentality,” he suggests. “I always wanted to butt the system; I hated school teachers that were really arrogant, I hated anything that was coming from the top down - I just wanted to take them on, I’ve always had that fighter in me. I always wanted to protect nature, to look after it.
“Patagonia came into the picture via Wayne Lynch [a close friend of Casey’s from the Rip Curl days in Torquay]. Patagonia were approaching Wayne to become an ambassador for Australia as they were looking to make a move over here. I wanted to get out of the industry, because I could just see it crumbling, and ended up talking to the Chouinards [Patagonia founder, Yvon, and his wife Malinda] and thought ‘this is it. This is the brand that is a soul brand.’ It had a completely different management style, everyone was so quiet and considerate and genuine.
“It was like someone had just given me an energy pill. I just couldn’t believe that I had this brand and this was the work I was going to do, and for several years I was so happy.”
Case (with - R-L, Fletcher Chouinard, Yvon Chouinard, Keith Malloy and Belinda Baggs) in the early days of Patagonia Australia
With Patagonia, Case not only gained employment and an established brand to be able to adapt to the Australian, surf-oriented marketplace, he also found epiphany. The surf industry had been born of necessity, sustained by a love of the ocean, in its founders and its customers, but Rip Curl had come a long way from hand-stitched boardshorts sold from the back of a panel van on the clifftops overlooking Bells. Perhaps it was bad timing, perhaps power was placed in the wrong hands, maybe the founders had reached their sexagenarian chapters and just wanted to check out with a healthy bank account. Whatever the underlying reason, surfing had become a commodity.
Conversely, Patagonia is a globally-successful business and has grown with the assistance of corporate minds, but rarely has it lost its way or grown beyond the fundamental idea that, without nature, its purpose would become redundant.
“I knew that the environmental essence, the soul, the heartbeat of the brand was what was going to change the psyche of Australia; not just surfers, but whoever it touched, including how it touched and changed me.
“Australia was really dumbed down in that department. There were a lot of unconscious people who were just hanging to be lifted up and to understand that we’re in nature so much that we should start protecting it.
“You want to go out the back door, you want to leave the planet, feeling as if you’ve done something for the children, and not left all this crap behind for them.”
With its recycled, sustainable materials, fair trade and ecologically-conscious manufacture, and financial investment in the environment from which it was born, Patagonia was the perfect marriage of Case’s accumulated talents in surf retail and his ethical belief in planetary protection.
His tenure with the company helped to establish Patagonia, both at home and overseas, as not only a viable surf brand, but also an industry leader in quality and sustainability, of wetsuits, boardshorts and more. From mountains of stone to mountains of water, Patagonia, with Case’s assistance, was supporting many levels of environmental interaction and giving back to protect the realms in which we play.
Case, with fellow saline junkies, Yvon Chouinard (L) and Mike Parmenter, with Wayne Lynch in the Landy!
‘Business with purpose’ was their unofficial mantra, and it spoke volumes to how Case perceived his place in the world. ‘Work’ had always been to facilitate his lifestyle and passions; with Patagonia, the two were all but inseparable.
In 2014, Case brought Patagonia to Byron Bay. A reduction in stress and a climate change, the move allowed him more room to breathe, spend time with his daughter, Willow, and align with individuals who, like Case, believe there is more to life than expending your energy upon the corporate ladder.
Though he has since moved beyond Patagonia, his time with the company had a certain sense of completion. He knew his passions, knew what he stood for, knew what he was good at; Patagonia showed him that these things can come into perfect alignment. You can invest in yourself and in the planet while still finding success in business. The sell-out had become redundant.
Despite the parting of ways, Case has deep and enduring gratitude for his time at Patagonia:
“I told someone recently that I [still] feel like one of Yvon Chouinard’s soldiers! If I take six of the best things that Patagonia gave me and work with those, they are the fruit - they are the fruit of my action. You’ll always do good things, just as you’ll always do bad things. I know I did some things that weren’t so great, but the offshoot of that for me is that I am now using all the best things that I was given. It’s really powerful for me now, knowing that I ground my teeth in one of the best companies in the world, but I’m also very happy to be free of that and to be independent and autonomous in the world.”
Patagonia Byron Bay, with Patagonia ambassador Kimi Werner
The balance has shifted for Case. Business is as business was. He defined it on his terms, finding success while maintaining integrity. It’s a knife-edge that few can see, let alone precariously balance upon. While affiliations and work on a more freelance basis sustains him, he has shed many burdens, whittling life to the marrow, those few and precious things that truly matter, without the paraphernalia that distracts us in disillusionment.
“I stopped drinking, I live a pretty simple, yogic life and try to help the right people in my life and try to work for people who want to do the right thing by Mother Nature and all her little creatures.
“I’ve always had this incredible big picture thing, and that’s why in my early days I was searching so hard for the big reasons why we’re here in this earth suit and why we run around being dickheads for a long, long time until finally, something drops.”
For Case, what dropped is a purpose more devoted upon an altruistic pursuit of a better tomorrow. Perhaps it was the influence of fatherhood, the very real and daily reminder that life doesn’t end when we do.
Aligning with and financed by the Prior Foundation, a philanthropic non-profit with a ‘desire to create an enduring positive impact on the community’, Case created (Re)generation with filmmaker Monique Upton, a short movie about the fragility of the Great Barrier Reef, the increasing threat of bushfires and the very real need for us all to do our part and pass on our knowledge and hope to the younger generations.
Moving beyond business, the environmentalist remains, the love of wilderness and country has done nothing if not grown, and Case has found peace. For a wandering soul who thrives in change, it has been a lifelong battle, but now, in simplicity, in reflection and with the investments he has made to his life, his world and his deeper self, he has found equilibrium.
“For me, it dropped a couple of years ago and I realised I needed to prepare for leaving the world.
“I’m not fighting for a brand anymore - Patagonia is off doing its thing, there are a hundred other great brands doing their thing… I’m standing up as Glen Casey saying, ‘this doesn’t work for me’, and through social media and through films and marketing and other ways to have a voice - that’s my whole mission now. You’ve got to set up some good behaviour and some good work so that, maybe, people will think that you weren’t a bad bloke while you were here.”
Life isn’t to be sold, our energy and passion does not have a price tag, but a life invested will pay back tenfold, to us and to the generations and life that follow.
Follow Glen's adventures and work on Instagram: @glen_casey
Glen features in the latest creation by filmmaker Mick Waters, Outdated Children.
Named for the Dr. Suess quote, 'adults are just outdated children', the film traces the lives of members of the surfing community - including Casey, Heath and Paul Joske, Marty Paradisis, Addy Jones, Sandy Ryan, Camel and Wayne Lynch - who, through their love of the ocean, have refused to relinquish the spark of youth to the thieving hands of time.
Fringe dwellers, martyrs to society, they have retained their childlike wonder of the world by holding firm to the passions of childhood, often immersing in the harsh and rugged environments of Australia's expansive coast to free themselves of the suffocating urban lifestyle.
Photo: Campfire chills with Heath Joske (r) and Dan Malloy, softening the abalone from the afternoon's dive - Jeff Johnson
Case at Patagonia Byron Bay, with daughter, Wilow.
Case and fellow byron inhabitant, the guru of hydrodynamics, George Greenough.
Case - with Dan Malloy - packing for another adventure...
A collection of ocean addicts (L-R) Glen, George Greenough, Dan Malloy and Dave Rastovich, with George's GARC(Greenough Advanced Rescue Craft) -Jeff Johnson
Case, Greenough & Dan Malloy - mat aficionados-Jeff Johnson
The journey never ends... ©Jeff Johnson