"I would do anything for my island. I would lay down my life for it," says Dustin Barca. "I'm not a politician. I'm not a pro surfer. I'm not a pro fighter. I'm not an activist. I'm just a man. Right now I see a lot of issues facing the island of Kauai, and if we're going to turn things around we're going to have to unite for the common good. That's what has motivated me to put my name in the hat for Mayor of Kauai County."
On May 9 Barca announced his bid, which will undoubtedly shake up politics on the otherwise quiet Hawaiian isle. When we spoke via telephone shortly after his candidacy was made public he was still in the process of putting his campaign together, still rallying his support crew and fleshing out all the unexpected details that come as a surprise to somebody running for political office for the first time.
"There is a bacteria on the reef in Hanalei Bay that doesn't exist anywhere in the world," explains Barca, a former ASP Tour competitor who grew up surfing Hanalei alongside Andy and Bruce Irons. "It's killing the reef. There are a lot of big chemical companies -- such as Dow and Monsanto, among others -- that test in the hills and fields around Kauai, and what we're seeing on the reef at Hanalei, it's no coincidence. And it's not the only place our environment is being heavily impacted. It's affecting our lives, our children, and it has to be reigned in."
Registered as an Independent, Barca's decision to run for mayor came to him after coming upon a rally for current Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho while running errands with his family one afternoon. Carvalho was announcing his re-election campaign, and Barca decided that he'd had enough.
"There was a small crowd, most of the people were the bosses of the giant chemical companies tied to our GMO problems," explains Barca. "These companies are actually suing our county because they want to be able to spray and test more chemicals on our lands and in our water. And here they are rallying in support of our current mayor. I decided right then and there something had to be done. It was dirty politics at its worst. So I got my paperwork together and [decided] to run against him."
A former football player for the Miami Dolphins, in 2010 Carvalho won 77 percent of the vote on Kauai. But as the topic of agrochem testing in Hawaii has gained traction Carvalho's reputation has suffered.
On Oct. 31, 2013 Carvalho vetoed a GMO and pesticide disclosure bill that would require biotech companies on the island to disclose details about their pesticide use and abide by setbacks between test fields sprayed with chemicals and schools, hospitals, parks and waterways. The move outraged locals, and on Nov. 16, 2013, the county council overrode the mayor's veto. The measure is slated to go into effect in August of 2014.
"We're running a grassroots campaign," says Barca. "It's the people against big money and big business. It's our island and we need to step up to protect it. If me running for mayor is what it takes, them I'm blessed to be in that position."
Beyond the agrochem debate, issues that Barca is running on include improving local agricultural and food production, access to healthy food, cultural revival, and protecting Kauai's water resources, as well as working towards better solutions to address the methamphetamine and illegal pharmaceutical drug issues plaguing the island.
As for fundraising, Barca's hitting the stump in a unique way. From May 29 to June 1, he intends to paddle from Ke'e to Polihale and then run around the whole island of Kauai, stopping along the way to "pay tribute to some of our most historically significant areas, talk-story with community members, and find out more about their concerns and visions for Kauai."
If there were a political poll in place for Barca's run against Carvalho, he would undoubtedly be a heavy underdog. But Barca's never been one to shy away from a challenge. And given people's dissatisfaction with politics as usual, maybe there's an upset victory waiting for him.
For his part in it all he simply says, "I like my chances."