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Manav Thapar On Diversity In Surf Culture

 

Find it on your favorite podcast player.

Inclusivity, history of surfing, inequalities in surfing, localism, and why mostly white men are the grumpiest in the line-up.

Manav and I dive into some of the current hot issues in today's world and look at them from within surfing.

This podcast was an awesome journey into how we can live in a deeper way not dependent on the color of our skin.

Links & Connect

Transcripts

Saltwater High! Welcome, Manav, to our podcast. Manav how you doing, brother?

I'm good, thank you for having me.

Yeah, I'm really excited to have you here and I hear there's some fires up there in San Fran. Everything cool or what's happening?

We got fires in San Mateo, Sonoma, and then little brush fires along the highways. So, woke up this morning, went for a walk on the beach, and there was a lot of ash on cars that are on the street. And I leave my windows open and I actually have some ash on the window sill.

Oh, wow! Awesome. What's your go-to surf spot in San Fran?

I go straight to Lincoln. It's called VFW. Now, Ocean Beach has different spots.

Yep.

That's sort of like down the street from where I go. But in the summertime, Kelly Cove is better because it catches south swell. I tend to drive south to Montara in the summertime. Sometimes Linda Mar is the only place that's working.

Nice!

But Ocean Beach is primarily the place to go.

I love Ocean Beach. Noriega. I dial direct to Noriega when I'm there.

Noriega is fun. When it's really good, it's really good. But also it's thirty to forty people out there.

Yeah, it's way crowded up there these days but maybe less now with COVID. But how have you been maneuvering through COVID? Because you guys were one of the first cities on lockdown, actually. I think.

I think so, yeah. We started lockdown in March 15th. I think at first it was it wasn't hard because I work from home. It's just the idea of not being able to go places and then, you have to schedule time to go food shopping. So there was a lot of what's going on here, what's going on type of energy, but at now I'm used to it.

You plan out when you go shopping. I usually don't go out that much anyway because I like to, you know, my day's work, work out and then surf.

Nice! Sounds like my day.

And I've been unemployed, which I think it's a blessing. It's allowed me to sort of reevaluate, think about different things, activism, think about environmental challenges that we're facing. So it's kind of like, I could work for somebody else for the rest of my life, but I actually want to do something different. Our environment is suffering and I feel like we really need to step up our game collectively. So I'm kind of like brainstorming, like what can I do? And maybe work for nonprofit or other organizations to really get more thinking around our environment.

And that's one of the reasons I shop exclusively on your website.

Nice!

Because I travel and I could buy cheaper board bags, but I don't want to because hemp is much better for the environment than the other board bags. So things like that, I'm really aware and I really want to encourage other people to do more.

I appreciate that, brother. And I did not pay him to say that. So everyone knows out there. I rarely get to talk to my-I mean I do talk to some customers, but obviously it's a big world out there. And I love hearing that people are stoked on the whole ethos of Wave Tribe and what we're all about. And I just want to say I really appreciate that.

Oh yeah!

Thank you.

Absolutely.

Yeah, man! So let's dig into some of these topics here I find really interesting. Just so everyone knows out there in Saltwater High world, usually I ask participants what they want to talk about, because this show is really for everyone out there. It's something that I started in COVID because actually I had no inventory for months because all of the suppliers were shut down and I wanted to give back to the community. And it was kind of a slow start in the beginning but it's really humming now. And I really appreciate the community and if anyone wants to be on the show, just hit me up.

And I'm interested in your-we'll get to some of the other ones, but the history of surfing. Talk to me a little bit about that and what your thoughts are on that.

I think there's multiple layers to that because we don't really talk about history of surfing. If you take a class to learn how to surf, it's usually at a beach. There's not a lot of research behind that either but there's few professors who have written really interesting books about history of surfing. But most people that surf there are from high-level pros to your everyday GI Joe, who surfs on the weekends or weekday. Surfing has a deep root culture in Polynesian culture.

And then you also have the Incas who used to surf in Peruvian culture. You also have old ancient cultures in Senegal and what's known in Senegal now, but actually surfing was part of their culture. And when we say surfing, we're not talking about modern-day surfboard, but they did use a form of flotation device that was incorporated into culture, right?

Yeah.

And then, surfing is this huge, large, multi-billion dollar industry, but it has a lot of history in oppression.

When the settlers came to the islands and saw what people were doing because of the Polynesians who lived in Hawaii. If you read a lot, what we know from descendants, but also what's been written is that the highest form in Polynesian culture, highest form of humanity is recreation. And one way to show recreation is to be in the water and recreate that way.

To me, that's powerful. The highest form of humanity is recreation. So surfing in many ways, it is recreation. It's therapeutic, it's expression, it's competitive, and lists go on and on. But historically, it had deep-rooted in how we connected to each other, how we connected to land, how we connected to just the water and ocean, and ocean conservation.

And then you fast forward. So people were actually not allowed to surf. There's historical events where people actually were jailed and had to move, were forced to live away from the ocean, and were not allowed to surf because they couldn't express their own cultural activities. And another part to that, too, is Southern California's popular with surfing, it's very known but what we don't talk about is that coastal California, coast of LA, coast of San Diego was predominantly native and black communities. They were forced out of their homes because developers saw an opportunity to create high-end homes for white communities to live around the ocean.

So it's interesting because you see videos of people surfing in Southern California. It's a huge cultural thing. 1970s they start with popular Hollywood movies.

Beach Boys. Gidget and the Beach Boys and all that.

Right, which makes sense from one side. If you are part of the white surfing community. That's your image. That's how you grew up. And that's how when people saw those, they went to Hawaii and bought properties and so on and so on. But surfing has been part of other cultures as well. So that's what I mean by history. We need to think about surfing as what is global now, but also understand that surfing and ocean culture has been part of other cultures for generations. It's just that when settlers came, they weren't allowed to express their own cultural traditions and surfing was one of them.

I love the idea of recreating in the ocean being the highest form of society. Obviously, you know this, but if you've surfed for a good amount of time, it's medicinal, right? It's not just a sport. There's something about being in the water and I was thinking about this the other day. When you're in the water and you're looking out on the horizon, unless there's oil peers or boats in the water, you're only seeing nature. The only thing in your visual field is nature.

Now, what other times in our life is that our visual field? I would say unless you're hiking in the mountains, maybe? And it's always struck me as such a beautiful expression of nature and really where we came from and what we are, which is one of the reasons I started Wave Tribe. Because I was like, nobody's making eco-products out there. This is crazy. We're surfers. We're the ones benefitting the most from this opportunity.

And think about it like when I talk to people about surfing, I'm like, this is the purest form of connecting to nature. Think about these waves that created miles and miles offshore. To have a perfect wave, there's so many things that have to align to create that wave. And here we are harnessing that energy and then we absorb it in our bodies. And that in itself is therapeutic, it is healing, and it's just pure fun.

I think something happens at the energetic level when you're surfing that it's healing in ways that we don't even understand. Obviously, if you're surfing in Huntington Beach Pier, which is I grew up surfing down there, luckily I haven't been down there for 20 years. But, if you're surfing with 30 other people on top of you, the energy's different. It's just I think we need to get back to surfing as being an expression of the soul and something that we do to rejuvenate our lives once we get back on the land.

Which is interesting is why when your emails went out for suggestions. And I'm type of person like I do like surf and I do like to surf hard some days, but I find the therapeutic aspect of surfing so important. And so I was out surfing at a place called Deadman's, which is a tiny little launchpad. It's a right wave and it's a point break and it gets really competitive. And I just like for me when I'm out there, if somebody else catches an amazing wave, I'm like, yes! That was awesome. So good! That must have felt good. If I'm surfing with my friends, I'm always cheering for them.

I've surfed in Bali. I've surfed in South America, Central America. And I always come around. I think there's a thing that we don't talk about is that there are people who find it very healing and they want to share that and other people there it's like this addiction. If I don't get my good surfing, I'm going to be unhappy.

It tends to be-and this is my general experience been. Wherever I've been, it's always like 50 something older white men who are just grumpy. Right?

Yeah, you said that and I love that part. Yeah.

And they're just like unhappy. And it's like, get out of my way. I've been surfing here for so long. This is my wave. I have ownership because I've been surfing it for twenty years. This whole concept of like mine, mine, mine.

It's entitlement, right?

It's entitlement, yeah. And I think there is growing numbers of surfing community tribe within surfing community, they are opening up to that like, yeah, it is crowded. But instead of fighting each other, how can we share this resource?

I read an article a couple of years ago which I thought it was great and I don't see it implementing. Whoever is the oldest in the lineup is the captain and everybody gets a number. And then that way when a wave comes, he or she calls out the number and it just goes down. If you get into the water, you ask, what number is it? You get a number and then everybody's guaranteed a wave.

I love that idea. Dude, I love that idea.

So there's some pockets. I've never experienced it, but I've only read about it. But I always wonder, we have so many resources and it's a reflection of the culture that we're in. We have so many resources, but we're hoarding. It's me, myself and I. That only destroys culture, that destroys the environment. We can't be living like that. We're on the same planet.

Totally, you're nailing it. Look, what happens in the water is an expression of how people are living their lives. So like that grumpy white dude that's all bummed out in the water. He's bummed out at home, too. He's bummed out with his friends and his family. And, it doesn't have to just be white people. It's all people, just being bummed out how it's not prejudice and being negative.

Life is hard, bro. Really, when you break it down, there's a lot of difficulties in life. And surfing is really one of the pure joys that help reconnect us to something bigger, whatever that is for everyone. And, if you're going to be angry in the water, you're probably angry through your whole life, and that's just the reality. So I don't know what the fix is, man. I don't know.

I don't know what the fix is either. But I think having conversations is a good place to start.

Yeah, bro.

There is this couple of really good folks. There's a woman in Santa Cruz. She's African-American. She started this Instagram group called Textured Waves. And basically, it's giving more visibility of women of color surfing. And then I've friend in East Bay, she runs Brown Girl Surf. And I have another friend who runs Black Girl Surf. I think the idea concept is that, in every ad that you see, it's always this skinny girl in bikini, in a surf shop, at a surf point or whatever.

I get that image sells but at the same time, the representation of all the people that surf isn't there. Because I'm actually a person of color and I've been surfing for a long time. But I never see myself represented in any of the ads. And then that's also could be part because the market wasn't there, there was not enough people buying the products that are of people of color so you don't hire people in the ads. I don't know what the reason is, but having these conversations are a place to start.

Absolutely, bro.

I don't have any answers, but I would like to work with people, work with organizations, companies, media and they're like, yeah! I had this fantasy of random thought of I would love to get to meet together and just surf. Film people surfing around the world that don't get a national stage. Because I was in El Salvador surfing for a couple of weeks, and there is some local guys who are just amazing, but they'll never, ever see the competition circuit because the country doesn't have infrastructure to support athletes. They don't have the money for it. I went to Morocco, same piece, same stuff. Amazing surfers who are just doing crazy stuff in a lineup, right?

Yeah.

But we'll never see the light of day because they don't have the money, the country doesn't support it, and so on and so on. So it'd be nice to just like, yes, we see all these amazing surfers who are pro circuit and pre-pro who come from very well backgrounds but there also is another layer of people who are surfing all around the world in their local breaks who are really good surfers. And they're having a blast.

Absolutely, dude. Absolutely. I had the opportunity to go to Cuba back in the day kind of early 2000's actually before it was easier to get in. I got in and I connected with the Cuban Surfing Association, which was a group of guys that are super stoked on surfing. And Cubans have or back then, they had nothing. Nothing was there and I loaded up my board bags, I took down a bunch of surfboards and leashes and gave them to everybody. And I'll never forget the story that one of the guys told me, Eduardo.

So, of course, they can't get any materials down there. And they went in and they took the foam from the inside of a fish. Like a frozen fish of refrigerator. They broke in and they cut out a surfboard from the foam and then they glass that. I always love and they actually showed it to me. They were surfing it and they were just loving it, bro. Just loving it.

Yeah.

Yeah. Such a good story.

It's interesting, too. We, in so many ways in humanity, we have destructive behavior, but we also have people who make the best of what they have.

Well if you ever get that film project done, dude, I'll supply the product for you to give away to those people out there to get them stoked.

Yeah, I appreciate that. I have a friend she runs the Black Girl Surf and she just got some sponsorship from Hurley, I believe?

Oh awesome!

And she's in Senegal because she was there over the holidays and then COVID hit so she can't leave. She's locked down but she's trying to get surfboards and other equipment there so they can support the younger cruise, other women who are interested in surfing. And she was saying the largest challenge for her is not that there aren't any talented women surfers, the biggest is the culture because Senegal is predominantly a Muslim culture that does not allow women to be active and especially being in the ocean wearing a wet suit and so on and so on.

So it's really interesting to navigate the challenges because you think about like if just those little things didn't exist, what would they be doing with their lives, or what would their surfing be like?

Yeah, for sure. Wow, dude! I'm loving this conversation. So I guess inclusivity was another one. We kind of touched on that. You want to say more about that? Just what are your thoughts around that?

Oh yeah! Inclusivity. It's always been an interest. So I've been in outdoor education and environmental education for a long time. I took a break from it. It's been an interesting question because inclusivity, we've always talked about diversity, which is like, hey numbers! We have number X amount of people working X amount of jobs from X amount of backgrounds, but inclusivity takes it to another level in terms of like it's not just your skin color and gender, but it's also including different types of interest you have and people. Because I feel like specifically around surf industry, it's very limited in terms of inclusivity. Meaning that only a certain shots will make it to a level. It's a product which I totally get. WSL is a product, right?

Right.

The whole industry they have to sell, which I get. But at the same time, you also have tons of people from other parts. You go anywhere, you go Chile, you go to Peru, you go to Ecuador, you go to Sri Lanka, people are surfing and they're also buying surf gear. So to me, I met this couple who have a surf camp in southern India. And it would be fun to see more of inclusivity in terms of larger companies involving people who are working on the grounds. I don't know what that looks like. This is all ideas, but in reality, you have to consider budget, is there a market for it?

So things like that, what's your investment? And I totally get the business side of it, but I give you an example. We all at some point we're learning how to surf and you got in somebody else's way. What's the deal with that? You can yell at that person and curse them out. And totally ruin their experience and then be upset yourself. Or you can be like, "Hey! It's all good. You know, next time you want to paddle around the impact area. This is the impact area, and then try to hold on to your board." So you could teach them or you can get upset with them or somewhere in between.

So that's what I mean by inclusivity. You could totally be like all these other people, they don't exist. We don't care about marketing to them. We don't want to involve anything with them.

Or you can be like, you know what, there are people of color, there are groups that are surfing, there are gay groups, there are lesbian groups, there are transgender surfing groups, there are activist groups, there are environmental education surfing groups. So I guess I mean inclusivity is like surfing doesn't have to be just Kelly Slater type. It doesn't have to be Gabriel Medina type or it doesn't have to be like this bikini shot, skinny at all.

It's so hard because you're rubbing up against the financial incentives of the companies which is okay, who's the biggest demographic? And let the product shots and the bikini models and even I would say some of the pros that are picked, are to represent of certain brand. They're picked because it's a marketing positioning. They're saying, "Okay, who is our biggest demographic?" And based on that demographic, we're going to pick somebody that fits that. And then people are feeling association. And because of that association, they're going to buy more product or they're going to feel closer to the brand. But what I would love to see is these kind of conversations come out and then people be stoked on this type of topic, which is, "Hey, white males are probably a big part of the demographic, but there's also all these other people in the world that are surfing."

And how do we switch from without doing it and this is what I'm seeing a little bit since some of the unrest happened a couple of months ago. Brands are doing it, but they're not doing it because they want to do it.

Exactly.

They've been doing it because they know if they don't do it, they're going to be called out. And for me, that's the wrong reason.

Totally.

If you're doing it just to fit in and you don't want to cause some kind of reaction, I just feel like it's the wrong move, man.

Yeah, and that's what I mean, too, when I say inclusivity. It's like I get that the budget part and you want to reach out to your largest demographic, but at the same time, I would argue demographics are changing. And I'll give you a good example. I've been to outdoor retailer shows in Salt Lake City and whatnot, and everybody in the outdoor industry, Aria being the biggest form, is changing. If you look at the ads of Patagonia they're involving more people of color in there as their model in their ads and whatnot and sharing stories of people who are usually not represented and it's because they want to. And that's the biggest distinction. At the same time, you also seeing more and more people having higher incomes so they are doing more recreation.

For example, if you look at there's an Instagram account called Melanin Base Camp and they feature people of color from base jumping to skiing and so on and so on. And these people have been doing this for a long time. It's just that nobody considered to add them.

I don't know how many followers they have, but they've gotten so much visibility. That happened organically and whatnot. But, I think in maybe ten years ago, 80 percent of demographics were white men. And I think Aria and North Face, all of these big outdoor companies are changing because they're realizing the demographics and the finances have changed. More and more people are recreating, but also they have the income to purchase outdoor recreation gear.

And these conversations are important, I think. And I also think some people within those companies are on a younger side. So as they get more seniority, they'll be able to make the decisions to involve people who want to do things right in a sense of being more inclusive, involving other voices. Right?

Yeah, bro. Yeah! Absolutely, man. Let's do it. We're doing it right now.

We're doing it right now.

Yeah! We're doing it right now.

So, it's a process, right?

Yeah, absolutely.

Here we are. And this unrest has been going on for so long, it's just brought it to the surface. There are people who have been-you know, the story of, oh my God, I'm spacing his name, who used to paddle six miles so he can surf Swami's and then paddle back after a surf session because black people were not allowed to be on the ocean.

No way.

Yeah, I can send you his...

Yeah! Send me the link. I'll put it on show notes. That would be awesome.

Yeah, because stories like that, that is a huge story. But think about the challenges this person had to overcome because they wanted to surf.

Yeah! Crazy, man. So what about localism? Does it still exist?

Oh, I think it's getting better. I think when I first started surfing, there was a lot more. People yelling and screaming. On some spots, I think there's definitely more localism like here Dead's and Fort Point gets pretty localized.

There's a group of guys who've been surfing there for a long time and they feel the ownership of it. I think it's getting better. I think people, in general, are starting to realize like, "You know what? There's no need for us to fight. We can share."

But I don't know what it's like in Southern California. Most of the time when I surfed in Southern California, people have been pretty nice. I've surfed Trestles, I've accidentally dropped in on people and they've totally been fine about it. So I think it's just like you said earlier, it's just person to person. Like if someone is an unhappy person, they're just going to have that vibe. And then people who are happy and they're stoked, who are general and compassionate, they're going to be like, "Yeah! It's okay to drop on me and again."

It's the second one that gets a little worry. But anyway, cool man.

I think it's changing and I think the industry is probably figuring things out now. I think the pandemic changes things and it's allowing people to reflect and then maybe go inward and be like, we do need to think things differently.

Absolutely, absolutely.

A good mentor of mine, she used to say this quote and I love it. She always says, "If you always do what you always done, you always get what you always gotten."

Exactly. I love that. Yeah. Doing what you've always done won't get you anywhere. You've got to do something new, build new bridges. That's what I like to see it. Cool, man. I got a couple other questions. Describe your very first surfboard.

Oh, my first surfboard was actually it gives me chill because my friend bought it for me because he wanted to learn how to surf and him and I taught ourselves how to surf. And it was this local shaper here. My friend had shoulder problems. His shoulders were popped out. So him and I used to go climbing and backpacking and I've popped his shoulder back in many times. So he trusted me to do that. He's like, I want to learn how to surf so I'm going to get you a wetsuit and get you a board. And the first board was Vernor. It was 6'8, fun shape board and I loved that thing because it just had a beautiful float to it, it paddled. My friend and I we used to go out in the surf. We had no idea what we're doing. And soon enough we went out, we jump, we would follow the falls, we would have so much water up our noses. And we walk away with tails between our legs, but we were happy.

Absolutely.

And then all of a sudden it just started to click. Since then, after that, I'd never looked back. And that was my first board. 6'8 Vernor.

Nice, nice. What's the best wave that you've ever caught?

Aaahhh! The best wave...

The best wave, there's got to be one. That one that you go over at night sometimes and you're like, "Yeah!"

I actually forget my waves on purpose because I want to go into a session like it's my new session. But a memorable wave was I was just in Morocco right before the pandemic and there was this beautiful right hand point break. And I don't know what happened. I just happened to catch a wave and it just built, and it built, and it built. And I was going up and down, up and down, curving back into it, out, I would get ahead of the wave. And I was like, "I'm still on this wave?" And it's still going and my legs were like, you know when you stand and you're pumping, your legs get tired. And I was getting tired. But the wave kept building. It kept building. It kept building. And I got off the wave at the beach and it was a strong swell. So you couldn't paddle back out. You have to walk around.

And as I'm walking, the sun is close to setting and I'm in tears because I was so grateful, the honor and privilege to be able to travel and surf this amazing wave.

Taghazout? Is that where you're at?

I was north of there and it's called Imsouane.

Yeah. Great wave.

It was beautiful. It's a beautiful wave that breaks into the bay. And it was one of those days when nobody was out because it was bigger. And then one thing I joke about is like I'm really good at duck diving 'cause that's the main thing we do in Ocean Beach.

Yeah, dude! Ocean Beach surfers are the best. They have the best skills, not skills, but just abilities to duck dive over and over and over.

Yeah. And the way I got this way, there wasn't that many people in the water. It was maybe like it was a bigger day. So it was like maybe 10, 12 people. And I duck dove and I look behind me, everybody got washed away. So I'm sitting there by myself and the next wave comes in and that's the one. Oh!

Beautiful. Morocco's a great trip for anyone out there that's looking for somewhere to go once this thing's all over.

Yeah.

Speaking of trips, what's one super memorable trip besides Morocco? Because we just talked about that one that you just were super stoked on, you had a great time. Sounds like you've been a lot of places. So...

Yeah. In 2018, I went to Bali for the first time and that was memorable because I love the tropics and I love the heat. I stayed away from Uluwatu and I stayed away from Padang Padang, because I went out there to check the waves and it was like six hundred people. I'm exaggerating but it felt like and it looked like it and I wasn't feeling all the bar scenes and everything.

So I ended up going to Lombok. And Lombok, which is beautiful, and there was like ten people in the water. I share this story is that I met this guy, Australian guy, surfing, and then we're like, "Hey, you want to share a boat the next day?" And then he knew a German guy. Three of us got on a boat and it's like thirty-minute boat ride out. And we get there we're like, "Dude, there's no waves." The boat driver was like, "Be patient, be patient." And we're like, "Okay!"

So we are like getting ready and sure enough, six to eight foot a-frames just show up and the three of us were out there, glassy. It was like what I'd seen in surf magazines, all these pros were going out to surf. And I was just like, oh my God, we're about to just dive into surf biz.

And then when I caught the first wave in Bali, I was in Lombok that day, I was just howling and screaming. And it was Bali was just a magical place. It's just I have a hard time when I reflect on it because it's so touristy, so run down, a lot of Australian tourists and, I feel like when I travel, I'm a very eco-traveler.

I always stay places that are locally owned, I don't go to bars, I don't party. And I like to volunteer. So I got a chance to work at a school for a little bit. I stayed in a camp right by the waves on far east of Bali. It was this beautiful left hand. It was a beautiful, memorable trip.

I can't say enough about it because it was great and I'm hoping when the pandemic ends, I want to try to get to Japan and then I want to surf in Taiwan. Japan and Taiwan are big on my next list.

Nice. Yeah, I've surfed Japan. We'll talk about that some other time. Bali is great, I've been going to Bali for a long time now and there's a lot to explore outside of Bali and you found Lombok, which was great. We went to a place called Simeulue this year or last year, which is the island above Nias.

Oh wow!

So it's the last island in the chain off of northern Sumatra. It's all the same swells that hit Nias, hit this island. And it just your story of Lombok reminds me of traveling to that place. Super, super fun.

Yeah. I have in the back of my mind I haven't planned it, but I have some distant family who live in Malaysia and I'm just like a vision of riding a scooter with the surfboard to Java and to Sumatra, and surfing my way up all the way to the very top of Sumatra.

Dude, let me know when you go, I'll join you for part of it.

Yeah, it's been something I've been thinking about for a couple of years now. And I'm like, "Man, if this pandemic gets worse and we're getting more and more pandemics, I got to do it sooner than later."

Yeah, for sure, man. All right. Do we miss anything? Is anything else you want to say?

No, I think you're not paying me to say this, but I do love your product. I have your bag and I also have a couple of your leashes. And next purchase is going to be the stomp pad because I do like eco-friendly stomp pads. So thank you so much for what you're doing. I do love the emails. And then you're talking to people in your podcast.

Thank you, man. I really enjoyed this podcast. And it's great to get to know you and I have a feeling we're going to do this again.

Sounds good. Look forward.

All right. Thank you.

Thank you so much. You have a good one

You, too.

Okay.

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