58 pages 1 hour read

Yvon Chouinard

Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 2005

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide


Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman is a memoir and business book written by the founder of the outdoor apparel company Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard. In the book, Chouinard explains how Patagonia became the successful, environmentally conscious business it is known as. He details the twin histories of his lifelong pursuit of outdoor recreation and his founding and development of Patagonia. Chouinard shows the extent to which he shaped Patagonia to the contours of his own interests and beliefs. The book was originally published in 2005 and was revised and updated in 2016. This guide refers to the 2016 Penguin e-book edition.


Chouinard breaks the book into two parts: “History” and “Philosophies.” In “History,” Chouinard describes his early interest in the outdoors as an escape from the bullying he experienced as a small French-speaking seven-year-old who’d recently moved to Burbank, California. In high school, Chouinard finds his niche in a falconry club, through which he is introduced to climbing by having to rappel down cliffs to falcons’ aeries. Falconry also introduces him to activism as his group lobbies to enact the first falconry regulations in California. After high school, Chouinard becomes an itinerant climber, supporting himself by selling steel pitons for climbing he smithies himself. His pitons are more expensive than the ones most climbers use, but their hardness makes them removable, meaning that climbers can avoid permanently littering the rock with their gear.

After serving in the Korean War, spending his time shirking his duties and climbing, Chouinard returns to the Yosemite Valley to climb. He grows his company, Chouinard Equipment, and hires friends to help him run it. He designs removable climbing chocks that soon come to replace pitons, eliminating the holes pitons make. He meets his wife, Malinda Pennoyer, and they move to Ventura, California. She joins him in the business, and they soon gain partners and expand into clothing, naming that business Patagonia. Chouinard, his partners, and their employees—who are mostly friends—use Patagonia to fund their travel and climbing, but soon the company grows bigger than that purpose. Patagonia’s emphasis on quality and distinctive style have made it enormously popular, and the company experiences runaway growth through the 1980s until the 1991 financial crisis. This crisis prompts a corporate soul searching, resulting in the drafting of a statement of company values. The newly formed board of directors establishes in writing the environmentalism and commitment to quality that have always been cornerstones of the business. This mission statement also includes a pledge not to pursue growth for growth’s sake. The company adheres to this statement and survives the crisis, going on to outgrow the growing pains it experienced during its rapid growth and mature into a sustainable business.

In the second part, “Philosophies,” Chouinard details the guiding principles Patagonia uses in various parts of its business, many of which derive from Chouinard’s life. Their product design philosophy prioritizes function and quality over form in to produce garments that are durable, authentic, and environmentally sound. The company’s production philosophy combines traditional business practices with progressive tweaks such as concurrent design and the incorporation of fair trade-certified products. Its distribution philosophy is based on the principle that diversification of sales channels helps the company weather recessions and allows the company to communicate with their customers on their own terms. Its marketing philosophy is to be authentic in presenting the outdoor, environmentalist lifestyle essential to the company’s image and ethos. Its financial philosophy is that profits come naturally from making high-quality products. Its human resources philosophy is that diversity is moral and stimulates innovation. Its management philosophy is that people work better in smaller groups and that good leaders instigate change. Finally, Patagonia’s environmental philosophy is based on the premise that above all, Patagonia has a responsibility to its resource base. Because clothing manufacture is unavoidably polluting, Patagonia dedicates itself to remediating that damage through philanthropy, cleaning up its supply chain, and trying to influence other companies to adopt its environmentalism.

In the book’s conclusion, Chouinard exhorts readers to step through our fatalism about the fate of the environment and cure our depression with activism. By living simply and advocating for environmental changes in our communities, we can do our part to take responsibility for the environmental damage we cause and become happier in the process.