Making Waves The Surfrider Foundation
If you are already singing the theme song of the beach boys and picturing some haole (caucasion) surfer dude riding a longboard at Malibu, you might need an updated opinion about Surfrider. The organization which started in 1984 now extends itself throughout 60 chapters in 8 countries and over 50,000 members.
“It is one thing to value something and another entirely to act to protect that value,” states Surfrider’s executive director Jim Moriarty. Though some may stereotype surfers as being a passive and care free bunch of wild men, the members of this organization have been extremely proactive about protecting our ocean, waves and beaches for 23 years. The organization stands to provide public beach access, maintain clean water and protect the ecological value of our earth’s coasts. Education and awareness are also a top priority for Surfrider who has been significant in informing the public of environmental issues and educating the youth on how to protect our future.
The organization did start however, with some guys in Malibu who were simply seeking to save their own local surf break and has since evolved into one of the most noted grassroots environmental groups of our time. Long before it became “cool” to be “Green” Glen Hening’s founded Surfrider with a vision for surfers to be unified, investing in the environment as well as their sport. When Hening teamed up with Harvard Law Student Tom Pratte and famous surfer Lance Carson, the organization began to make headway and history as they sought to preserve our waves and beaches.
Surfrider has won some major battles in recent years both in cooperation with and protesting against government agencies. Marketing and communications director Matt McClain describes the organization as a “David & Goliath” type company which has challenged such authorities as the Army Corp of Engineers, and even the U.S. Government.
One of the most valuable accomplishments of Surfrider came during a lawsuit against Chevron Oil Company when they were successful in persuading government agencies to classify Ka Nalu (the breaking wave) as a natural resource. It was at this point that surf breaks became recognized as a valuable source of community recreation, worthy of protection.
In 1991 Surfrider won the second largest Clean Water Act settlement in American history against two pulp mills in Humboldt County, California. Surfrider helped to hold the mills accountable for 40,000 violations against the law, the most concerning of them being, waste runoff. The mills paid $5.8 million in fines, and restructured their operations.
There is a long list of victories in California alone; Bolsa Chica, Seal Beach, Imperial Beach and Laguna are just a few locations that have been saved from Marinas, breakwaters and unclean runoff.
The Oahu chapter, run for almost 10 years by big wave pioneer Peter Cole, and now by co-chairs Scott Werny and Marvin Heskett, is growing rapidly to meet the island’s ever expanding needs. After the 2006 catastrophe in which the city dumped 48 million gallons of raw sewage into the south shores best surf breaks and tourist locations, Hawaii now hold the most violations of the Clean Water Act. Surfrider was quick to act forming a wastewater spill response committee to work with the state and city officials, and increase water quality updates. Surfrider has also been highly combative in Hawaii’s developmental plans by working with Native Hawaiians and local residents to form campaigns and support protests to protect the surf. They recently helped win a victory for Kaka’ako Park on Oahu’s South Shore, but continue to fight an extensive struggle to preserve the North Shore’s surfing mecca. The chapter on Maui fights to save Ma’alaea Bay which is threatened by a proposal to extend the harbor, and now it looks like Honolua Bay might be in trouble. The Big Island is in the process of starting their own chapter.
There has been a great push internationally as well. In Puerto Rico they established a new law to preserve Tres Palmas as a Marine Reserve while administering a $100,000 fund to manage it. In Argentina, Surfrider held the government accountable for the “T” Jetties they had been using for erosion prevention that were a threat to La Perla Beach in the Province of Buenos Aires. They are currently seeking alternative solutions. In Australia, they recently prevented a cruise ship terminal at Stradbroke Island in a beach area.
Surfrider’s Blue Water Task Force has been instrumental in keeping our oceans clean. The force has taken recently taken over 8,000 beach water tests to keep communities informed on water quality and publishes an annual State of the Beach report. Their comprehensive water quality system has since been adopted by government agencies to insure public safety. The task force also has a sick form on their website for surfers who have become ill in unclean water and even offers a beginners kit for people to test their own surf break. Surfrider is also active through beach clean ups, general meetings, community outreach campaigns, presentations and youth participation.
What makes all this possible is Surfrider’s chain of volunteers which includes a whole unit of scientists, and anything from surfers to concerned home owners. Matt McClain explains that now more than ever we as surfers and beach goers need to “get active” in our own communities whether it be with an organization like Surfrider, other local groups or even independently on our own. Though we have “good laws” in this country like the Clean Water Act, says McClain, “they are not being enforced.” He expressed that the future of Surfrider depends on the continued commitment of the volunteers at each chapter and hopes that more of the estimated 2.5 million surfers will get involved as our reefs, eroding beaches and fish populations are continually compromised, even wiped out.
The Surfrider Foundation has proved that Surfers, like musicians, artists and athletes have the ability to make a difference in society by simply pursuing their passion.
To read become a member or volunteer go to www.surfrider.org and look for your local chapter.

by Lane Davey
Northshore, Oahu