Have you ever felt overwhelmed or frustrated about something happening in your community? What would inspire you to take action? In 1987, three surfers from Malibu, California found their moment of inspiration when increasing private development and pollution on their favourite beach threatened their surf scene. Glenn Hening, Lance Carson and Tom Pratte organized a successful grassroots protest and unknowingly created a movement. Thirty years later, beach lovers band together as part of worldwide Surfrider Foundation initiatives.
Dr. Chad Nelsen worked for 16 years as Surfrider’s Environmental Director while earning a doctorate from UCLA, and is now the CEO. He grew up by the ocean in California helping his marine biologist father with water measurements and marine life monitoring. He learned to surf when he was nine. “I still remember catching my first wave and pearling and then catching the next one and feeling the wonderful glide,” he tells Mat Arney of SurfSimply.com. Dr. Nelsen’s passion for the ocean makes him the energetic leader needed for Surfrider.
Surfrider’s success and popularity stem from their unique approach. They have 85 chapters and 50 youth clubs across the US, as well as chapters in Canada, Asia and South America. Each chapter is chaired by a volunteer leader trained to collaborate at both the local and national level with regional staff and issue experts to carry out Surfrider’s mission. Collectively, they have logged more than 400 victories including championing sustainable coastal developments, protecting vulnerable areas, and ensuring coastal water is clean and free of plastics and litter.
Additionally, they stop harmful projects, clean up beaches, plant dunes, and monitor water quality in addition to looking ahead to create protective policies. In this decentralized model, each chapter is free to focus on local issues and solutions that fit the culture and conditions of their communities.
Surfrider also strategically uses the power of affiliation and connection with other organizations to have as much impact as possible. On May 20, 2017, members of Surfrider chapters are set to take part in the joint Hands Across the Sands event, standing in silent solidarity at the edge of the oceans urging the governments to keep dirty fuels in the ground. There is an immense amount of power in this kind of collaborative effort that joins like-minded people together to build a community and make an even bigger impact.
The results that the Surfrider model has achieved is nothing short of inspiring. No matter how small you start, you can take comfort in the knowledge that small actions can add up to big results.
Getting large numbers of people out, CEO Nelsen has noted, exponentially increases impact on corporate and government decisions.
Surfrider and its many volunteer chapter members see the effects of climate change along North America and Australia’s coasts first-hand. Dr. Nelsen feels there are solutions that can protect these vulnerable areas. The work he and the Surfrider staff foster is focused on bringing the public will to the attention of policy-makers and corporate interests, to effect the change necessary to preserve the health of the place where the oceans and the land meet. Learn more and find a chapter here surfrider.org
Uttama Anderson is an environmentalist, art therapist and an avid tree hugger living in Toronto, Ontario. Her passion and focus is on creating the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary to keep the planet healthy.