What Is The Surfrider Foundation & Why We Support Them

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We had a chance to remotely sit down with John Weber, the Mid Atlantic Regional Manager at Surfrider Foundation talk about his role at Surfrider Foundation, what Surfrider Foundation does, how it got its start and how you can get involved to protect your home surf break.

You can support Surfrider Foundation here. Read on to learn more about what Surfrider Foundation does and how they do it.

What is Surfrider Foundation

The Grom Life

Let’s start with the basics, what is Surfrider and what do you do at Surfrider, John Weber?

Surfrider Foundation

I am a regional manager with Surfrider Foundation. We have chapters that are run by all volunteers in all the coastal states. In California, where your are, there’s probably a different chapter every county or two. The chapters are run by volunteers.

My job as a regional manager is to help these all-volunteer chapters. The mid-Atlantic is my region, so that’s New York down to Virginia.

There’s nine Surfrider chapters in those five states plus D.C. I help those Surfrider foundation volunteers be all they can be.

The Grom Life

About how many chapters do you think there are at this point, globally?

Surfrider Foundation

Domestically, there’s just over 80 chapters. There are a few chapters in Canada in British Columbia. I can’t remember if we count them in that 80. Between the U.S and Canada, there’s roughly 85 chapters.

The Grom Life

Got you. Okay. Is it mostly North America, John, that Surfrider focuses on, or is it global?

Surfrider Foundation

Surfrider Foundation is global. We have international affiliates in Japan, Europe, Brazil and Australia. And every single one of them started without the permission of the parent organization, the U.S. headquartered Surfrider Foundation.

The way the international affiliates started was that a bunch of rebels liked what we were doing so much that they started their own organizations and they basically asked for forgiveness rather than permission, which it’s pretty rock and roll.

Those international affiliates have been around for a long time. So they’re, well-established regular groups now.

The Grom Life

That’s very cool. Grassroots at its best. And the headquarters is in San Clemente, right?.

Surfrider Foundation

Correct. I usually get to go once a year. Normally I would have been there about two weeks ago, but not this year.

The Grom Life

There was really good surf there just about two weeks ago, should have been there, as they say.

Surfrider Foundation

Yeah, we heard.

The Surfrider Foundation Origin Story

The Grom Life

You talked about a couple of surfers who started the organization. Do you know who they are and why they started it? What got them going on it?

Surfrider Foundation

I’m not an expert on the origin story, but I do like to tell the part.

First of all, Surfrider is a place. It’s not a group of people. I just got an email from somebody that put an S on the end of our name, “Hey, Surfriders.” It’s not a bunch of people. It’s a place. Surfrider beach was actually a beach in Malibu, California.

There were 3 people who founded. There was 1) Glenn Hening who was an engineer that worked at jet propulsion laboratory, 2) Tom Pratte who was a coastal scientist, and 3) Lance Carson who was a famous surfer.

They were concerned with a couple of things happening at Malibu. There was a water quality issue because in California, the water comes from cliffs and the head lands.

Someone had bulldozed and the result was a little lagoon. So the water would flow down the cliffs and wouldn’t flow out into the ocean. It got captured in the little lagoon. Because everybody there is on septic systems, this lagoon was just nasty and filled with bacteria laden water.

That was problem number one, water quality. As a result of the artificial lagoon that was created, the surf break was affected because the sediments from the cliffs weren’t allowed to move out into the ocean.

When you don’t let sediment travel through the creek mouths, river mouths and eventually the ocean you get less of a shape on the bottom of the ocean which creates breaking waves.

It was twofold. They formed Surfrider Foundation to deal with both the water quality and the surf break.

But Glenn Hening had a much bigger idea. He almost thought of it more like it would be more of a cultural organization as opposed to an environmental organization, where we were just sort of ambassadors of the sport of surfing. And he had visions of going down to Mexico and helping kids in little surfing villages down in Baja and things like that.

That’s not where we ended up going, but I mean it was the early eighties and the sky was the limit.

Working for Surfrider Foundation

The Grom Life

About how many employees does the Surfrider have, and are you hiring? People always want to get into the surfing industry.

Surfrider Foundation

Well, there’s about 60 employees now between the headquarters staff and people like myself that are out in the field. And there’s about 10 people like me that are regional managers throughout our regions.

We have a handful of chapters that have raised enough money that they actually have their own staff. Near you in San Diego, they have a couple of employees. The LA chapter has an employee.

We are hiring in New York because the New York City chapter has just got to that point where we’ve found the resources to hire a New York City person.

So if you go to the Surfrider website there’s a link to click on for careers. There are a couple openings right now.

Where Does The Money Go?

The Grom Life

With every nonprofit people wonder where their dollar goes that they give to support the organization and how successful is it when organizations get involved in causes? Can you talk a little bit about where the money goes that is given to Surfrider?

Surfrider Foundation

Sure thing. A few years back, our executive director, Jim Moriarty, started calling himself CEO. Jim said people like getting a return on their investment for their donation. So how do we measure ourselves?

And he realized that what we are doing is we’re really winning coastal victories. We’re fighting coastal battles. Sometimes it’s stopping the seawall from being built or it’s getting a town to pass a ban on plastic bags. Those are campaigns.

When we win a campaign we should count that as a campaign victory.Every group gets that.

The thing nowadays is that nonprofits typically only do one thing. So it’s super easy to communicate. It’s super easy to fundraise around.

It’s like charity: water or whatever, these people don’t have clean water, we’re going to clean it up. You know it’s simple.

We’ve always worked on these five things, so we kind of keep doing that. We do a lot and it is sometimes hard to communicate, but the campaign thing just kind of boils it down on one level, which is really great.

We started counting the number of coastal victories around 2006 which has helped change the conversation.

How to Get Involved

The Grom Life

What’s active today and how can surfers and beach lovers can get involved.

Surfrider Foundation

If you’re new to surfing, or if you’ve been surfing for 20 years, a great way to get engaged with the Surfrider Foundation is through beach cleanup. Your local chapter is going to be running beach cleanups.It’s entry level. You need no skills.

You need to show up and be able to pick up garbage off the beach. We catalog and record each piece of trash off the beach. And we do that with our handy beach cleanup database, which is simply at cleanups.surfrider.org.

People can go there, you can find a cleanup that happened in the past, and you can click on it and see what was picked up. It visualizes the data for you.

It’s literally how many cigarette butts, how many plastic bottle caps, how many plastic bags or pieces of whatever we find. It’s a really, really great tool.

In the pandemic, we are encouraging people to also do solo cleanups. Go to that page, get the data card print it out, go out there and do yourself a cleanup and you can send the information to your local chapter. That’s cool too and safe in the pandemic times that we’re in right now. But because they’re outside, we are allowing chapters to do that, and it’s just a great way to engage.

So look for that kind of great outside activity either through your local chapter or just go and do your own cleanup right there. That is beach cleanups.

A more advanced volunteer activity is the Blue Water Task Force. The Blue Water Task Force is when we send out volunteers to test the quality of the water to make sure it’s safe to swim in, that there’s not harmful bacteria in it.

The testing provides some really great information. The website is bwtf.surfrider.org.

You can find if there’s testing at your local beach. It’s really great.

We also have high school clubs that participate in the Blue Water Task Force.

Support Surfrider Foundation

The Grom Life

How does Surfrider stay funded?

Surfrider Foundation

We have been around for over 35 years. A lot of our support comes from individual members.

And you can simply do that by going to Surfrider.org in the upper right-hand corner there’s a button that says donate and you can become a member that way.

We do get about a third of our money from grants, as in foundations that give away money to help us fight the environmental fights that we’re on.And then there’s corporate partnerships and things that also bring in money.

Between the membership, and the grants, and those kinds of partnerships, that has kept us going for the last 35 years.