Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Surfers use beach experiences to advocate & educate

Today on The Madeleine Brand Show, they talk to Jess Ponting, the founding scholar at the new Center for Surf Research at San Diego State. I have to admit, at first I was pretty hostile to the idea that this is even a job. I also have to admit that comes from schadenfreude-envy, since he gets to be an academic and make surfing part of the gig. (As someone who got paid to listen to Sam Cooke and the Meters in New Orleans, I've not got a leg to stand on here.)

The other thing I realized is that leveraging surf tourism to improve conditions in far-flung surf hotspots maybe doesn't sound that wild around here because surfers are pretty consistently getting more active on environmental policy in California.

Issues Ponting's talking about in Indonesiadon't have much overlap with our endless summer. We don't have a foreign controlled surfing tourism industry; ours is pretty much native. American beach towns are pretty well empowered to hold on to their own revenue. But some decisions surfers make have ecological importance anywhere. Any surfer who chooses to hop a plane can consider the carbon footprint of a long-haul jaunt to Fiji. Chemicals used in making surfboards are toxic for anyone. 

In 4 years in LA, I've seen surfers make waves in water policies, coastal access, plastics, and coastal preservation. During the process for making marine protected areas, surfers were the strongest and most consistent voice in the South Coast for what the bureaucrats called "recreational non-consumptive use." Surfers are stlll hammering away on the campaign to save Trestles, active again as O.C. toll road backers look to declare that project shovel-ready. And water regulators hear testimony about nasty pinkeye from polluted waters in Malibu. Surfrider's a national group, sure, but with local chapters that behave kinda differently sometimes. Save the Waves, Malibu Surfing Association, Sierra Club's coastal campaign, Heal the Bay, and Coastkeeper all work on issues near to surfers' hearts.

The "Center for Surf Research" has a pretty vague name on purpose. It'll be interesting to see what Jess Ponting does to expand his pretty sweet gig. In the meantime, check out this promo for a film that Surfrider foundation is putting out today with a wine company to promote beach cleanups. It's another example of how surfers and coastal advocates try to get their stories out, one person or beach at a time.


(Top photo credit Sean O'Brien for One Beach, Barefoot Wines & Surfrider.)