Activist Spotlight, Blue Water Task Force, Surf Protection, Water Quality, Public Notification
April 25 2017

Activist spotlight: Sasha Medlen with the Olympia chapter in the PNW!

When and why did you get involved with Surfrider Foundation?

When I moved to Washington State in 2004, I wanted to do some water sampling and volunteering. Surfrider called me back, and I went to my first meeting. At the next meeting, all the Executive Committee members quit and made me Chapter Chair of Seattle. I started a water sampling program on Greenlake, and then promptly took it upon myself to learn to surf. I built up the chapter quite a bit, but shortly thereafter, I realized I was addicted to surfing and moved west to the Peninsula to be closer to the ocean. After several more moves, I landed in Olympia and went to a Capitol Chapter meeting. It was super fun to hang out with friends from the past, so I joined the Executive Committee and am currently Special Projects Coordinator. I stay involved because I can make a huge difference in my community while hanging out with incredible people who care just as much as I do about protecting our water.  

What issues are you most passionate about in your community?

I am most passionate about anything to do with water and surfing. From little critters in the estuaries to water quality at the coast. Currently, on the top of my list, are ocean acidification issues and encouraging people to enjoy our water resources.

What has been the highlight of your Surfrider experience (i.e., campaign, program, victory)?

Highlights from my work include starting the Blue Water Task Force in Olympia and the Care for the Cove Campaign. 

When I first started, the BEACH Program in Washington that samples for fecal indicators in recreational waters, was only sampling one beach in our county. We wrote them and offered to sample Priest Point which has a permanent swimming advisory on it due to data from 2004. Through our data collection, we learned, contrary to current assumptions, that Priest Point beach water is actually pretty clean in the summer. That was a really exciting and unexpected outcome. We are upping our game to weekly monitoring this year, AND adding another location across the inlet at West Bay. I am so lucky to be a part of this program (mostly because the hike down to the spot is gorgeous), and I love geeking out at the Thurston County lab when I drop off samples. I hope that due to this data, more people will consider Priest Point as a place to have fun in the water! 

The second campaign I reinvigorated was the Cove campaign in Westport. Shortly after joining the Capitol Chapter, I learned that Surfrider had signed a legal agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers in 1998 requiring onshore and offshore placement of sand in Half Moon Bay (the Cove) in Westport. However, no sand had been dumped in three years, and the wave quality had diminished significantly. The Cove is a special place to me because it was the location of my first real barrel. I will never forget that moment!

I started doing more research about this elusive agreement and promptly fell down a rabbit hole of legal documents, scientific papers, and FOIAed data from the Army Corps. What is intriguing about this issue is that it combines a myriad of critical issues affecting many beaches around the world: shoreline armoring, sea level rise, erosion due to dams, flooding, sand replenishment, etc. Anyway, after much searching, I finally found the text of this elusive agreement. With the help of our chapter, Surfrider’s legal team, and key Surfrider board members, we started talking with the Army Corps. They agreed to bring in a smaller dredger to dump sand in the Cove in 2017. We could not be more excited, and it’s been amazing to learn more about the history of this break from locals. I have made four presentations to Washington Surfrider chapters, the Westport City Council, and even sent it to some local surfers in Ireland who are fighting shoreline armoring at their break. Looking ahead, we are planning to continue studying the effects of the sand dump with graduate students using GIS and bathymetric mapping. If you want to learn more, the presentation can be found on our chapter's website.

Where is your favorite beach and why?

So obviously if you have been reading, it’s the Cove in Westport, but since it’s not really working now…. my favorite beach is the one where I am riding waves. I am not married to any one spot – most WA breaks have enormous potential if you hit them up during proper conditions. Washington beaches are my favorite because of the epic scenery – it’s unreal how beautiful it is. I encourage people to get out and explore them for yourself! 

What is the most important thing you tell others about Surfrider?

There are two most important things I would tell others about Surfrider: 1) if you participate in your local chapter, you will have Surfrider friends (from across the world) in your life forever because they kick ass; and 2) if you have a passion for an issue, the organization allows for one person to make a huge difference. The support is amazing, and we are basically always winning while having a great time in the process. 

Join the Surfrider Foundation as a coastal defender at surfrider.org/chapters or at surfrider.org/support-surfrider!