Thirty years ago a group of surfers, Glenn Hening, Lance Carson and Tom Pratte, took action when escalating coastal development posed threats at their favorite surf break in Malibu, California. Not even they could have envisioned the history they were making when they succeeded in protecting their beloved surf spot.
Since the Articles of Incorporation were filed on August 22, 1984, the Surfrider Foundation has evolved into one of the largest non-profit grassroots organizations in the nation with a volunteer-activist network dedicated to its mission to protect and enjoy the world’s oceans, waves and beaches.
Today, the Surfrider Foundation is measurably stronger, with more force and movement than ever before. It has 84 chapters, including 30 high school and college clubs and more than 250,000 activists, supporters and volunteers, fighting 90 active campaigns around the country. Armed with a model to defend the coast, the organization has achieved a record of 271 victories (and counting) since 2006.
Filled with times of uncertainty, it hasn’t been easy. The Surfrider Foundation’s long-term success and growth is a tribute to its founder’s vision, that taking on an environmental battle may not be easy, but with constant pressure, endlessly applied, it can be won. And key to this is what makes the organization unique...
In 1991, the Surfrider Foundation hit its first huge milestone when it won the second largest Clean Water Act lawsuit in the United States history against two pulp mills in Humboldt County, California.
Up until this point, the organization operated as a loose-knit group of surfers that gave the surfing community a voice when environmental issues threatened surf-breaks. Its activities were varied, from taking toys to children in Mexico to testing marine water quality at various beaches.
When I first became involved with the organization in 1993, it was very much in “start up” mode. It was nine years young, had a staff of six people, 19 Chapters and 10,000 members, and a lot of debt. As a result of the momentum from the Humboldt victory, it was in a somewhat controlled chaos.
The phones were ringing off the hook, memberships were piling up, orders needed to be processed, envelopes needed to be stuffed, mail needed to go out, and there was no money. There was an infectious buzz though. You knew something great was happening, and I wanted to be a part of it. I still feel this way.
Working at the Surfrider Foundation during the early 1990s was way different than it is today. The first office had to be less than 1,200 sq. ft., and we used hand-me-down furniture from generous donors. My first desk was a particleboard door balanced on two file cabinets. Other desks were propped up with telephone books, and we used plastic lawn chairs. There was no email and once we did get internet in the mid-90s, we used a dial up connection longer than most. We cut costs anywhere we could.
Long hours and doing anything and everything that was needed was the way business ran—this is still true today to an extent. If a membership mailing needed to go out we would stay after hours and have a “stuffing party.” Needed to travel to a conference or a tradeshow? We stayed with friends, or had four or more people to a hotel room.
We were young and anxious to learn. Our drive was not fancy titles, prestige or paychecks and health benefits (it couldn’t have been, we didn’t have these things then), it was the passion and desire to affect change and fulfill the mission—to protect our coasts.
Over the next couple decades the threats to our coasts became worse. Dirty water, single-use plastics, irresponsible coastal development, loss of beach access and ecosystem destruction increased. Our organization grew internationally, experiencing rapid growth in emerging markets like Brazil while facing challenges in more mature markets like Japan. Generational trends, competing demand for volunteers’ time, growth in technology, demographic shifts in our membership—factors that lead us to create a more flexible and more responsive business model that includes additional support and resources, and a larger staff to service it.
The Surfrider Foundation’s story is a powerful one of passionate individuals making a difference through constant pressure, endlessly applied.
In honor of our 30-year anniversary, our team created this online timeline of a more detailed account of our history. It includes photos and highlights many of our successes and programs.
What does the future of the Surfrider Foundation look like?
We are in good shape. But to ensure our continued relevance in this fast-paced world, we will continue to change and improve how we do things. In the next year, you will see a new Surfrider Foundation website that will help us communicate better with the world. We’ll continue to enhance our chapter network resources and support systems. Programs such as Ocean Friendly Gardens, Rise Above Plastics and QUAD (our youth services effort), will become stronger, and we will remain focused on our core values and competencies. We will persist in our fight for beach access, become more focused on the issue of climate change and carry on with our 30-year campaign to ensure that our coastal waters are safe. Above all, we’ll keep fighting and winning victories for our members. We will stay true to our mission to not only protect, but to enjoy our oceans, waves and beaches.
How will we do this?
Success always starts with the people. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do, and be as successful as we are, without the tireless focus and efforts of our dedicated volunteers, staff and board members.
On behalf of the organization, I would like to thank each and every staff member, volunteer, board member, donor and supporter who has been involved with the Surfrider Foundation. It truly takes a village, and the tribe we have created is powerful. The legacy we have created together is profound.
As long as we continue to have the passion, energy and commitment of people like you, our members and supporters, the Surfrider Foundation will continue to be successful.
Are you passionate and committed to protecting our coasts? Learn more and find a chapter near you at Surfrider.org.
Michelle Kremer, Esq. has been employed by the Surfrider Foundation for most of her pretty years – 22 to be exact – and is currently serving as its Chief Operating Officer. She grew up on the beaches in Laguna Beach, California. A graduate of University of Southern California in Print Journalism and Political Science, she earned her Juris Doctor degree at Western State University and was a Fellow for the Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders at the Sanford Graduate School of Business. She serves on the Laguna Canyon Foundation Board of Directors as Treasurer and is an advisor for other local non-profits. She enjoys long boarding and is the queen of the bottom ten in SUP races.