Activist Spotlight, Partner Spotlight
January 22 2018

Meet Rafael Bergstrom, Surfrider Activist and Coastal Defender

by Ty Smith

The Surfrider Foundation is proud to be partnered with our Surf Industry Coastal Defender, Electric, to keep the eyes of Surfrider activists around the country protected from the elements as they carry out Surfrider campaigns and programs in their local communities. Support from Electric helps us achieve important programmatic work. Learn more about the amazing impact that Rafael Bergstrom from our Oahu chapter is making to ensure our ocean, waves and beaches are protected for generations to come!

Tell us a little about yourself. Has the beach always been a big part of your life?
I grew up close to mountains and rivers in Oregon and Sacramento, CA, but made frequent trips to the coast and was always fascinated and drawn to the ocean. Despite completing my undergraduate degree at UC San Diego, it wasn't until I finished an international baseball career and moved to Hawaii for graduate school, that I really connected to the ocean as an integral part of my life. Since then it's been a deep connection through freediving, bodysurfing, surfing, and as a subject in my photography.

How’d you get involved with Surfrider, and what do you do with your chapter/ what's your role?
Five years ago I volunteered as a photographer at the Oahu Chapter's annual John Kelly Awards and started getting more connected. As I was finishing my MS in Natural Resource Management, I worked with one of our House of Representatives members to craft a bill in relation to stormwater runoff pollution and as we built stakeholder engagement was reintroduced to Stuart Coleman, the Hawaii Regional Manager. Within the context of volunteering and the work I did at the State Capitol I was lucky enough to be chosen as our chapter's first-ever Chapter Coordinator. Over the past 4 years, with the help of our amazing team, I grew it into a full-time position.

Can you tell us about one of the initiatives your chapter is focusing on right now that is a high priority/ of timely importance?
Our chapter has thrived in the arena of civic engagement over the past three years. As a new legislative session approaches and as our citizens feel more and more urge to get involved in shaping their future, Surfrider Oahu has stepped up to create our "Civics Is Sexy" program. The campaign begins each year with an interactive workshop at the Hawaii State Capital, where we teach the basics of navigating our state legislative structure. The idea behind this is empowerment - giving our community the tools to get engaged in shaping the policy that affects their lives. This year we'll introduce new bills that deal with curbing plastic pollution in the ocean, impacts of personal care products like oxybenzone based sunscreens on our reefs, runoff, and pollution from cesspools or mismanaged human waste, and coastal zone management in regards to the associated effects of stormwater runoff.

Please share any details about the campaign timeline (when did it start, what's the current status, when's the next update/ decision, do we anticipate a Coastal Victory?)
February 10th will be our 4th annual Civics Is Sexy Workshop and it will be an opportunity to engage in the lawmaking process in Hawaii that opened on January 17th. Following the workshop, we will use action alerts and follow up at our monthly meetings to give our volunteers guidance on submitting written testimony and showing up at hearings in person. Ideally, we pass 2-5 bills that we support in session this year that will help create a healthier ocean in Hawaii and serve as an example around the country.

Are there any specific challenges that stand out with this initiative that we can help raise awareness of?
Lawmaking is a challenging institution to navigate and awareness is where we can turn the tide in our favor. We continue to see the powerful influence of special interests, greed, and corporate infiltration into our governing bodies. This has become a norm that exists when our communities get disengaged from the process. Our goal is to reinvigorate the public to be vigilant in protecting the oceans and the only way to do that is to show up, demand transparency, and bring attention to issues that may otherwise be overlooked by our lawmakers.

For those of us who don’t already participate with their local Surfrider Chapter, how can they support this initiative, support your chapter or make a difference for our ocean, waves and beaches?
Surfrider Oahu is really an incredible ohana (family) or hui (team, partnership) and anyone who wants to get involved is welcome. We hold meetings the first Wednesday of every month, Ocean Friendly Restaurant Pau Hanas the second Wednesday, and activate the community in many other ways throughout the year. At all these events we update our legislative priorities and teach new volunteers how to engage actively. Following our Instagram (@surfrideroahu), facebook, and webpage are the easiest ways to stay up to date with us.

Anything else you want to say about your new shades?
In all honesty, these shades are the best that I have ever owned. They are super lightweight, which for someone who is out adventuring constantly is a real bonus and I appreciate them. Also as a big dude, with a big head, it's nice to have a frame that actually covers my face. The polarization enhances the world in a way that a photographer's eye really appreciates.

Anything else you want to add?
I am stoked that companies like Electric are excited about getting involved with protecting our oceans and giving back. It's refreshing to see and we are #NeverNotStoked out here in Hawaii to be partnering and doing work together on these issues. 

About the Electric x Surfrider Partnership
All Electric sunglasses sold featuring the OHM+ Polarized Blue or OHM Sky Blue Chrome lenses will share a portion of the proceeds with the Surfrider Foundation. Every pair sold directly supports the extensive team of Surfrider activists who are on the ground, cleaning up our beaches, fighting development, and monitoring water quality. Electric pledges to protect our environment through a number of their best looking sunglasses - get yours now and help save our oceans. Surfrider supporters, use code COASTALDEFENDER30 for 30% off the Surfrider collection. SHOP NOW