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IM interview with activist Rob Nixon

March 09 2012 | Beach access, Coastal development, Chapters, Stories, Activism,

Jim: Yo. Ready for an IM interview?

Rob: Yep

Jim : Awesome. First question. In a few words who are you and where do you live?

Rob: My name is Rob Nixon and I am the Chairman of the South Texas Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation on South Padre Island, TX.

Jim: What’s your day job, kids, favorite board?

Rob: My "paying" job that allows me to do everything is being Operations and Maintenance Manager of Gravity Park, a small amusement park that has everything from the Tallest bungee jump in the United States to go-karts. 

I am married to an awesome woman who puts up with all that I do and have a two kids. 

My favorite surfboard is just about anything that will get me into a wave but right now it's my FireWire quad.  It's wide and thick and is perfect for our Texas Gulf Coast Surf.

Jim: Awesome. One of the things I'm really drawn to is understanding why people care... and act. What caused you to engage? I mean… what pushed you from a passive lover of Texas coasts to an active advocate for them?

and BTW... how tall is the tallest bungee jump in the US?

Rob: Well it all really began back in 2005 and it was the result of 2 people, a surfer named Delton Lee and the Cameron County Judge at the time.

A development group had come in to our area and proposed to our county to develop our largest beach park into a marina and casino resort (even though casino gambling wasn't and still isn't legal in Texas but they or the county Judge weren't really caught up in those details). 

The park, Isla Blanca, was where I grew up as a kid with my family spending weekends and summers in out tiny Holiday Rambler Trailer.  My brother and I spent the better part of our childhood playing on the beach and in the dunes there and this Judge was going to just hand over those 126 acres to these guys to destroy this resource that myself and thousands of others had grown up on for years. 

About his time two groups popped up in opposition to this. The Surfrider South Texas Chapter and Friends of Isla Blanca Park.  I was a founding member of both but got frustrated with the passive and more diplomatic approach the South Texas Chapter was taking and that is when I was approached by the leader of the FOIB leader to come on over and "get in their face".

Delton was so posed off and motivated it was impossible to not be infected with his energy and he pretty much led me into the activist lifestyle at that point.  Every meeting Cameron County Meeting that the Judge was at we were there confronting him and causing him to get so frustrated he would scream at us, change commissioner court rules against us, etc. 

The more he made it difficult, the more determined we got. 

It was super fun and took me way out of my comfort zone. 

At the same time I had been appointed to the South Texas Chapter's EC as Volunteer Coordinator and started driving them to be more aggressive.  At the end of the whole thing, we had kept the development out of the park and cost that county Judge his job.  I was completely blown away that we had pulled it off.

I've never looked back and have completely enjoyed the activism process from there from educating myself on the coast and our beaches to organizing people and then sharing that information so we can rise to whatever issue we face AND be the smartest group in the room.

Jim: whoa

Cool, that answers my next few questions as well.

Rob: The tallest bungee jump in The US is 150'

Jim: Um. That's ginormous.

Cool story. Thanks for that. It's always so meaningful to understand these kinds of stories... why we do more than just care.

I guess the next questions are what does Surfrider look like in Texas? How many chapters are there? What things are you working across Texas? Give us a Texas-sized view into the world of Surfrider in the Lone Star state.

And while you're thinking of that... Fishbone or The Roots?

Rob: Surfrider Foundation in Texas is looking stronger and stronger every day in my opinion. We just had our 5th chapter established in Galveston and they are already kicking ass! Every chapter has it's local issues from environmental to beach access issues and very area f the coast is unique in that aspect, especially the real estate development aspect.  

An example is The Galveston area being very developed already and South Padre Island having huge swaths of undeveloped coastline that people very much want to develop.  I was told yesterday by a coastal policy consultant that SPI has the largest stretch of pristine developable beach in the United States. So each chapter has the same basic issues but different metrics and circumstances that affect them surrounding them and each chapter is mindful of that and respects how everyone decides to handle those situations.  

On a state level we are all working on Plastic Bag Bans.  South Padre passed their a year ago and Austin just passed the most radical ban that I have ever heard of recently.  Corpus Christi and Galveston are getting close to considering theirs soon.  

The other issue is resilient development and that goes back to each area being the same but different.  We are acting as a statewide unified organization on our policy but having to address each local Erosion Response Plan individually because each area is so different from the other.

It's a party at ground zero!

Jim: Cool. Your crew has a ton going on

and it's a super-strong crew of activists...

Rob: We are always busy and there is a great group of core activists that work tirelessly on this stuff, smiling and laughing all the time!

Jim: Changing topics a bit, you went to that Patagonia activist training a few months back. What was that like… what did you learn?

Rob: We try to keep in regular contact as much as possible by phone so we can BS and talk shop and just get a feel of where everyone is at and how they are hanging in their

The Patagonia Tool for Grassroots Activists was an unbelievable experience I can't thank Surfrider enough for that opportunity.  Not only do spend 4 days of intensive and fun workshops and activities with 80 other activists around the world but the connections and resources you accumulate are priceless.  If that isn't enough they stick you in the most beautiful part of the Lake Tahoe area and give you full use of the lake and trails and pretty much whatever else you desire.  

The Speakers were outstanding and of course the "after hours" beer conferencing was very productive in getting to know everyone and what drives them.  The funniest part of the conference for me was the reaction of other activists when I told them I was from a Surfrider Chapter in Texas, "There are surfers in Texas?" and " Surfrider is in Texas?" to probably the most disappointing one being a Texan, "There are Environmental Groups in Texas?" that one actually hurt.  

So much work being done here by many great enviro groups and it is all overshadowed by our boisterous politicians and their fights with the EPA and Washington.

Jim: lol

btw, what's tanker surfing like... I heard it's nasty...

but fun

Rob: What I learned there was that we all share the same general problems and that through events things like the Patagonia conference we can come together and figure out the best way to overcome them

LOL.  I have never been tanker surfing.  That is unique to the Houston Ship Channel and there are actually guides that know which channel markers are the best to wait at.  I'm actually trying to get Sean Ahlum a session set up when the Board of Directors come to Texas in June if you want in.

Jim: Fantastic. Thanks for your time. Anything you’d like to share, point to on the web or anything else?

Rob: The only thing I would like to add is that when I first heard of the Surfrider Foundation 10 or so years ago, it was an abstract idea that didn't seem to fit for me or in Texas for that matter. I didn't know there was a chapter in Houston at the time so I ignored it. 

It seems to me , and maybe it is just because I and it met again at the right place and right time in my life, that the organization has gotten much better in defining its mission and getting it out there. 

It is an amazingly powerful network of activists that don't see state or national borders but just that the oceans, waves and beaches are worth fighting for and they will help anyone in whatever way they an to accomplish that goal. I have met some of the most amazing people in my life since I got involved in Surfrider and consider myself blessed everyday for getting involved.

Jim: Awesome. And we're SOOO much better because you're part of it. You ARE surfrider to me. Serious. It's like those Jaffe blog posts I put up a few days ago... you are the essense of the idea that is Surfrider.

Cool. Over and out Rob. Thanks for all you do. Have a stellar weekend.

Rob: Thanks man.  Hope to see you in June.

Jim: Later sl8r

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