Activist Spotlight, Youth
November 04 2019

Activist Spotlight: GWU Club Leaders Kalista Pepper & Chandler McDowell

by Ryan Cruse

Why and when did you get involved with the Surfrider Foundation?

Kali: I got involved with the Surfrider Foundation in the fall of 2018 after leaving my coastal home for college in the concrete jungle that is Washington, D.C. I missed the ocean, the air and the stars, and being surrounded by people who cared about the natural world and their interactions with it. A friend from back home suggested to me that I find a community of people in DC that had the same values as me and who were beach-lovers like me; that is when I found Surfrider. I founded the GWU S/F Club to create a community of people who care about the environment and their interactions with it and it has become so much more than I could have even hoped for and imagined.

Chandler: I got involved with the Surfrider Foundation after my roommate from freshman year, Kali, talked about it all the time. I had never heard of it before she introduced it to me, but I am so happy I am involved with it now. Although I don’t currently, nor have I ever, lived next to the ocean, I still want to make sure it is available, safe, and clean for the life in and around it. I became involved with Surfrider because I wanted to be a part of a community that cares about the environment and did as much as they could to limit their negative effects on the environment.

What are some local issues that are affecting your oceans, waves and beaches?

Surfrider GWU is in a landlocked city, Washington, D.C. We do not have oceans, waves or beaches. We have the Potomac River, estuaries, the Chesapeake Bay. Some of the major issues plaguing our environmental community are plastic and trash pollution, car exhaust pollution, waste management, and a lack of proper enforcement of already existing environmental laws and regulations.

What Surfrider projects have you worked on?

Surfrider GW is only a year old, but we have accomplished so much in that short year. We have made a product guide for GW students to refer to when looking for sustainable, zero-waste goods and services, we have had four successful Potomac River clean-ups in two months, we have distributed reusable utensils and goods to our GW community (steel straws, produce bags, etc.) through Earth Day events, we are working with the GW art school to create a sculpture to raise awareness of and advocacy against plastic pollution on campus, we are working with GW maintenance to have cigarette butt tins installed on light posts, buildings, etc. on campus, and we have registered one Ocean Friendly Restaurant and are in the process of potentially registering four more this month. In two semesters, we have done that and I could not be prouder. I am stoked to see what more we can accomplish next semester, and the one after and the one after because our community is growing as is our strength and passion for the mission.

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

Kali: The highlight of my Surfrider experience has been seeing the growth in our membership and participation in hands-on events. We started out with three members and now have ~200 people on the email list. Seeing people show up for river clean-ups and awareness events not out of self-interest, but altruistically, is more than enough reason to have hope in people and in the Surfrider mission. I think the specific event that highlights my Surfrider experience thus far is our first General Body Meeting of the fall semester; 30 people showed up and I recognized maybe 10 faces. To see so many people taking time and energy from their busy lives to do something and learn about something more than themselves showed me that Surfrider brings people together in the most spectacular and genuine way. All of the projects we are working on now (river clean-ups, ocean friendly restaurant recruitment, cigarette butt containers on campus, eliminating single-use plastic bottles on campus, awareness events, creating sculptures,  and so much more) are just an extension of the amazing events and activities that make Surfrider so amazing to me.

Chandler: Kali and I had the opportunity to speak with Representative Greg Murphy from the third congressional district of North Carolina . Considering our club has only been around for a year, it was amazing that we were able to speak with a Congressman about issues that are important to Surfrider and the community. We specifically were able to inform him on our concerns about off-shore drilling and the impacts it has on the environment.  Whether or not he will take our concerns into consideration in the future, he at least knows what his constituents feel about the issue and how passionate they are about the impacts of off-shore drilling.

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

Kali: The most important thing I tell others about Surfrider is that it is for people who are living life for something more than themselves; it is for people who are inherently altruistic, passionate and genuine. Every Surfrider I know will give you the shirt off their back if you need it and it’s because they care about people and the world outside of themselves. If somebody cares about their interactions with the natural world and all that it is inclusive of, they have to want to give to it and not expect anything in return. That is what Surfrider is all about and that is how the foundation has been able to accomplish so much.

Chandler: The most important thing I tell others about Surfrider is that it is for ordinary people who don’t necessarily have to devote their entire lives to these issues or don’t have to work in the environmental field, but it is really for people who care about the environment and what to make the world a better place. I am a criminal justice major and I am so grateful that I am able to be a part of Surfrider without having to have an environmental/sustainability related major. The Surfrider Foundation is a group of people who care about the environment and want to make it cleaner for the outside world.

Why are you a Surfrider coastal defender (or why is being a Surfrider coastal defender important to you)? 

Kali: I am a Surfrider coastal defender because I value our earth and our oceans, waves and beaches more than anything else. Our oceans are one of two lungs our earth has (the other being our rainforests) and I want this earth to breathe healthily for the sake of all things living and all things natural. We are not living, breathing and healthy if our earth isn’t. Like Leonardo DaVinci said, “everything is connected to everything else.” My actions matter in the grand scheme of things and I want to do everything I can to live and act sustainably and to encourage others to do the same.

Chandler: I am a surfrider coastal defender because I genuinely care about our oceans, waves, and beaches. I want the Earth to survive long after I am no longer here and the only way to do that is to care for our environment now.

Anything else? 

Kali: The Surfrider Foundation, and more specifically the GWU Club and DC Chapter, has given me a community and a healthier way of living. I wish for nothing less than that for everybody and I hope that they find a home in Surfrider, too.

Chandler: Thank you to everyone who has supported the creation of Surfurder GW and has made it a part of their lives to protect our oceans, waves, and beaches.