02 • 21 • 2018

Activist spotlight: Marissa Miller with the Cal Poly Surfrider Club

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

I practically grew up in the ocean, and I’ve had an immense love and respect for the water and waves that have surrounded me from a very young age. Surfing in particular has always been a big part of my life and it is probably what has fostered my passion for protecting the ocean the most. In elementary school, I learned about organizations like the Surfrider Foundation and Kokua Foundation (Jack Johnson’s nonprofit) that were working to protect the beaches I loved, and I was very inspired. I followed the Surfrider Oahu Chapter’s work throughout middle school and high school, drawing from their activism and efforts to make an impact in my own way. In my sophomore year of high school, I created the “Sustainable Living Club” at my school, with Surfrider as my inspiration. I coordinated beach cleanups, advocated for sustainable changes on campus, attended an international youth conference on plastic pollution, and tried to inspire other students to take action. This fall, I moved to San Luis Obispo to attend Cal Poly. I am now the Public Relations Chair for the Cal Poly Surfrider Club and I’m super stoked to be a part of it and work to make an impact in my new home away from home.

Q: What are some local issues that are affecting your ocean, waves and beaches?

Back home in Hawaii, there are a lot of threats to our fragile marine ecosystems. Sadly, many businesses are overly concerned with short-term profits rather than investing in long-term solutions to protect local ecosystems and ensure that our island is still welcoming and inviting to visitors. Our tourism industry would fail miserably if we didn’t protect our beaches – the main reason why people come to visit Hawaii in the first place. Local companies in the area have dished out insane amounts of plastic and foam containers, utensils, straws, cups, bags, and more on a daily basis, which litter our parks and beaches (not to mention the significant amounts of marine debris that drift onto our shores from places all around the world). Surfrider and other environmental organizations are working hard to educate the public, conduct large-scale cleanups, and get legislation passed in order to halt the insanity, but we really need increased support of local businesses and politicians. Aside from waste and pollution, our reefs and sandy beaches are also at the mercy of increasingly warm waters, rising sea levels, and coastal erosion. I feel like environmental organizations are gaining momentum though, and I hope that our generation can make an impact big enough to effectively preserve our coastlines for future generations.

Q: What Surfrider projects have you worked on?

Currently at Cal Poly, we are working on a Rise Above Plastics campaign, collaborating with the Zero Waste Club and the Sustainability Department on campus to reduce plastic consumption. We are also working to get an Ocean Friendly Garden implemented in a central location on campus alongside a prospective student community garden where students can volunteer and learn more about how OFGs benefit our coasts. Our club is also collaborating with Surfrider San Luis Obispo’s Butts 4 Brown campaign to convince the Governor to sign a state beach smoking ban into law, as part of the Hold On To Your Butts program.

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

The highlight of my Surfrider experience is every single time I inspire someone new to get involved. I feel that one of the main goals of Surfrider is to educate and empower community members to step up to the challenge of fighting for our coasts. Educating and inspiring others to join the effort is one of the most fulfilling parts of activism. I love being able to build a community and friend group around important issues, and I feel that you can make much bigger impacts when you surround yourself with passionate and motivated people working towards a common goal. My favorite thing to see is when I teach someone something new about protecting the ocean and, later, they come back to me excited to tell me all about what they did to help the environment after talking to me. It’s an awesome feeling to see that I was able to foster that passion in people.

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

I think the most important message to get across about Surfrider or any grassroots activist organization is that anyone and everyone can make a difference. It’s such a simple message, and you hear it all the time, but people just don’t seem to really believe it. I think there are too many people out there with the mindset that if they do this one little action, how can it possibly make any real impact in the world? However, I like to remind people that it’s the little things that make big things happen. You can’t just get out there and solve climate change or solve plastic pollution. These issues are too large and multifaceted to just conquer entirely all at once. The only way to really tackle them is one piece at a time, and when you have enough people hacking away at little pieces of a huge issue, it becomes less of this giant unapproachable mess, and it’s more of a manageable thing to take on. I guess I like the idea that every single person is important in getting things done, and if everyone has the mindset that they can individually make a difference, then collectively, the community becomes a much more powerful force.

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

Being a Surfrider coastal defender is important to me because we all need to give back to the places that give so much to us. As humans, we are so used to taking resources from our environment and utilizing them for our own personal benefit, but we don’t give back enough to the places that provide us with all of these amazing resources. The ancient Hawaiians had an incredible relationship with the land, where they put back in to the land as much as they took out, and they were very successful in living sustainable lifestyles. I feel that we can learn a lot from the way that ancient Hawaiians lived. Furthermore, I feel that I wouldn’t be the person I am today without having the ocean in my life, and I feel personally responsible for giving back and fighting to protect the ocean and preserve its beauty and resources for future generations to benefit from as well.

Q: Anything else? 

I’m just so stoked to be a part of such an amazing organization and I hope that I can continue to be part of Surfrider long into the future. Thank you to everyone involved in Surfrider for everything you guys do, you’re incredible!

Get involved and find a chapter or club near you at or support Surfrider coastal defenders at!