07 • 10 • 2018

Activist Spotlight: Nancy Nordman with Surfrider’s Portland, Oregon Chapter!

Nancy Nordman and the Portland Chapter in Oregon have made amazing strides with their “Ditch the Straw PDX” campaign. Not only has Nancy's leadership helped more than 100 restaurants to voluntarily ditch the straw, she and the chapter are working with city staff and local businesses on proposing and crafting a plastic reduction strategy which will go beyond just straws to reduce single-use plastic in the city. This work shows how highlighting straws can lead to bigger goals and a comprehensive focus on reducing all types of single-use plastic that litter our ocean, waves, and beaches and Nancy has shown us the way!

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

I grew up with a passion for the outdoors and nature, enjoying hiking, biking, and exploring whatever park or creek was nearby. I was actually quite scared of the ocean as a young child, feeling rather inept as a swimmer and intimidated and nervous of the waves. However, I was also in awe of the broader coastal environments and loved learning about what life was like under the water. I adored animals as a kid, volunteering with wildlife rehabilitation shelters and convincing myself I would work in veterinary medicine or wildlife conservation, helping teach people about the animals I loved. 

Just after graduating, I joined Americorps in San Jose and it was during that time that I became increasingly concerned about issues impacting our oceans, particularly plastic pollution. A coworker aired a screening of Bag it and The Clean Bin Project, and from there I began exploring ways I could make changes in my own life towards reducing my plastic footprint. I audited my home trash, began experimenting with buying in bulk and started refusing plastics wherever I could. 

I only knew one or two people when I moved to Portland to pursue graduate studies in sustainability education, but was familiar with Surfrider and decided to check out a chapter meeting my second week in town. Everyone there was incredibly welcoming and friendly, and right away got me looped into events and activities with the chapter. Over the next couple years I continued to volunteer on and off, as much as my studies would allow.

When the opportunity arose to attend a Cascadia Conference, I jumped at the chance and further broadened my knowledge of Surfrider initiatives and programs. Coming back to home base in Portland, I asked for more ways to get involved and was asked to take on a new project with Widmer Brewing. They wanted to pilot a switch away from plastic straws, and from there DitchTheStrawPDX began! It was daunting and new, but Widmer was excited to test out strategies and brainstorm with us together, which was invaluable to have in our first partner with this program. After a successful pilot and several months of designing the program to go citywide, I officially joined part of the executive team as the DitchTheStrawPDX lead at our planning retreat in December!  

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

As a chapter situated in a very urban area, we’ve always stayed very focused on our message that all drains lead to the ocean, and that actions here have impacts both locally and on other places we as Oregonians love. People in Portland are passionate about the environment and our waterways, and want to see those places protected and preserved for future generations.

We see a number of issues play out in our community, but certainly offshore drilling is something we are increasingly concerned about, as it would have drastic impacts on the entire Pacific Northwest region. Our Green Streets Steward program is also very active; we even won MVP (Most Valuable Partner) of the year for picking up 616 gallons of trash throughout the past year!  Cigarette butts and plastic litter are ever-pressing issues in the city as well, and we’ve worked to address these issues through our Hold Onto Your Butts program (HOTYB), DitchTheStrawPDX, and our Ocean Friendly Restaurants program.

Q: What Surfrider projects have you worked on?

The primary project I’ve been a part of has been the DitchTheStrawPDX program. Prior to the Widmer pilot, we had a Rise Above Plastics committee, which had done an amazing job of pulling together resources and forming some of the initial concepts of the program, but Widmer was novel in that it was the first time we were really testing the program out. We learned so much from that pilot, and from there the momentum and excitement just continued to snowball. We’ve had over 100 restaurants sign on and worked with phenomenal volunteers that have pushed for change across the Portland Metro region! With the support of our entire executive team, I’ve helped coordinate bar crawls and letter writing events, organized a screening of Albatross for World Ocean’s Day, and fundraised with a wide variety of partners for the program. We even had an entire Business District jump in to support a month long DitchTheStrawPDX pilot for World Environment Day on June 5th.

The interest in DitchTheStrawPDX has also led to a number of great opportunities to table and outreach, including a book signing at Patagonia for the release of Swell, a Pickles game as a part of their 50/50 raffle, and a three-part dinner series fundraiser. It’s been a great chance to grow our connections and awareness of some of our other programs and to see the general awareness of Surfrider grow in the city.

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

A highlight for me was testifying at City Council in support of a resolution around single-use plastics. It was a brand-new experience for me, and certainly nerve-wracking, but also incredibly exciting when it unanimously passed! To hear such positive testimonies from businesses participating in DitchTheStrawPDX was very heartwarming and rewarding, and has motivated me to keep growing the program further. Businesses shared how successful the program has been both in terms of cost savings and straws avoided, but most importantly echoed values of ocean protection and conservation.

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

I am a Surfrider coastal defender because I care deeply about our oceans and want to see the places I love protected. There are so many environmental issues facing us today, but being a part of Surfrider gives me a great deal of hope. I see people every day working to inspire positive change in the world, and am continually impressed by what can happen when we all come together as a group. I’m grateful for the community that Surfrider has provided me, as it has connected not just to work that I love doing but also people that I love doing it with. This organization attracts a great group of fun, passionate, and motivated volunteers who are dedicated to the cause and to supporting each other. 

I love that Surfrider is active both on the local level and the national level, making us effective in designing unique solutions and passing policies that protect our oceans. I hope to inspire others to reduce single-use plastics, and am proud to be a part of an organization that thinks long-term and encourages reusable solutions over quick fixes that would maintain the status quo of disposable, convenience lifestyles. The idea of having single-use items as such a large part of our everyday lives is incredibly problematic, particularly with plastics. We need to be thinking about how we can make changes that go beyond substituting one disposable item for another. I look forward to being a lifelong Surfrider member and continuing this work!

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

Surfrider is made up of passionate and caring individuals dedicated to protecting our world’s oceans, waves and beaches. Whether you are business looking to reduce your plastic footprint or an individual wanting to make an impact, Surfrider wants to work with you to create change. We hope you will join in our efforts to keep our oceans and coastal regions clean and protected for future generations to enjoy.

Want to get involved? Find your nearest Surfrider chapter at or support Surfrider's volunteer-led network at