11 • 15 • 2019

Activist Spotlight: Olivia Angus of the San Francisco Chapter

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

I joined the Surfrider Foundation in 2008 for two reasons: to Save Trestles and to find a husband. I know the second reason sounds funny but in thinking about the qualities I wanted in a husband, I knew I wanted someone who surfed and cared about our ocean. 

Around that time I had heard about the Save Trestles campaign and the San Diego Chapter was gearing up for a huge rally at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. One of the first Surfrider events I attended was a rally sign making party. The day of the rally there were thousands of concerned citizens fighting to protect their surf spot. I felt an energy that day that I feel every time I’m at a Surfrider event and this is what keeps me coming back.

By the way, I didn’t meet my husband through Surfrider but our first date was me teaching him how to surf and he does care about our ocean.

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

Plastics. As the Rise Above Plastics Lead for the San Francisco Chapter, I spend all my free time thinking about plastics. When we think about the beach, we think about the sun on our skin and our toes in the sand. We don’t think about cutting our foot on plastic shards. Plastics are so pervasive in our lives and in the environment. From fishing nets strangling our sea life, to microfibers shedding off our clothes and being eaten by fish, to cigarette butts and single-use plastics littering our beaches, plastic touches nearly every part of our life and our ocean. 

Q: What Surfrider projects have you worked on?

During my time with the San Diego Chapter, I served as the Art Gala Coordinator. The Art Gala is an art auction fundraiser that showcases local surf art. It’s one of their largest fundraisers and a great way to bring the community together to raise awareness around and celebrate all the wonderful programs we work on.

Currently, I’m working with a coalition of other non-profits to write, support, and pass legislation in San Francisco to reduce the usage of single-use plastics. Modeling neighboring cities we want to introduce a fee for disposable to-go cups to incentivize customers to bring their own reusable cup. There are a number of other tactics included in the ordinance that are still in the works but the goal is to encourage restaurants and customers to ditch disposables and switch to reusables..  

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

I have so many awesome memories thanks to Surfrider. From connecting with talented artists at the Art Gala to talking to our leaders in Washington, DC about protecting our ocean, I’ve had a blast volunteering for Surfrider.  

It’s hard to pick my favorite highlight but a recent one has been pursuing a straw ban in my city. I live 40 minutes outside of San Francisco and before the state straw ban passed, I decided to pursue a straw ban in the city I lived in. Since I wasn’t formally connected with the SF chapter at the time, I took on the ban as a solo project. I used all the things I had learned from Surfrider, reached out to other Surfrider members for guidance and started trucking along.

I screened the Straws film to a group of local 4th graders and asked them to write letters to city council to help stop plastic pollution. The students and I spoke at a city council meeting, where I asked the council for an ordinance that would prevent restaurants from handing out single-use plastics unless requested. Basically, if I didn’t ask for it, I didn’t want it to be given to me—no straws, cutlery, sauce packets, nothing.

The city council members loved the kids and their letters, and voted unanimously to add a single-use disposables ordinance to their 2019-2020 work plan! The ordinance is currently being drafted and the first part will hopefully be passed before the end of 2019.

With so many big problems in the world, it’s hard to feel like a single person can make a difference. While I needed the students and city council to get the job done, as a single concerned citizen with an idea, I was able to push for real change in my city.

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

Surfrider is full of people who are protecting their happy place. We come from different walks of life and do all sorts of amazing things in our day jobs but at the end of the day, we all want a clean and healthy ocean. 

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

I’m a coastal defender because I want my kids to grow up loving the ocean. I want them to experience the ocean in all of its glory without plastic pollution, oil spills, and coral bleaching. I defend the coast so we can pass on a cleaner ocean for the next generation. 

Olivia can be reached on Instagram at @oliviafortheocean and on email