The 151 Surfrider chapter and student club members, outdoor and surf industry leaders, and ocean enthusiasts from 23 states have left the capital. After three days of advocacy at the highest level of government, they've gone home to resume their day jobs, studies and family duties. Yet, the impact of their visit to Washington, D.C. will resonate in the halls of Congress and administration offices they visited for months and years to come, and will be felt all the way down to the beaches we love.
This year’s seventh annual Surfrider Coastal Recreation Hill Day proved that a lot can happen in 72 hours to advance policies for clean water on our beaches, a plastic free ocean, and resilient coastlines. The Surfrider network is aware that 138 congressional, agency, and White House meetings is just a step, an important step, but just a step, toward healthy and protected coasts. There is a lot of work still ahead. However, there is a strong feeling of accomplishment after using the collection of inspiring, diverse, coordinated and experienced voices to advance policies that make a difference.
There was widespread commitment among the legislators engaged during Hill Day to work for the highest investment ever in the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act, or BEACH Act, that will enable water quality monitoring and public notification of dirty water on more beaches. Those same champions also supported maintaining funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund that invests in upgrades to our aging wastewater and stormwater infrastructure and will reduce sewage spills on our coasts.
Surfrider asked the Department of the Interior to expedite the phase-out of single-use plastics in National Parks. With Surfrider’s support, we may not need to wait until 2032 to see that happen as originally planned by the department. Beyond National Parks, Surfrider also met with the federal government agency in charge of all government purchasing, the General Services Administration, to advocate for a strong reduction of single-use plastic in their purchasing decisions for federal facilities nationwide. This is a huge opportunity to not only reduce demand for single-use plastics but to also drive the markets toward reusable and other sustainable materials, instead of the polluting plastic products and packaging that Surfrider Foundation volunteers find all too often on our beaches.
While meeting with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Director John Armor expressed his team's excitement to work with Surfrider’s network to strengthen conservation and stewardship in our National Marine Sanctuaries as well as establish new marine protected areas. Katie Cleek, Surfrider’s Florida Keys Chapter Secretary, said after meeting with Director Armor that she “appreciates the National Marine Sanctuary program and NOAA’s efforts to protect the Keys. As someone who works and plays in the sanctuary’s waters, I know what a great tool National Marine Sanctuaries are to protect what we love.”
Surfrider met with Mary Frances Repko, the Deputy National Climate Advisor, and encouraged a strong commitment to continue investing in ocean-based and natural climate solutions, like restoring coastal wetlands, carbon-storing mangroves, and beach dunes to protect coastal communities and infrastructure.
Stefanie Sekich, Surfrider’s Coasts and Climate Initiative Senior Manager said, “our meeting with the Biden administration was inspiring not only because we met with key leaders working on climate change, but also because we came with passion, knowledge, diversity, and determination.” Surfrider’s climate team was able to deliver a strong message on climate change from thousands of Surfrider volunteers and activists from around the country. Central to that message was prohibiting new offshore oil and gas drilling through the West Coast Ocean Protection Act and Coast Anti-Drilling Act.
Key to Surfrider’s Hill Day success was the participation of 21 student club members from 14 clubs around the country. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo undergrad student Lauren Londoño said, “the experience I had this year made me optimistic about the future of our planet and ocean. This experience showed me how powerful it is to use my voice to advocate for positive change. As a result, I felt like I was heard and that my local representatives cared about what I had to say.”
Meanwhile, University of San Juan student Claudia Munoz said she was “eager to learn from so many outstanding Surfrider advocates each day. I learned new advocacy skills that I want to take back to Puerto Rico and encourage more young people to take action.”
In addition to the student club and chapter members that were in attendance, Surfrider was joined by several incredible surf and outdoor industry leaders and ambassadors. Puerto Rican professional surfer, Patagonia ambassador, and consistent Hill Day participant Otto Flores, said it was “both an honor and a privilege to be part of Hill Day once again. It was a great opportunity to make our voices heard and protect the places where we play for generations to come.”
Cathey Curtis, General Manager of ROXY, has been a Hill Day spokesperson for several years. “In my experience, Surfrider Foundation's annual Coastal Recreation Hill Day is the most inspiring and effective ocean and coastal recreation advocacy opportunity that I have had the privilege to attend,” she said. “Each year, I come away with an incredible amount of gratitude for the Surfrider crew and their advocacy work and a renewed commitment of support for the organization.”
While Surfrider helped to make an impact on the coasts and ocean through the offices of our federal leaders during this Hill Day, the event also brought together and empowered an incredible group of activists. “This Hill Day brought so many powerful and important voices from Surfrider’s network to our nation’s capital to inspire impactful and inclusive protections for our ocean and coasts,” said Katie Day, Surfrider’s Senior Manager of Science and Policy. “By building relationships with our federal leaders and advancing proactive legislation, this event provides benefits for all of America’s coasts and ocean, as well as the communities that rely on them.”
While Surfrider’s Hill Day team, more than 150 strong, have returned to their corners of the country, the work continues. In the coming weeks and months, Surfrider will follow up with the offices and representatives that were engaged, monitor the asks made, and make sure those recommendations are met. Meanwhile, Surfrider’s chapter and student club members will resume the tireless on-the-ground efforts in their local communities, where the advocacy really begins and ends.
Luca Fasulo, founder of Surfrider’s new Corona del Mar High School Student Club in Southern California, summed up his experience by saying that it was “nothing short of incredible. My time on the Hill provided me a unique and valuable opportunity to address our representatives face-to-face on extremely important issues that our county, state and country are challenged by when dealing with the effects of the climate crisis on our coasts.” He continued, “I also found it to be an amazing opportunity to meet and develop friendships with other environmental advocates from across the country, bonding over a shared passion for preserving the ocean and our waterways for generations to come. After the event, I feel empowered and inspired to continue relentlessly advocating for change in my city and county, as well as educating my peers on how we can contribute to creating a sustainable future for our oceans.”