Surfrider’s conference theme this year was “Back to the Basics,” where we focused on the basic components that make a Surfrider chapter or club successful. Topics such as volunteer recruitment and retention, and campaign planning were a staple at every conference and we took time to go over our existing resources and processes. For the Plastic Pollution Initiative team, “Back to the Basics” meant giving an overview of our Ocean Friendly and Healthy Beaches programs, and highlighting how these programs go hand-in-hand with our policy work, especially “Skip the Stuff” foodware policies which is a priority for most of our chapters. As always, we also learned from and were inspired by the tireless efforts of our activists dedicated to protecting our ocean, beaches and waves across the country.
California Chapter and Club Conference
Surfrider’s activist network is central to our mission, a fact our chapter and club conferences make clear with every gathering. California’s chapter and club conference started of the year on an inspiring note in Ventura by bringing together more than 150 California chapter activists and club members from as far north as Humboldt County and as far south as San Diego.
The entire Plastic Pollution Initiative team took part in the conference, sharing an overview of the initiative, along with specific program and policy happenings, and hearing from chapter volunteers about their needs, campaigns and on-the-ground operations.
Of particular note, San Francisco chapter chair Nina Atkind demonstrated the gap between neighborhoods most suffering from pollution of all sorts and neighborhoods where Surfrider’s efforts are focused. Understanding this disparity has led the SF chapter to broaden their geographic presence and seek out ways to support ongoing, established environmental efforts including joining regional coalitions.
Northeast Chapter and Club Conference
The Northeast chapters are known for showing up to beach cleanups in windy and cold conditions so we knew that they would bring excitement and passion to the Chapter and Club Conference in Falmouth, MA. A big priority for the Northeast chapters was learning more about “Skip the Stuff” policies, which are policies that direct food service and delivery businesses to only provide accessories such as utensils and condiment packets upon request by the customer.
Ocean Friendly Programs Manager CJ O’Brien presented about Skip the Stuff policies, provided an example from our New York City Chapter, and highlighted how our Ocean Friendly Restaurants and Beach Cleanup programs can help bolster your campaign. We also completed a mock campaign plan for a theoretical local Skip the Stuff policy for practice. Since the conference, the Northeast chapters have hosted a “Skip the Stuff” cleanup, focusing on food accessory items collected to raise awareness about plastic pollution and the need for a Skip the Stuff policy.
Hawaii Chapter and Club Conference
In the wake of the devastating wildfires on Maui, Hawaii chapters and clubs gathered to reflect on their experience and brainstorm best practices for future climate change disaster response. Despite the circumstances, the Hawaii chapters and clubs came with as much enthusiasm, community, passion, and resiliency as ever.
During the Plastic Pollution Initiative mini session, Ocean Friendly Programs Manager, CJ O’Brien and Healthy Beaches Programs Manager Jenny Harrah opened up space for volunteers to ask questions and raise any successes or concerns they've experienced in their OFR or cleanup programs. A big focus was on the updated cleanup database and the importance of cleanup data and OFR data for passing policies and using them in campaigns. Many Surfrider activists left saying they were wanting to focus more on inputting cleanup data and some had old cleanup data that they planned to enter.
Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Great Lakes
Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Great Lakes Chapter and Club Conference
It was a packed house in Wrightsville Beach, NC as the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Great Lakes Chapter and clubs gathered to discuss campaign planning, plastic pollution, climate action, and more. For our session, we discussed the new beach cleanup database and resources available for the Ocean Friendly Restaurants Program.
Like the other conferences, we filled out a campaign plan for a mock “Skip the Stuff” policy. Since then, the Eastern Long Island Chapter has launched a local Skip the Stuff policy! A highlight for this conference was attending a special session with the Great Lakes chapters where they shared about their special places and accomplishments for the year. We brainstormed ways to grow the Great Lakes Friendly Restaurants Program, and since then we have added 2 new GLFRs to the program!
Cascadia Chapter and Club Conference
This year’s Cascadia Conference in Long Beach, Washington brought volunteers from across Oregon, Washington and British Columbia representing 14 chapters and clubs with a record attendance of nearly 60 people. We were stoked to attend the conference at Adrift Hotel, Surfrider’s first-ever Ocean Friendly Hotel and appreciated hearing directly from owner Tiffany Turner about what it takes to make her businesses Ocean Friendly.
Other Plastic Pollution Initiative highlights included the South Sound chapter’s Beach Cleanup Punch Card reward program, in which volunteers who attend their monthly beach cleanups and other chapter events can enter to win sweet prizes, the Olympia chapter’s very successful Hold On To Your Butts program, which has removed over 120,000 butts from downtown Olympia, and the University of Victoria Club’s remarkable Plastic Free Campus efforts.
Washington Regional Manager Liz Schotman said it best: “I can’t express just how incredible it is to spend a weekend on Washington’s beautiful coast with the amazing volunteers and staff that make our organization what it is. Never is the power of our grassroots network more apparent than at these events – the collective energy, dedication, knowledge, and passion is what makes Surfrider such a powerful force for good.”
Florida Chapter and Club Conference
Despite living in a state with many plastic policy preemptions, our Florida Chapter and clubs showed a ton of resilience and passion for eliminating plastic pollution. During our session, Ocean Friendly Programs Manager, CJ O’Brien and Healthy Beaches Programs Manager, Jenny Harrah outlined challenges and solutions for growing the Ocean Friendly Restaurants program and increasing data collection during our beach cleanups.
We also completed a “Skip the Stuff” policy campaign plan and used that information during a role playing activity talking to elected officials about a local “Skip the Stuff” policy. This helped prepare FL activists for the upcoming Florida Healthy Beaches Day in Tallahassee, FL. We also had a huge turnout from student clubs in Puerto Rico!
Texas Chapter and Club Conference
The Galveston chapter’s Rob Glover stole the show during his Hold On To Your Butts program presentation at the Texas chapters conference. In addition to the truly cheeky visual aid, Rob impressed us all with his overview of how the chapter has build HOTYB into a wildly successful way to stop cigarette butts from ending up in our waterways with more than 240,000 butts collected to date!
Texas Coastal Bend’s Neil McQueen has been a longtime effective champion of ending plastic pollution, no easy feat in America’s biggest oil-producing state, and shared progress and lessons learned from the chapter’s Skip the Plastic project. Despite the challenges inherent in the Texas political climate, chapters there have also led on efforts to stop plastic pellets from being released into Texas waters. Truly inspiring work!
The end... until next year!