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Activist Spotlight: Carmen Matthews with the Coos Bay Chapter in Oregon

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

I have been drawn to Surfrider since I was a child.  Reading the Surfer’s Journal, I remember seeing the ad for Surfrider in the back.  The iconic “To Protect and Surf” badge on the sweatshirt was the code of conduct I wanted to follow.  I bought a sweatshirt before we had a local chapter, and to this day it is still my favorite.   I remember a few people trying to set up a chapter in Coos Bay a long time ago, but it never took off.  One day, my friend said “Do you know about Surfrider?  You should get a chapter going!”   That was all that I needed to get me moving.  A gentle nudge.  I always wanted to live that code, and now I could have a hand in bringing it to my community.  We really needed a unified voice for those who enjoy our ocean, waves and beaches.  Now, with the help of many volunteers, our community has that voice.  I am so proud to be involved in what we have accomplished.  

We began the initial organization of a chapter with an event we call “Stand Up for the Bay!”  It is a community paddle, with paddle jousting, a bayside cleanup, live music, good food, and a party on the boardwalk, all focused to bring attention to and celebrate the recreational opportunities of our downtown bay area.  This event was first held in 2010, and has been our main event ever since. 
What are some local issues that are affecting your ocean, waves and beaches?

The biggest issue at this time is the proposed Liquified Natural Gas export terminal that would be constructed in the heart of our bay.  We are a working port, and jobs are always a big issue.  The LNG facility would have a massive impact on our sea floor, the health of our bay, and access to the bay itself.  It would become the largest emitter of CO2 in Oregon if it is built.  There are so many issues surrounding this project, and our local chapter has been very active in educating the public, and training people on how to comment effectively on all of the permit applications.  We are also working on a plastic bag ban, and hopefully Styrofoam as well.  

Carmen braving the cold surf to collect a water sample at the Oregon shore

What Surfrider projects have you worked on?

I have been involved in the Blue Water Task Force (BWTF) for at least a decade.  Before we had an established chapter, we had the BWTF.  It was being done by an amazing biology teacher at the local high school and various volunteers.  He was also my biology teacher when I was in school.   My father collected samples for him before I ended up taking over.  I have also been involved in the Ocean Friendly Garden (OFG) program.  My wife and I own a brewery, and installed a community OFG at our pub.  We also have one at our home.  Both installations were used as educational workshops and provided volunteer opportunities.  

Since my wife and I are owners/operators of a restaurant, we are also involved in the Ocean Friendly Restaurant program.  We have been working on getting other businesses to join the movement as well.   

And of course, so many beach cleanups!  That was the main activity for our chapter as we got off the ground.  So many people have been engaged with Surfrider through the efforts of our local leadership and volunteers. 

Carmen stands with his family in front of the Ocean Friendly Garden installed at his family business, the 7 Devils Brewery

What has been the highlight of your Surfrider experience?

I would have to say that watching the community rally to the cause, and seeing how much engagement has been built over the years.  Coos Bay is an industry town; logging and fishing primarily.  To see an organization like Surfrider thrive is just awesome.  Many people thought this would be the last place to see a local chapter, but here we are!  We’re continuing to grow and build great relationships with other organizations and programs.   I would also say that watching the trash size and amount get smaller and smaller at our main beach is a major benchmark for all of us who have invested our time in clean ups and plastic reduction policies.  It is so satisfying to see the issues begin to get resolved, and have less of an impact on our environment and enjoyment thereof.  

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

With the goal of engaging others and inviting them to participate, I love to focus on the amazing community of people that makes Surfrider work.  From our Oregon Field Managers, to the local executives, and all the people who continue to support and volunteer, we have a network of people who make it fun to be an activist.  For me, they are the reason that Surfrider has succeeded in Coos Bay.  It is the camaraderie and the shared values that make our chapter so appealing. We all need to find our tribe.  I am so grateful to have found mine.  

Why is being a Surfrider coastal defender important to you?  

I am a coastal defender because the ocean is my home.  The ocean is my church.  I am a surfer, and I always liken that experience as a baptism by nature.  The beach is where I find my inspiration, and the quiet I need to hear it. It is such a special place, and it is my honor to protect it.  My wife is a marine biologist as well, and she has taught me so much about the ocean environment.  I am always amazed at the abundance of life that the ocean is home to.  Respect for the ocean, waves and beaches is the best way to protect our shared home.  

Anything else?

I am very grateful for all the guidance that we have received from our amazing Surfrider regional staff and field managers over the years.  They have all become great friends and mentors to me.  I value all of the friendships that I have gained through my involvement in Surfrider, and I look forward to many new experiences and friendships in the future!   

7 Devils Brewery Ocean Friendly Garden in Coos Bay, Oregon