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Activist Spotlight: Jeff Seinsheimer with the Galveston Chapter

Q: What is your current role with the Surfrider Foundation?
I am currently the chair of the Galveston Island, Texas chapter. Being a small chapter, I have worn all of the Executive Committee hats at one time or another.

Q: Why and when did you get involved with the Surfrider Foundation?
I’m a fifth generation Galvestonian, surfing here for almost 50 years, so I take local beach issues very seriously and personally. I rented umbrella chairs and beach floats for all of my teen years.

I first became aware of Surfrider when I would see the logo in surf magazines growing up, before the internet. It wasn’t until after Hurricane Ike in 2008 that I learned Houston had a chapter that was dealing with erosion issues at nearby Surfside Beach. After attending several of their meetings, they convinced my friends and I to start the Galveston Chapter. No other group was tackling a lot of the issues that their chapter was, and they always involved causes that seemed worthy to take up. Their charismatic chair Ellis Pickett impressed me, so it was an easy YES. I’ve been to coastal towns all over the planet in search of waves. There’s a reason I haven’t moved from Galveston, and IT’S A CALLING to protect that environment and lifestyle, not just to enjoy it.

Jeff Sensheimer with the Galveston Surfrider Chapter holding a beach towel

Q: What are some environmental issues that are affecting your local community?
Since I live on an island, sea level rise is a significant issue. Our beach constantly erodes and requires re-nourishment.

We also experience the constant threat from nearby refineries and offshore oil and gas rigs. The Ike Dike (Coastal Spine project) is what keeps me up at night. Meant to protect refineries, buildings and homes, it  would be the largest project in history by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Its environmental impacts could be disastrous, not to mention the livelihoods and tourism it could affect. It will take up to a decade to complete. It will change our geography permanently and just the staging of all the equipment and material will be an eyesore that entire phase.

Q: What Surfrider projects have you worked on?
Too many to list! We’ve planted native species in marshes in the bay, we’ve been involved with a drive to put Christmas trees on the beach, we’ve painted 50-gallon trash bins on the beach as a “Beautify the Bucket” project, we've entered marine debris art competitions...

We made a huge lit-up wave out of recyclable plastic bottles to raise awareness, with a surfboard you could hop on for photo opportunities. We would trailer it around to schools and educational events.

Beach cleanups are often taken for granted, but our chapter looks for places off the beaten path to pick up trash that’s been neglected. One time we removed a full-size plastic slide that had been stuck in the sand!  

Jeff Sensheimer with the Galveston Surfrider Chapter

Q: Are there any specific projects that you have worked on which benefited your community? If so, can you tell us about that?
Recently, the Surfrider Foundation Texas Chapters rallied together to oppose eight state bills that would have severely impacted beach access. I am proud to be able to say that we successfully stopped all eight bills from passing through the legislature. 

While we couldn’t stop the restriction of municipal single-use bag bans at the state level,  I’m proud of how many people our Bring The Bag campaign convinced to opt for reusable bags anyway. We also taught hundreds of kids how to make reusable bags out of old t-shirts. That continues to be a huge hit for us.

Q: What has been the highlight of your Surfrider experience?
My chapter’s first campaign was to stop the improper demolition of the only hotel built over the Gulf of Mexico, after Hurricane Ike. While surfing nearby one day, I witnessed glass pieces falling into the ocean due to lack of proper skirting. This was all denied in local media until we exposed it with video tape and scuba diving.

I’m also very proud of the current work by our Hold On To Your Butt (HOTYB) campaign. It’s rewarding to see our butt bins and ads all over town. In just two years, we have kept hundreds of thousands of cigarette butts out of the ocean and landfills and had them recycled into park benches and flower pots. 

It’s also been gratifying to see officials and lawmakers take our organization seriously and respect our position. The local paper just wrote: “There’s a well-organized and vocal constituency of people generally opposed to any beach-front development. Its members frequently are right in their opposition and council members risk political consequences any time they act counter to that opposition, whether it’s right or wrong.”

Similarly, the state legislature recently wrote a bill banning the use of public money for nonprofit organizations advocating for governmental adoption of a policy of managed retreat. In other words, they tried to outlaw Surfrider Foundation. That means we are a force to be reckoned with!

I have attended Surfrider national conventions in Ventura Beach and San Francisco, and Ocean Recreation Day in Washington DC. All were rewarding experiences.

Jeff Sensheimer with the Galveston Surfrider Chapter in Washington D.C for Surfrider

Q: Do you have any personal experiences or campaigns/issues that you're passionate about where the social justice and environmental movements have intersected?
We’re always thinking of ways to diversify. Many neighborhoods that habitually flood are also low-income. Sometimes property values become so depleted that government buyouts may be necessary. However, some families have lived in these areas for generations and simply don’t want to move. I try to convince people to convert these areas back into natural floodplains as useable scenic public parks. Our chapter has also taken the initiative to organize surfing lessons for low-income kids, many of whom never even learned to swim.   

Q: What can Surfrider do to foster an inclusive and welcoming experience? 
Reach out to groups of all kinds. People looking for opportunities to volunteer often don’t know where to go, and others are just looking for a new experience. People want more balance and less stress in their lives these days, and Surfrider offers a distraction from the daily grind.

Q: What is the most important thing you tell others about Surfrider?
You don’t have to be a surfer to join or participate! In fact, most of the members of my chapter have never surfed. There is a varied menu of volunteer opportunities— something for everyone, regardless of how much time they can commit.

Jeff Sensheimer with the Galveston Surfrider Chapter at a waterfall

Q: Why is being a part of the Surfrider ocean conservation community important to you?
The world is over 70% ocean; I live on an island and my home is on a canal. I see marine debris wash up hourly both from the ocean and inland watersheds. I see wildlife entangled frequently. Galveston Bay is the seventh largest bay in the nation.

There are lots of different organizations of environmentalists, and I found my perfect niche in Surfrider. Surfrider tackles issues that keep me up at night anyway. It’s aligned with my lifestyle. Surfrider makes a noticeable difference in the world, and is consistently on the right side of history. That gives me peace and satisfaction. I’ve always tried to live authentically. Everything I do in the name of Surfrider feels authentic. They give me a platform from which I’m comfortable speaking up from. I like that the national organization allows chapters to pick and choose their own campaigns and how to run them, while simultaneously supporting them completely. Being associated with Surfrider allows me to collaborate with people who are among the best at what they do. Whether it be my counterparts and mentors Cliff, Jamie, Rob, and Ellis of the other Texas chapters, or my chapter liaison Sarah Damron, or Chad, Angela and the national crew, or the support of Janese and Rob from my Executive Committee, I always have complete trust in what they are doing. They are also motivational and have my back. 

Q: Anything else?
The families of our members also sacrifice quality time that could otherwise be spent together. I’d like to thank my girlfriend Alicia for her patience and giving nature that allows me to thrive in Surfrider!

I also have an ocean friendly garden, full of native species, and lots of found objects from beach cleanups.

Refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle!

Jeff Sensheimer with the Galveston Surfrider Chapter