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Meet Shawn Mallen, BWTF leader with Surfrider's Isla Vista Chapter

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

I first began getting involved with the Surfrider Foundation during my sophomore year of high school in my hometown, Redondo Beach, through my high school’s ecology club. I participated in some beach cleanups and did some water testing through the South Bay Chapter’s Teach & Test program at the SEA Lab. Admittedly, my involvement at that time was limited. 

In the following years, I developed an infatuation for surfing, paddling out every chance I got. It always bugged me that I had to wait a few days after rain to surf else my health would be at risk. When I arrived in Isla Vista for college at UCSB, my previous experience with Surfrider combined with my newfound personal investment in ocean water cleanliness made it an obvious step to get more involved and become an intern in the Isla Vista chapter. The ocean and its surrounding areas have become a part of my character and lifestyle. I want to do my part to reduce ocean pollution as much as I can so that everyone in my community can enjoy their beaches, rain or shine. I feel a responsibility to protect the awesome connection between nature and humans that surfing brings for not only myself but my community so they can experience the same joy that the water brings me for years to come. 

Q: What makes the coastline and beaches in Isla Vista and the surrounding communities so unique? 

Isla Vista is unique in the sense that it is a secluded area of a little less than two square miles right next to the beach comprised almost entirely of college students. The shoreline faces the south instead of the west, which is a bit odd. The Isla Vista beaches are “bracketed” by two point breaks: Campus Point and Devereux at Coal Oil Point.  The UCSB campus is directly adjacent to the residential community to the east and is home to Campus Point. To the west of the community, there is a tall grassy natural area with a trail that leads to Coal Oil Point. As a result, the Isla Vista beaches are separated into three distinct sections: campus, residential, and natural. 

Del Playa’s proximity to the beach creates an urgent need for responsible waste disposal to reduce trash getting into the ocean and rain runoff from trash in the streets. It’s important to foster a culture of environmental consciousness so that we can strike a balance between fun and keeping our community beaches healthy.

Q: What Surfrider projects have you worked on?

During my freshman year, I volunteered for the Blue Water Task Force (BWTF), but it wasn’t a very active program at that point. When summer came, I took over as BWTF chair for our chapter. With the help of our Vice President, Scott Webb, and excellent support from Mara Dias, our National Water Quality Manager, I relaunched our BWTF into a growing program with four great interns that now test three local surf spots weekly. We have developed a working relationship with the REEF Marine Science Institute on campus into a symbiotic one. Next quarter, we will be expanding into testing all five Isla Vista Surf Spots weekly and bringing on even more interns for additional efforts, thanks to generous support from Sanuk. We are hoping to expand into larger clean water initiatives beyond water testing in the future.

Earlier this year during the “pilot stage” of our water testing plan, we were forced to hit the ground running when mudslides caused by heavy rain in the wake of the Thomas Fire occurred. The resulting mud debris was dumped at Goleta Beach, which is just a bit farther east from Campus Point, and Enterococcus bacteria levels increased by huge margins. Goleta Beach was literally off the charts, and Campus Point spiked to 11 times the state limit of 104. People were still surfing at Campus Point in the dirty water though, putting their health at risk. We saw a real need for more water quality data at these beaches to build awareness, protect community health and hopefully fuel future environmental initiatives. To meet this need, we ramped up our testing and began collaborating with the Santa Barbara Public Health Department and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper to cover the whole Isla Vista area. 

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

The highlight of my Surfrider experience has been seeing my chapter grow this year. The new interns I facilitate, Alia Ajina, Jeff Childs, and Kylie Van De Wyngaerde, are doing a fantastic job of keeping this BWTF program running. Other divisions of the Isla Vista Chapter are developing all kinds of ambitious and exciting initiatives. Rise Above Plastics is rallying around reusable straw use. Ocean Friendly Gardens is developing a community composting project. Interns are working on creating a cigarette butt recycling program that will subsidize people for collecting butts similarly to how can and bottle deposits work. Our executive board has done an incredible job of management, and I look forward to serving on the chapter's board next year as Head of External Affairs. It’s exciting to see my Surfrider chapter grow and be able to contribute to the growth process as a part of all of our collective environmental efforts. 

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

Surfrider is a grassroots environmental organization. We are the community of Isla Vista working to improve our community in a meaningful way so that future students and community members can enjoy our beaches and oceans. Surfrider fosters a culture of togetherness that unites us around the ocean which we all know and love. I know many of my peers share the beach as something that is ingrained in lifestyle. Surfrider is a vehicle to support that.

Q: Why are you a Surfrider coastal defender?

I am a Surfrider coastal defender because the ocean is a part of my everyday life. I am in the water surfing most days that there are waves of any size. It is a personal issue for me to protect my health, defend the coast, and preserve the shorelines that I love. In the process of helping myself, I’m also helping others and working to protect oceans, so that works out pretty well. I’d like to share this love with as many people as I can, so they can experience the same joy and serenity that I experience when I’m in the water. 

Q: Where is your “happy place” and why should it be protected?

I love three surf spots in Isla Vista, but my current “happiest place” is Devereux. It’s an incredible point break with a super steep and punchy outside section and a solid rolling middle and inside section that extends for waves that seem to last forever. You can see incredible Isla Vista sunsets from the top of the lineup. I love seeing dolphins swimming a few feet away from me going wherever dolphins go and riding past the leopard sharks that like to hang out on the inside. When I’m surfing at Devereux, I’m truly in my happy place.

Find your nearest chapter at or support our coastal defenders at!

Thank you to Sanuk for their direct support of the Surfrider Isla Vista Chapter's Blue Water Task Force and for protecting 2 Miles of Smiles! Sales from the Sanuk x Surfrider Ozzie Wright collaboration shirts directly support the Isla Vista's water testing program!

Learn more about the Sanuk and Surfrider partnership here.