Surfrider chair discusses San Diego chapter's role in maintaining beaches and bays
Surfrider Foundation San Diego County Chapter chair Mark West says, “That’s why we’re here.”
About two weeks ago on the deck at Paradise Point Resort, just as the sun started to set over Mission Bay, Surfrider Foundation San Diego County Chapter chair Mark West looked over his right shoulder to see the golden hour glow growing.
“See that? That's what it's all about,” he said, as he waved his arms toward the bay. “That's why we're here.”
“Here” was at the Surfrider Foundation San Diego County Chapter’s 15th annual Art Gala, which raised $34,000 to help protect the region's coastline and directly benefit the organization’s education, outreach and advocacy directed at protecting local beaches. The event, which was held Friday, May 8, celebrated ocean advocacy while showcasing local artists and raising funds.
“It was a thrill to see so many enthusiastic activists and supporters gathered for the event,” said new San Diego Chapter manager Mandy Sackett.
While the activists and supporters bid on artwork, nibbled on orange chicken and drank Stone IPA, West was working the room making and re-establishing connections for the nonprofit.
Right before sunset, the Beach & Bay Press caught up with him to discuss Surfrider and the role it plays in maintaining the area's coastal areas.
BBP: How would you describe the Surfrider Foundation?
Mark West: I would say that the Surfrider Foundation is all about making sure that each person can go to the beach, enjoy their day at the beach, spend their time in the ocean, spend their time in the waves, and have a great experience.
This is a California treasure that so many people take for granted, but we don’t. We work to protect our oceans, waves, and beaches so everyone can use them.
BBP: Why is the Surfrider Foundation important?
MW: Our mission is to protect the ocean, waves, and beaches through a powerful activist network. What we do is we actually take all people who are passionate about our ocean, our beaches, our bays, and get together and really work toward cleaning them up, preventing pollution from getting into them.
We even do stuff like ocean-friendly gardens where we’re thinking about the drought and how we can plant ocean-friendly gardens out there that are really California specific; they require no water, and they actually have less run-off as well.
BBP: What does Surfrider do for the bays?
MW: This bay (Mission Bay) has beaches all around it. We actually hold clean-ups right here in Mission Bay that are cleaning the beaches of litter before it gets into the bay.
This is a large ecosystem that flows into our ocean, and if we can clean it here, then it cleans it out in our ocean, and we’ve worked really hard to make sure that we are removing pollution from this area.
BBP: Do some people think Surfrider is just about surfers?
MW: It’s funny, I don’t think people know that this is more than just surfers. I was a 24-year U.S. naval officer before I became the chair of Surfrider.
We have all different kinds of people who are working for this because we are all very passionate about our ocean, waves, and beaches.
It’s a group effort. I’ve got moms. I’ve got hipsters. I’ve got people who are all really into this group, and it’s all about people.
BBP: How many members in the San Diego chapter?
MW: We have about 5,000 active members, but in our email distribution list we have about 10,000 activists who are applying or involved in some form or another.
Not everyone is cleaning the beaches. We have some doing web development. We have some people designing T-shirts. Everybody who has something that they’re passionate about, oceans, waves, and beaches, can come out and play a particular role in it. You don’t have to clean the beaches. Do other things. It’s all for the same good.
BBP: What is the annual art gala?
MW: The 15th annual art gala at Paradise Point in Mission Bay was a fantastic event.
This event is our largest fundraiser that we have each year, so it’s really our biggest event that we hold, and we get all the people from all over San Diego to come out and talk about Surfrider.
BBP: The funds you raise go where?
MW: Right back into the protection of oceans, waves, and beaches. Every penny that we have goes right back into it. We do have a staff of two people, which for this group is nothing, but we have to make sure that we pay for the T-shirts, that we get the beach clean-up supplies.
We have all these different things. This event really drives our entire year budget. So that’s why it’s so important for people come and help us out.
BBP: Surfrider holds clean-ups and also has a specific program about getting the “butt” out?
MW: We do beach clean-ups. San Diego is one of the largest chapters in Surfrider. We have 70 miles of beaches, which stretch from the border all the way up to San Clemente. Believe it or not, that’s part of our group.
We take care of those 70 miles with programs such as “rise above plastics,” which is trying to reduce plastic that gets washed onto your beaches and carried to our beaches; and we have our “hold onto our butts” program.
Cigarette butt pollution is the largest polluter of our beaches in our entire world. We get rid of those, we recycle them and turn them into money.
BBP: How do you turn it (cigarette butts) into money?
MW: There’s actually a company, out of Maryland, that is recycling the butts, and they either take them and turn them into furniture or certain things, and then they actually pay per pound. It’s not a ton of money, but they’re actually turning it into profits we can market back to our mission.
BBP: What are some of the organizations Surfrider partners with?
MW: We partner with a lot of local organizations including Wild Out Coast, which is down in the Imperial Beach area.
We work with them on our No Border Sewage campaign, which is eliminating transborder pollution that is flowing from Mexico into our Imperial Beach area.
We work with San Diego Coastkeeper, in fact the waterkeeper at Coastkeepers is on the board at Surfrider San Diego. So we have people all over that are in different organizations.
We’re with I Love a Clean San Diego. A multitude of organizations. Really, it’s all about having people, all working toward a central goal.
BBP: And that central goal is?
MW: Protection of the ocean, waves, and beaches.
BBP: What has Surfrider done to make a beachgoers experience more special?
MW: Let me tell you about a story. Imperial Beac, where I live. In the 1970s one of the first real environment success stories of San Diego Surfrider happened.
There was a proposal to build a mile long jetty at Imperial Beach. Literally rocks all the way down. We worked through our local governments to make sure that didn’t happen. I mean they were really taking the rocks out there.
The majority of people, you go to the beach, you're just a normal ocean goer, we're protecting that by cleaning the beaches constantly. We have a huge network of people who go out and really work toward cleaning those beaches. So, you can take it for granted, but were gonna take care of it for you anyway.
For more information, visit sandiego.surfrider.org or contact Chapter manager Mandy Sackett at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 749-6845.