“The real point of the event is to do a big community event that’s fun and gets the entire surfing, paddling, beach-loving community in one place at one time to show our power in numbers,” said Mitch Silverstein, manager for Surfrider Foundation San Diego Chapter. “Some of the strong, the few, the brave and the proud will actually swim the lap.”
It’s a tradition that dates back to 1991 when Gary Sirota – former president of the Surfrider national board of directors and current chairperson of the San Diego Surfrider chapter – founded the event with some other paddlers and environmental enthusiasts.
“At that time, the City was discharging sewage treated to primary standards less than a mile offshore,” said Sirota. “Impacts from failing conveyance infrastructure, septic tanks, and surface water runoff issues were totally ignored by the City. We wanted to show that there were people aware of the problem and who were unified on the desire to have clean water and accessible beaches.”
Every year, Surfrider makes the free event accessible to any and all San Diego residents with live music and yoga classes right on the beach. The paddle kicks off at 9 a.m. with seaside-yoga and a free bagels and cream cheese breakfast for paddlers, followed by a live concert from Iron Sage Wood and Paul Cannon. Then at 10:30 a.m., paddlers begin their lap around OB’s 1,971-foot pier — the longest concrete pier on the West Coast.
“Even if you’re not a paddler or surfer, we want everyone there anyways enjoying the event,” said Silverstein. “If nothing else, it’s a free concert on the beach.”
Paddle for Clean Water, is the largest non-competitive surf event in California, sometimes having as many as 1,000 attendees. This year’s event will focus on bringing awareness to Surfrider’s latest Clean Border Water Now campaign, taking action against the 30-year-long border sewage crisis, which “has been getting worse since the ’90s,” according to Silverstein.
“The paddle is by far, Surfrider’s largest event to get people really stoked about the environment,” said Clean Border Water Now policy coordinator Gabriela Torres. “And the diversity of people is amazing. We get everyone from little babies to retired individuals.”
In addition to getting the community hooked on healing local waters with music, food, surfing and guest speakers like radio celebrity Chris Cantore, Surfrider is also setting their sights on millennials and college kids who can be the ones to carry the torch for more years to come.
“For many years I was honored on the stage as the founder, but now I try to let the new generation make it their event and to take it where they think it needs to go,” said Sirota. “Now I paddle surrounded by my kids, and my friend’s kids. It’s always thrilling and gratifying to see the hundreds of paddlers joining together like a wave coming around the pier.”
“These young people, they’re going to be the next leaders in this fight,” added Silverstein.
All are welcome to join in the paddle around the pier, but Surfrider encourages those who are interested to register at sandiego.surfrider.org/paddle-for-clean-water.