Surfers Take the Country by Storm to Protect Their Playground


Many of us are concerned with the state of our environment, and especially the quality of our water. Since its inception in 1984, the Surfrider Foundation has been one of the most active and effective non-profit organizations to tackle the biggest environmental issues that threaten our oceans and beaches. Edward Mazzarella, the Director of Chapters & Clubs at the Surfrider Foundation, spoke with us on how we can best join in on the effort.

Can you explain the scope and work of the Surfrider Foundation?

The Surfrider Foundation is dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s ocean, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network.  We have a staff of nearly 50 people to help support our 140+ chapter and club network on their campaigns, programs, and projects.  We champion policy and fight legal battles for our coasts, bring awareness to the issues facing our ocean, provide critical resource support and raise money to make all of this happen. We have an appetite for adventure and we all share a common passion – we love and appreciate our ocean, waves and beaches.

How did you first get involved with Surfrider, and what does your current role entail?

I joined as a member in 1990 due to my love of surfing and a desire to support organizations that represent me as a recreational user.   I was hired as an employee in 1992 to further develop our “chapter” network, which at the time had 19 unorganized chapters.   My tenure has focused on establishing a strategic vision to grow and support our chapter network, which included the development of youth-focused avenues and programs.

What are some of the biggest problems plaguing America’s ocean and water sources?

Our ocean is facing enormous challenges from pollution. Every day, water quality at our beaches is threatened by urban runoff, sewage leaks, and waste discharged by industry. These threats cause 20,000 health advisories to be issued each year to protect beachgoers. Another big problem is plastic. Researchers estimate there are now over 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean and the number continues to grow every day. This pollution is entangling and choking wildlife and will never naturally degrade. Fortunately, there are simple things that all of us can do to help keep pollution out of our ocean!

How can a young person get involved with Surfrider?

Surfrider Foundation launched the Youth Network in 2008 in response to overwhelming interest across the country from young people that wished to become more involved with the Surfrider Foundation.   Our Youth Network creates a platform to meet the demand by young people for opportunities to influence environmental action through service, development, leadership, civic engagement and organizing by way of collective empowerment.

This network focuses on the development of environmental stewardship projects – at their schools, campuses or local communities. These projects range from beach clean ups to plastic free campus to greening your campus.  Project-based learning helps teaches young people to:

  • Develop awareness of issues affecting our waterways & coastlines;
  • Construct collaborative solutions on what they learn;
  • Communication skills that move others to action; and
  • Most importantly, be able to make a difference for something they are interest and passionate about.

Our success to affect widespread action to protect our coasts comes in part by motivating young people to take action in local coastal conservation.  The Youth Network sets the stage to ensure our network grows and builds the next generation of leaders and provides us with the opportunity to expand beyond the coastal zone.

What does a day look like for a Surfrider volunteer?

Our irreplaceable national network of chapter volunteers serves as the first response to local threats in coastal communities across the US. They are the boots on the ground, who collaborate on both the local and national level with regional staff and issue experts to carry out our mission through campaign, program and educational initiatives in their local communities.  Our chapters are always looking for volunteers from all walks of life — graphics designers, event coordinators, accountants, environmental experts, and more.   Surfrider provides our volunteers with the resources and structure to support their passion for environmental work so they are able to maintain a balanced approach to their volunteer efforts with us.

If there is not a chapter or club nearby, what are the steps to opening one?

We are looking for students who are passionate about our ocean and looking for leadership opportunities and fun! There are many ways to get involved with the Surfrider Foundation and any one or all of them help’s contribute to our core mission of engaged activism.

What is your best advice for a high school student wanting to work in the non-profit or environmental protection space?

We’re in the midst of a huge demographic shift. In the United States, around 75 million baby boomers are on their way out of the workforce and Generation X is closer to retirement.  Their generation will be 75% of the workforce within a decade. That means it’s an opportune time to hone your knowledge, skills, and experience.  Students can focus on degrees in public administration, business administration, nonprofit management, education, health, or social work are all valuable to have. Nonprofit certification and degree programs are available at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, including at many state universities and a growing number of other college institutions.  It’s important to also take advantage of opportunities to network and get field experience. Being actively involved in your community–both inside and outside of the academic setting–will help you work your way into the field.

Photo by Thomas Kelley and Will Langenberg on Unsplash

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