Editor’s Note: Over the span of 10 weeks – concluding today, August 17, the day the founding documents were signed, though the organization’s “official” birthdate when they were officially recognized is August 22 — founder Glenn Hening tells the story of creating the Surfrider Foundation 30 years ago this summer.
Author’s Note: The abridged version of this piece appeared in Surfer’s Journal Vol. 13 #3. My thanks to Steve Pezman and Scott Hulet for printing it in 2004 on Surfrider’s 20th anniversary.
Epilogue: January 28, 1986
It had been a rough night at home and I was late getting to work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. I went to the cafeteria to get some coffee. The place was eerily empty. NASA internal TV monitors were on around the room. All they showed was a flat ocean with splashes occurring now and then. I didn’t quite know what was going on, so I asked someone how the launch went. He just shook his head and walked away.
Soon enough the Challenger disaster had my full attention, and the ripple effects blew my world apart both at home and work. By March I was unable to function as president of Surfrider, and by June my marriage was on the rocks after getting laid off with 600 others at JPL.
Like a booster rocket that was out of fuel, I was used up both professionally and personally. It was time for me to fall back into the sea after getting the Foundation off the ground.
Chris Blakely picked up the slack for me, though Tom really took over running the organization from that point on. Thanks to him, Rob Caughlan became president in the November elections. Rob was a great choice, and the Foundation owes him, and everyone on the board at the time, a real debt of gratitude for getting Surfrider through its first crisis.
A year later, Steve Merrill came to my house in Los Osos, where I’d moved in order to re-center my life around the ocean and raising daughter Helen.
He walked in the door, and the first thing he said was, “Here you go, Hen, the board wanted you to have this.”
Postscript: 30 Years Ago, Today
If you’ve had the chance to read all ten installments of “Creating Surfrider,” you may be wondering just what can be said about Surfrider today in light of how the organization got started. From a very surf-centric origin, Surfrider has grown into much more of a public benefit corporation than could have ever been envisioned by a bunch of rebel dreamers. Yet the essential spirit that drove those individuals to take action is very much alive and well today in chapters across the country and around the world.
For example, the recent meeting of the WLA/Malibu chapter was packed with members who saw the complete presentation of the events covered in the “Creating Surfrider” story. It was an evening more about the present and future than about the past because we can always turn to the pure stoke of surfing to renew our commitment to leaving a legacy of activism for future generations of surfers.
To see a room full of Surfrider members, many of whom are indeed younger than the organization itself, fully energized about Surfrider’s mission and their role in it was very heartening. And to think of all the people who’ve been a part of Surfrider’s history – and who contributed to establishing a new version of what it means to be a surfing environmentalist – was to know how much has been accomplished in 30 years – and will certainly be accomplished for years to come.
Thanks to all at The Inertia for their support in getting the “Creating Surfrider” story out to the public. And don’t forget, another anniversary is coming up on October 12, when Surfrider’s first victory started a new chapter in the history of surfing, one that is being written to this day. There aren’t a lot of surf stars in it, and there’s not a lot money being made or contests being won, but in many ways, it’s the most important surf story of all: the story about preserving the surfing environment for future generations.
Catch up on the entire series below.
Dawn Patrol: Creating Surfrider In The Summer of ’84
Creating Surfrider, Pt. 2: The Birth Of The Baby and The Impala’s Opinion
Creating Surfrider, Pt. 3: In The Shadow of The Torch — Brainstorming At The Olympics
Creating Surfrider, Pt. 4: Who Do We Know With A Big Name?
Creating Surfrider, Pt. 5: A Surfing Pioneer Joins The Team
Creating Surfrider, Pt. 6: Filling Out The Team
Creating Surfrider, Pt. 7: Birthday, or “Where Do I Sign?”
Creating Surfrider, Pt. 8: Defending Malibu, or The Meeting
Creating Surfrider, Pt. 9: Lance’s Speech, or Surfrider’s First Victory