Editor’s Note: Over the span of 10 weeks – and concluding on August 17, the birthday of the organization — 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.
When the Olympics hit L.A. in the summer of 1984, I managed to get tickets to half-a-dozen “low-demand” events, such as boxing, dressage, fencing and soccer. But as luck would have it, two tickets turned up for track-and-field in the Coliseum, and though they were a bit expensive, I had to have them. Something told me to take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime afternoon.
Four months after my trip to Kauai, my passion for pulling off a landmark idea about the future of surfing had not dimmed. I’d done a fair amount of research into the Cousteau Society and National Geographic— how they were structured, the membership process, etc. To say I had delusions of grandeur would be an understatement, but with the Olympics in town, who could blame me? The Games of the Olympiad was a perfect point of departure for thinking about surfing’s future, and I took full advantage of the opportunity.
So there I was sitting in the top row of the Coliseum taking a break from the action with L.J. Woods, a close friend, world traveler, and ring-leader of the Canyon Rats. We’d watched Evelyn Ashford win the 100, Daly Thompson take the decathalon, and dozens of other track and field athletes from around the world compete in their specialties. And the question occurred to me: how did surfing measure up to this most grand endeavor of the human spirit?
I pulled out a spiral notebook and a pen, and with the colors and spectacle of the Games to inspire us, we asked ourselves, “What could we do as surfers that would be as bitchen as all this?”
Soon the ideas started flying back and forth: surf schools, scholarships, apprentice programs, team competitions, travel clubs, wave preserves, new surfboard materials, a National Geographic-style magazine, and of course, our brainstorm from last fall, the film “Summer’s Over.”
We took a breath, and I looked out over L.A., specifically, South-Central, and suddenly it hit me.
“You know L.J., I think the most unreal thing we could do would be to try to share surfing with inner city kids. That would really blow away the surf media!”
“Yeah, but Hen, the surf is already too crowded!”
Another bolt of inspiration: ‘Well, why don’t we start building surfing parks? Let’s create new places to surf!”
Now we knew we were finally up to speed: if we really wanted to change the surfing world, we would have our work cut out for us. So what? After all, we were surfers, and we were not in the habit of taking no for an answer.
Then I recalled recently driving past the Surfrider Inn in Santa Monica, the place where I first saw the Pacific Ocean when we moved out here in 1959 from New York.
“So, why don’t we call is the Surfrider Society? That sounds better than the Soul Survivors!”
“Yeah, I don’t know,” said L.J., “it sounds good, but it needs to be, uh, er …”
“More substantial? You’re right. Something more formidable.”
“Yeah, so people won’t think its some kind of surfer scam.”
“I know, we’ll be a foundation! Let’s call it the Surfrider Foundation!”
Want to find out what happened next? Tune in this coming Sunday, July 6, for Part 4. And catch up on the 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