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.

Our pioneer, Tom Pratte, at the Surfrider offices. Photo: Ted Soqui

Our pioneer, Tom Pratte, at the Surfrider offices. Photo: Ted Soqui

A week after my meeting with Lance Carson, I was in the “office” of Tom Pratte at his parents’ home in Huntington Beach. He had just graduated with the first-ever major in Environmental Studies with Coastal Emphasis at Humboldt State University. He was soft-spoken but direct. His room was filled with binders and files covering threats to the surfing environment from Crescent City to Imperial Beach. Although he was on retainer to the Western Surfing Association (with the support of Clark Foam) as their environmental issues advisor, he was umpiring softball games to make ends meet. Thanks to a phone call from Lance, he was interested in my idea for a non-profit organization.

I had brought my brand new Macintosh along, and I thought I was pretty together as I brought up screen after screen outlining my ideas. Tom was not impressed. He had a Robert Johnson record next to his guitar.

“I don’t think I like computers. My typewriter works just fine, so I won’t have to use this thing, will I?”

“No, you won’t have to use the computer. But if the Surfrider Foundation is to become what I have in mind, you will have to be a part of making a real statement about the responsibilities of surfers to future generations.”

“All right, count me in. But if Surfrider flops, I don’t want to be left hanging. Is it ok if I don’t quit the WSA gig right away?”

“Fine. Now tell me about the situation at Malibu.”

At the time, I thought I was pretty data-intensive as a computer programmer. Tom Pratte blew me away. He had Coastal Commission documents, State Parks blue prints, Coastal Act sections, transcripts, and just about every official document existent relating to the situation at Malibu. Yet it had been an uphill battle because as far as State Parks was concerned, surfers were nothing but a nuisance and deserved no respect.

I quickly realized our inner city youth programs, surfing parks, and a film would have to wait. With Lance on board as a guiding figurehead and Tom’s encyclopedic grasp of the issues, defending Malibu would be an important first step towards creating an organization that could directly affect surfing’s future – which was the whole point to begin with.

A fateful step was taken that afternoon in Tom’s office as we discussed an organization with critical environmental priorities. It was a long way from the utopian dreams of the Canyon Rats, but Malibu was being ruined, and something had to be done.

Want to find out what happened next? Tune in this coming Sunday, July 20,  for Part 6: Filling Out The Team. 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

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?


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