Editor’s Note: Over the span of 10 weeks – and concluding on August 17, the day the founding documents were signed, though the organization’s “official” birthdate 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.

 A new tower, a bulldozer, and gouges across the cobble: definitive signs of change at Malibu.  Photo Lance Carson

A new tower, a bulldozer, and gouges across the cobble: definitive signs of change at Malibu. Photo Lance Carson

It was mid-afternoon, October 12, in my office just off Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, above a recording studio. We’d partitioned off a big space for Surfrider, and things were looking up. Steve and I had done the first Baja Assistance Program run to Mexico, Dan was looking for office space in Santa Cruz, my secretary Rose Maverick was working on the by-laws, and tonight we were going to face our first major challenge.

But Tom Pratte was nervous. He wasn’t much for public clamor, and he was worried his reputation as a reasonable guy with Parks officials might be at risk. I was getting a bit edgy myself. I had an eye on the clock while talking on the phone to Lance. We had to get out of there and beat traffic up the coast, and the phone call was not going well.

“Lance, you’ve got to come through as a legend and leader of the Malibu surfing community,” I had said to him. I quickly found out that was exactly the wrong thing to say to a basically shy and personally reserved kind of guy. After listing all his objections, Lance went silent on the phone. I knew he felt trapped, so I had to think fast.

“Ok, Lance, how about I’ll write you a speech and all you have to do is read it, ok? Look, we’re leaving pretty quick because we gotta stop in Santa Monica. We’ll see you up there. Don’t worry, we’re surfers! We’ll blow ‘em away!”

I hung up the phone and looked at my MacIntosh and the clock. I had 20 minutes or traffic would kill us. A speech for Lance Carson? About his history at Malibu, decades of perfect waves, no other place like it, a natural wonder…

With minutes to spare a page came out of the printer as Tom stuffed documents into his leather satchel. We grabbed a slide projector, our sport coats,  and off we went in my ’67 VW Bus. We picked up Victor Torres and L.J.Woods, cranked up the Allman Brothers’ “One Way Out,” and went burning up PCH as if it was eight feet and perfect.

The problem mapped out for state officials. Graphic: Glenn Hening

The problem mapped out for state officials. Graphic: Glenn Hening

The meeting was at the Pt. Dume Elementary School auditorium. Thanks to Tom and Lance, a complete cross section of the Malibu surfing community was waiting to get in: old timers from out of the woodwork, gremmies, young couples with kids, hot surfers, etc.

Before the meeting started, Tom went over and talked to the State Parks officials who were a bit surprised at the crowd. When Tom came back and sat down with us he said, “You know, I think they’re scared of what all these surfers might do if they don’t get what they want.”

The meeting began with a presentation from the superintendent of the new park. Lance hated the guy, and for good reason. The first time the bulldozer started carving towards the point, Lance went up and tried to explain that what they were doing might ruin the wave.

The ranger’s response to Lance’s input?

“I don’t know who you are. You are not part of this conversation,” he said while giving instructions to the ’dozer guy. Lance tried to protest, and a young grem from Malibu even sat down in front of the ‘dozer. But the parks honcho just ignored them as the D-4 fired up.

Lance grabbed the grommet, pulled him out of the way, and the destruction of Malibu’s first point began. So as this guy went on and on during his opening statement, Lance was steaming. This was the kind of bullshit he hated, and there was more to come.

To the stage came an engineer who proceeded to explain, from blueprints and charts, that they had carved up the lagoon into channels in order to create “an inviting area for new park users”. He said the beach was now going to be accessed by people using the new parking lot on the west side of the creek, and that they had to drain the lagoon east towards the pier so that park patrons would have as much uninterrupted beach as possible.

“Yeah, but we were here first!” a local shouted.

“And what about your interrupting a perfect wave?” “Why are you guys changing our beach?” “Hey, where’s the Surfrider sign?” “Who asked you guys to come into Malibu anyway?”

The poor engineer was showered with shouts from the crowd. The guy running the meeting had to ask for order. The engineer finished his bit, and then began the public comment phase.  “First speaker from the community, Tom Pratte from the WSA and the Surfrider Foundation.”

Tom made the opening presentation. He was reserved, chose his words carefully, and said nothing to overtly confront the officials who were conducting the hearing. This was part of our strategy, as was our signing the speaker’s list when we got there so we could hit ’em with a sequenced presentation.

Tom closed by saying, “I’d like to introduce a man who has spent a lifetime at Malibu and has the respect of everyone who has ever ridden a wave at the place he has loved since he was a kid.”

I handed Lance his speech and said, “Just read it slow – it’s exactly what we need.”.

“Next speaker, uh, Lance Carson, local surfer, Surfrider Foundation.”

Lance walked to the front of the room and the place went wild. Everyone stood up, clapped and whistled. It could have been the opening of a surf movie at the Civic — the crowd was that amped. Coat and tie, slacks and polished loafers, it was a Lance Carson nobody had ever seen before, and it galvanized everyone in the room, except the suits, who were suddenly looking quite nervous.

The devastating destruction. Photo: Courtesy of Glenn Hening

The devastating destruction. Photo: Courtesy of Glenn Hening

Want to find out what happened next? Tune in this coming Sunday, August 10, for Part 9: Lance’s Speech, and Surfrider’s 1st Victory. 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?

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?”


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