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 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.

Lance Carson's speech for Surfrider Foundation's 20th anniversary in 2004. Video: Glenn Hening

Lance Carson’s speech for Surfrider Foundation’s 20th anniversary in 2004. Video: Nancy Hastings

The suits had to call the meeting to order several times before the crowd calmed down. The room was finally quiet, and then nothing happened for a second. Lance had never done anything like this before, and it showed, but for just an instant. Then he took off like it was a perfect 6’ wall of water stretching from the creek to the pier – and rode it as only Lance Carson can.

Waves are a natural wonder no different from Old Faithful or the redwood trees. They are a phenomenon that demonstrates all the laws of physics. They have a perfect parabolic shape that can be appreciated in only a very few places on earth. Surfrider Beach is one of those places here in California.

Malibu is the most famous surf area in the world. Countless films and articles have tried to explain its mystique and its energy, because surfing is an art form unmatched by any other sport.

I have been blessed with 35 years of going to Malibu and enjoying the natural beauty of quality waves that break like a long string of falling dominoes. I have memories of clear water, lonely afternoons, Japanese clam diggers finding food at low tide, and things I may never see again. Progress is progress, and that’s something that can’t be changed. I’ve always known this, and I’ve always said, “Well, at least the waves will never change.”

But now that may no longer be true.

In 1983 I was watching the winter storms change the beach as it has for centuries and I remarked to John Baker, the lifeguard at Malibu, how wonderful it is to watch the beach change, and get ready for another summer of great waves. By late spring, however, I was watching another kind of change take place. A change that nature had nothing to do with.

State Park officials were instructing the county lifeguards as to where the new outlet for the lagoon park would be. The name of the beach would no longer be the Surfrider Beach but the Malibu Lagoon State Park.

Since then one of the saddest things in my life has taken place, and not just for me. One of the greatest waves in the world, a surfer’s natural wonder as special as Niagra Falls or the Grand Canyon, has been damaged.

Malibu must not become a battlefield because of indifference, neglect or ignorance. We must work together to save the beach and the waves that can be found nowhere else in North America. Surfers have a special knowledge of the ocean that must be considered.

And we are here tonight, students and doctors and construction workers and mothers from all over Malibu, Santa Monica and the San Fernando Valley. Our experience stretches from the early 30s on the part of some of the veteran surfers here tonight – to those young people who have discovered the wonder of surfing Malibu only in recent years.

Tonight you have the opportunity to hear our statements and opinions and facts. If you consider them carefully in your decisions, we hope that you will not allow the lagoon outlet to slowly kill sealife and permanently damage or destroy one of the very best waves in the world.

Lance, then (1984) and now (2004), reading the same speech, in the same jacket.

Lance, then (1984) and now (2004), reading the same speech, in the same jacket.

When he was done, you could have heard a pin drop. The State Parks guy took advantage of that.

“Next speaker, Glenn Hening, Surfrider Foundation.”

Being a high school teacher, I knew how to write a lesson plan, and the Parks guys needed some schooling about surfing. I opened with some lineup shots of the place that got the crowd hooting. Then came slides that Lance had taken from a variety of angles, before and after the Parks bulldozer had done its dirty work. Finally, I presented four slides of graphics I had done on the Mac, with Tom’s help, culminating in a slide that showed exactly what we wanted.

Suddenly the Parks honco called for a recess. He had never expected a crowd with a lot of energy backing a coherent plan intended to stop the stupidity. I looked over at Tom, who was smiling as he watched the Parks officials go out the back door quickly.

“I bet those guys are really scared now,” he said.

An hour and a half-later, the meeting was coming to a close. Everyone in the room had signed the speaker’s list, and though some didn’t know quite what to say, they knew that they didn’t want Malibu ruined, and that was that. Voice after impassioned voice was heard as dozens of people spoke of what a special place Malibu was to them.  ‘Mysto’ George Carr capped it off, talking about his decades at Malibu, and pretty much summing up our position quite clearly: the surfers of Malibu were not going to stand for the destruction of such a great wave.

When he was done, the Parks Superintendent spoke nervously.

“That concludes the public input section of our meeting. Thank you for your participation in this community hearing. Your input will be considered at our next managers meeting.”

‘Fuck that — are you going to keep wrecking the place or what?” It was LJ Woods leveling with the suits.

Suddenly the crowd grew restive. Tom made eye contact with the official who picked up the vibe immediately.

“Thanks to the presentations made here tonight, we will respond to the community’s demands, er, I mean requests. Meeting adjourned.” The officials packed up their stuff and bailed out the back as fast as they could.

“We won!”  Tom Pratte whispered to me. He knew the bureaucrats’ code when it came to admitting defeat.

There was some loud grumbling but the crowd started to exit. Most had never been to something like this before and didn’t quite know what to think or do. But more than a few came over to where we were sitting – where they found a very stoked Tom Pratte.

“We won! We scared the shit out of them. They don’t want to deal with angry surfers laying down in front of bulldozers. Next time they open the Lagoon, it will be as far from 1st point as possible.”

What Surfrider wanted. Photo: Courtesy of Glenn Hening

What Surfrider wanted. Photo: Courtesy of Glenn Hening

As we drove back down PCH, Victor said, “You know I’ve ridden Malibu for years, But coming home tonight feels like we just got it better than ever.” Tom Pratte was exhausted, yet happy. Then he frowned.

“I’ve got to go to San Diego tomorrow. The Army Corps wants to build a breakwater at Imperial Beach. Kampion is gonna mention us in Surfing, and maybe Pez can give us an ad in Surfer.”

“Well, the IRS has our application as of yesterday, Tom,” I said. ‘The Surfrider Foundation is for real – and tonight is our first victory.”

And thus Surfrider was embarking on what has become a 30-year journey in protecting the surf. Tune in this coming Sunday, August 17, for a special final installment — Part 10: Postscript, or 30 Years Later. 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?”

Creating Surfrider, Pt. 8: Defending Malibu, or The Meeting


Only the best. We promise.


Join our community of contributors.