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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.

Glenn Hening

One hell of a right. Photo: George Segala

Part 1: Soul In the Time of Day-Glo

Surfrider’s ancestry can be traced back to Santa Monica Canyon, near Los Angeles. The Canyon is a unique place with a notably creative community and its own micro-climate. The Canyon watershed feeds a creek that has created reefs and sandbars where it meets the sea, making State Beach a unique place in more ways than one.

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State Beach was home to some colorful surfers in its time, including Miki Dora and Marty Sugarman. In the 1960s, a group of us grew up surfing State, and when shortboards came on strong we began to call ourselves the Canyon Rats. We were a crew of good surfers who surfed all up and down the coast and eventually around the globe, threw mad parties, and generally got away with whatever we wanted to for about fifteen years.

But by late 1983, we found ourselves scurrying about trying to make ends meet. Gone were the spirit, the youth, and the adventures of the Rats in our prime as jobs, marriages, drugs and mortgages were taking their toll.

One brisk winter evening, with offshores whistling in the sycamores, a few of the original crew got together for a reunion of sorts. The meeting came to order when Exile On Main Street, the Stones double album that was our national anthem in our prime, kicked in with “Rocks Off.” Wild times were recalled, lost friends remembered, and surf stories were told from across the seven seas. Then, after an hour or so, the talk turned to what surfing was becoming. And we weren’t stoked.

A quick look at the surf mags on the coffee table said it all, and it had nothing to do with us. It was the day-glo era of pro surfers signing deals with garmentos selling their way to lifestyles of the rich and famous.

A new version of surfing was emerging, but were we not also surfers?  What about the rebel soul of surfing as we knew it, thanks in part to surfing in the shadow of Dora? But Miki was now long gone, and if a voice was going to be raised in opposition to surfing being sold out to the garmentos, who better than us to pick up the mantle of surfing’s famous angry man? We could be rebels WITH a cause!

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Glenn Hening, 1978

The seventies were a different time, both literally and figuratively. Photo: Glenn Hening

“I know,” said one unusually coherent attendee (who had arrived late and had some catching up to do), “Let’s put together a club of amateur gentlemen, a service club of surfers!”

Sure, why not? After all, we were surfers! We could do anything we wanted!

“Ok, what are the membership requirements?”

“No pro surfers!” “No day-glo wetsuits!’ “No leashes!”

The ideas flew back and forth across the smoke-filled room.

“You have to make a living outside the surf industry.” “You had to be a good surfer on longboards, but an even better surfer on short boards!” “Yeah, with no loss in style!” “We’ll be like the Kiwanis or something, but with less gin and more keef!”

“Done!” The vote was unanimous.

We caught our breath, and a second wind from Morocco, and off we went again.

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“Do you think that will be enough to turn surfing completely around?” “How about we’ll do a film, too?  Show the real soul of surfing!” “Didn’t they already do that in Endless Summer?” “Look where that got us! No, it’s time to take surfing seriously. We’ll call it ‘Summer’s Over.’ It will be like a Cousteau film” —  “All Down the Line” was charging through the speakers — “with a kickass soundtrack!”

“Where will we get the money?”

“Just like Cousteau: memberships in our non-profit society!”

Now we got really excited imagining the surfing world through our eyes the way Cousteau had seen the undersea world. We all had our visions from coastlines around the planet and now we wanted to share that energy by channeling the best of surfing to others through a non-profit organization.

Finally someone asked, “Well, so what are we gonna call it?”

Just then the last track of the album started up, and the Stones came in right on time with a perfect inspiration. We all looked at each other and shouted, “The Soul Survivors!”

Well, by closing time we had the Society of Soul Survivors pretty much ready to go. And though talk was cheap and everyone needed some sleep, some of us got up the next day on a mission to turn those late night ideas into a new version of riding waves.

Enjoy what you read? Tune in this coming Sunday, June 22,  for Part 2: The Birth of A Baby Daughter, and the Impala’s Opinions.

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