Surfrider on the rise
Since it began in 1991 Surfrider Foundation Australia has had many successes and been through many changes. It's also seen some low times as would be expected from a community funded, not-for-profit environmental organisation. Andy Pitt is a Maroubra surfer and a fairly typical member of Surfrider; he's always supported them though his enthusiasm has wavered over the years for a variety of reasons.
Andy recently attended Surfrider's 2012 National Conference in Coolum and came away buoyed with what was happening at surfing's principal environmental organisation. I had a quick chat with him to collect his thoughts on the current state of Surfrider Foundation Australia.
Swellnet: How long have you been involved with Surfrider? Andy Pitt: Sewage and ocean outfalls were a big issue when Steve Hayes and I set up a meeting for the Sydney Eastern Beaches Branch of the Surfrider Foundation in 1992. My concern was industrial leachate seeping into the line up from an old dump site on the headland at South Maroubra and I had just started researching surfing topographies. Steve had a vision for an online data repository for coastal research. We've been good mates for more than twenty years now.
So you've got a long history with Surfider Foundation, can you tell me your more recent feelings for the organisation? I have always supported Surfrider Foundation, been a paid up member or donated and I have total respect for a long list of people involved with the organisation. But I confess, one night in the late 90's I scraped the SF sticker off my car when Surfrider went a bit Free Willy and started to chase non surfing issues. Free Tibet was on the website and I couldn't reconcile that with a collective of surfers. Then in 2010 I went to Surfrider's AGM and surfing, surfers and surfing issue was the only stuff on the agenda.
They'd won you back? It was a start. A realisation that they'd changed.
And what was the overwhelming feeling coming away from this year's AGM? Hard core surfers focused on protecting waves and beaches. The key campaign is called 'Endangered Waves', which includes threatened surf spots like North Narrabeen and Bastion Point. Water quality and beach cleanups also featured in the Branch Updates. I heard some passionate idealism but also pragmatic decisions, like the Foundation invested in a new software system to manage the supporter list and communications. The 'Love Your Beach' initiative is supported by Garnier, the hair shampoo people are corporate donors. The absence of surf fashion companies as donors of significance was surprising. The wind was howling onshore, but everybody still went surfing over the weekend. It felt like family.
How can corporate governance improve an organisation, especially one dependent on volunteers and members? My mate Ciga The Plumber calls it paperwork and curses it in his dungeon. Anyone running a business, on a committee, or in a club will know just how demanding and time consuming paperwork is. Governance, financial reports, annual returns, constitutions, diverse board skills, board succession, voting rights - maybe some of this stuff is boring, but let's be clear, without good corporate governance – the doors of an organisation will inevitably slam shut, struggling for identity, purpose and cash to pay administration wages and rent. As an observer, it would appear to me that Surfrider Foundation Australia has excellent corporate governance in place and Dr Rex is a strong leader.
Any other thoughts on the current state of Surfrider Foundation? Surfrider Foundation is the only national organisation that represents the interests of recreational surfers. Who you gonna call when the wave breaking patterns at your local spot are threatened, and you want access to knowledge and networks? It's a bit like an insurance policy for your favourite spots, where each pays his due as a supporter. Others will want to be more involved and get their fingers dirty in a branch, and some may just click 'like' on Facebook. Whatever. Doing something, anything to support Surfrider, is the difference between being a surfer, or just a dude that owns a board.
Before going to press I asked Surfrider's National Director, Dr Rex Campbell, for a statement. Yes, we have got our back office in order but more importantly Surfrider Foundation's renewed energy has come from getting back to our roots - surfing and waves and beaches. Our redefined purpose of protecting waves and beaches has led to our 'Endangered Waves' campaign launched in June which is providing support to local activists in eight threatened wave spots. Our other major campaign 'Rise Above Plastics' is huge internationally, intentionally designed to engage people power in beach cleans, bag bans and education efforts.
Pro surfers are involved again with Surfrider, like Sally Fitzgibbon in last summers 'Love your Beach' Pledge, plus Steph Gilmore, Mick Fanning, and Parko are paid up as Life Members and Barton Lynch is on our Board.
Surfrider's space is the beach and surf zone, whereas most other marine organisations look after the deep water zone we look after the coast.