The Surfrider Foundation, a California-based grassroots conservation group, has been fighting to protect the oceans and beaches of this country since 1984—and it’s not slowing down now.

By Lauren Phillips
February 01, 2017

Call this one a win for conservationists everywhere: The Surfrider Foundation, a grassroots organization that works to protect oceans and beaches around the country, has claimed 400 victories. This is no small achievement, but it’s only part of what the Surfrider Foundation has achieved in its 32 years.

Surfrider began its official count of campaign victories (government decisions made in favor of coastal and ocean environments that result in positive conservation outcomes or that improve public access) in 2006. Its victories before then (dozens since its founding in 1984) aren't included in the milestone 400 victories—the organization has had an even greater impact on the oceans and beaches of the United States.

Surfrider has been defending the country's ocean environments since a group of surfers got together to protect their local surf break in Malibu, California, from development and pollution threats. In doing so, they founded the Surfrider Foundation, which carries on their legacy of "everyday" people banding together and taking a stand to protect the beaches they love. Now based in San Clemente, California, Surfrider's central staff of nearly 50 supports its national chapter network as it works to bridge the gap between locals' knowledge and national expertise in law, policy, and science in order to protect the coasts.

A 32-year legacy of bringing people together for a common cause and more than 400 victories mean a big step for ocean conservation. And the Surfrider Foundation isn’t stopping there—one of its goals in the new year and beyond is to ensure that the progress it has made for the nation’s coasts isn’t reversed. “We want to see those defended,” CEO Chad Nelsen said of Surfrider’s victories, like the major 2016 decision by the federal government to cancel plans for new offshore oil drilling off the Atlantic coast.

That victory came about through “the environment and business coming together,” Nelsen said, and it was—like many of Surfrider’s efforts—“good for the environment, good for business.”

Surfrider's victories aren’t all huge, national-headline-making ones, though. Many focus on the people who live, work, and rely on the coast.

Surfrider's powerful grassroots network works to protect coasts and oceans by supporting water quality testing, community partnerships, beach cleanups, and more. “Our local activism and stewardship allows us to continue to pass proactive policies at the state and local levels,” Nelsen said.

The Surfrider Foundation has 80 chapters nationwide, in every coastal state except Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. It even has chapters on the Great Lakes—the site of our 2017 Happiest Seaside Town, Grand Haven. These local chapters can spearhead area efforts on their own or join Surfrider’s national network for bigger campaigns, like that against new offshore oil drilling off the Atlantic coast, which combined the work of Surfrider’s 34 East Coast chapters, more than 1,000 coastal businesses, and more than 100 coastal communities.

“We’re all about getting people in these coastal communities engaged and involved,” Nelsen said.

Photo: Craig Coppola
Photo: Surfrider Foundation

Take Surfrider’s late-2016 success in saving Trestles, San Onofre State Beach, and neighboring open space. Surfrider, as a member of the Save San Onofre Coalition, worked with 11 other local and national organizations to win the decade-long battle by reaching a settlement—with the help of the California Attorney General—that protected the stretch of coastline from proposed toll road development.

The Surfrider Foundation’s campaigns are ongoing—for one, it’s working with the Hawaii Department of Health to update its communication processes for notifying locals and visitors when it detects contaminants in the ocean on beaches around the state. You can learn more on Surfrider’s efforts by visiting its campaigns page, and you can sign up to receive more information on its victories—or volunteer—at

Videos: Courtesy of the Surfrider Foundation

Photos: Ryan Tabata (1); Craig Coppola (1); Surfrider Foundation (1)