By Stuart H. Coleman Photos by Rafael Bergstrom

Protect What You Love. That’s one of the most powerful mantras of the Surfrider Foundation. We are dedicated to protecting our ocean because it’s our playground. But we’re also dedicated to enjoying our waves and beaches as much as possible. That’s why we created International Surfing Day, our holiday to jumpstart the summer.

Twelve years ago, the Surfrider Foundation helped create International Surfing Day (ISD), an annual event on June 20. We chose this date to celebrate our sport because it’s the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, with an aim to maximize our time in the sun, sand and water. While we know there are a lot of Jeff Spicolis out there who are only looking to score “some tasty waves”, on International Surfing Day, we’re also looking to make a difference.

Inaugurated with just one international and 16 domestic events in 2004, ISD has grown exponentially to include more than 200+ events in more than 30 countries. Surfing is Hawaii’s gift to the world, and ISD honors this “sport of kings” by uniting wave- riders and ocean lovers around the globe. Because surfing was the ancestor of skateboarding and snowboarding, ISD is in a way the Father’s Day of all board sports.

Photo: Rafael Bergstrom

Photo: Rafael Bergstrom

This year, the Surfrider Foundation’s five Hawaii Chapters will kick-off summer by hosting beach cleanups and special events across the state. What better way to help protect our beaches and coastal areas than by giving back to the ocean, which gives us so much? Our coastlines are under constant attack from many different sources.

In spite of these threats, Surfrider’s coastal defenders are working hard to protect our coastlines by fighting for beach access and clean water. With over 85 chapters around the country and more than 30 Surfrider Youth Clubs, Surfrider’s network of volunteers preserve our coastlines by holding monthly beach cleanups, doing water quality testing and reducing single-use plastics marine plastic pollution.

Though there is much more to do, Surfrider’s volunteers are proud to have supported policies to reduce the litter caused from single-use plastics like bags and cigarette butts (the most littered items in the world). Our chapters helped make Hawaii the first state to ban plastic grocery bags and smoking on beaches and public parks.

Surfrider’s newest statewide program is Ocean Friendly Restaurants, which was launched during Earth Month in April. In a partnership with Maui Huliau Foundation, Kokua Hawaii Foundation and the Rise Above Plastics Coalition, Surfrider is honoring those restaurants that have voluntarily embraced Ocean Friendly practices.

To be certified as Ocean Friendly, a restaurant must follow certain guidelines: 1, no styrofoam use; 2, only reusable tableware provided for onsite dining; and 3, proper recycling practices. There are other criteria to follow, including providing non-plastic utensils, bags and straws only upon request. Since starting the OFR Program in April, we have already certified more than 50 restaurants across Hawaii!

Photo: Rafael Bergstrom

Photo: Rafael Bergstrom

Along with reducing plastic waste that ends up in our oceans, Surfrider is trying to make sure our coastal waters are clean. But Hawaii has the highest number of cesspools in the country, and these sub-standard systems are causing problems. Many cesspools leach contaminated wastes into streams, water sources and the ocean.

Surfrider’s Blue Water Task Force does water quality sampling on Kauai and Oahu, and our experts have found that many streams and beach parks are contaminated. We have launched an Action Alert to make sure that the Hawaii Dept. of Health posts warning signs in chronically polluted areas. The good news is that Surfrider helped pass legislation to create tax breaks for homeowners to upgrade their cesspools to more effective septic systems. We also helped create rule changes that close the loophole on construction of new cesspools.

What do water quality and marine plastic pollution have to do with International Surfing Day? In order to celebrate our liquid playground, we need to protect what we love for our keiki. The ocean is threatened by all kinds of issues, and the Surfrider Foundation and its extensive network of grassroots advocates are working hard to preserve our coastal areas for future generations.

If you want to get involved with International Surfing Day, there will be events around the world and across the Islands. The Oahu Chapter will be hosting its big annual beach cleanup at Diamond Head on Saturday 6/18, and will be holding a membership drive at Whole Foods Kahala on Monday 6/20. For more info, you can check out their website at Oahu.Surfrider.org. Last year, more than 100 volunteers removed almost a ton of debris from the slopes of Diamond Head and its beaches. 

Since its inception, International Surfing Day participants have removed more than 80,000 tons of trash from our coastlines. Amazing, right? But we can’t do this without the help of you and our dedicated volunteers. To join or renew your Surfrider membership and learn more about our ISD events and our Instagram contest, go to isd.Surfrider.org.

This International Surfing Day, salute your favorite beach and help how you can. There are many ways to get involved: volunteer for a beach cleanup, become a Surfrider member, or support one of our campaigns. Most importantly, get out and enjoy your favorite beach.

Stuart H. Coleman is the award-winning author of Eddie Would Go, Fierce Heart and his newest book Eddie Aikau: Hawaiian Hero (Bess Press, ’16). He works as the Hawaii Manager of the Surfrider Foundation.

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