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The Surfrider Foundation tackles development, water quality and quality of life

Forty years ago surfers were pegged as long-haired pot-smoking beach bums, wasting away life in search of a good time and a great wave. Most likely that sentiment still rings true in landlocked locales like the heartland of America where faded postcards from the ’70s of palm trees and bikinis dictate their reality. But out here in the middle of the great blue Pacific Ocean where surfing is the cornerstone of culture, good times and great waves are still the impetus, only now the focus is coupled with conservation and sustainability of our natural resources.

And instrumental in this charge for green trees, open spaces and clean water is a collective of surfers and ocean enthusiasts known as the Surfrider Foundation. The O’ahu chapter is made up of 25 core members backed by an e-mail list of more than 400 volunteers. What this small group lacks in numbers, they more than make up for in their ability to challenge and restrain development of our coastlines and keep our beaches and oceans clean for all people to enjoy.

With several important environmental victories chalked up over the last few years–blocking the Pupukea and Waimea developments and stopping dead in its tracks the Kaka’ako development–Surfrider is now engaged with other community organizations in another extremely important and consequential battle to stop development on the North Shore.

Keep the country country

Most people are aware of Turtle Bay Resort’s plan to build five new hotels with 3,500 more rooms on and around Kawela Bay, all based on a 20-year-old land use permit and Environmental Impact Statement.

‘The biggest focus for us right now is the Turtle Bay development. They want to go eight to 10 times bigger, from 500 rooms to 3,500 rooms. Traffic is already horrendous, and there’s no way the North Shore can sustain that kind of growth,’ says Stuart Coleman, vice-chair of the Surfrider Foundation’s O’ahu chapter (Coleman is an occasional writer for Honolulu Weekly.)

This sentiment is echoed by a large community of activists on the island who have taken up slogans like ‘No way Turtle Bay’ and ‘Keep the country country.’ In fact, Surfrider has teamed up with several other organizations, the Defend O’ahu Coalition, the Sierra Club, Keep the North Shore Country, the ‘Iio’ulaokalani Coalition and other community groups in a multi-fronted effort to block the development.

The first push made was a lawsuit against Turtle Bay and their use of the 20-year-old EIS in making decisions to continue development. Surfrider has also been instrumental in fighting for the passage of Senate Bill 851 which requires any new development to be set back 750 feet from the shoreline, which could in effect kill the development, robbing it of its status as beachfront property.

With perseverance and diligence from Surfrider and the community, SB 851 passed in the Senate and is now going to the House. A march to the Capitol is being planned to support the bill. They are calling for citizens to show their support of this bill to the Legislature by joining the march or contacting their representatives directly. The Surfrider Foundation website, [], is updated with the most current information.

‘Engage yourself and be aware of what’s going on around you in terms of the local government and development and take an active role in helping shape decisions the government is making by contacting your representatives,’ suggests Marvin Heskett, O’ahu chapter co-chair. ‘If you say something worth saying and if you’re trying to suggest something worthwhile, you’ll get a response and you’ll have an impact.’

Keep the oceans clean

The Surfrider Foundation has also taken the lead in a new direction the last few years with their campaign to improve and maintain water quality. According to Coleman, they have been instrumental in bringing together a symposium of environmental groups and have formed the Wastewater Spill Committee in reaction to the sewage spill in the Ala Wai Canal just over a year ago.

The committee offers the state recommendations on what needs to happen to prevent further wastewater incidents and aid in cleaning up the Ala Wai. First up, a unified command structure and response team to coordinate efforts between city, state and federal needs to be set up. Using the lifeguard service as first responder has been proposed. The committee has also offered sustainable ways to clean up the Ala Wai using bio-remediation and phytoremediation, the use of bacteria and plants that naturally consume harmful particulates and bacteria.

Another campaign of the group involves locating, recording and saving public beach access from loss by private development. Heskett explains, ‘We are looking into asking our members to record all the current beach accesses that are there, then we document and record them and make a map we can give out that shows where they are to promote the continual use of them. Hawai’i law states that if access does exist or has existed and can be proven to have existed, then people will continue to have a right to pass through that access regardless of ownership.’

This is very important to the organization because as shoreline development occurs, beach access is routinely lost, affecting the public’s ability to enjoy that natural resource.