Surfrider Foundation celebrates 20 years

The Surfrider Foundation, Malibu Chapter's historic 20th Anniversary Town Hall Meeting at Point Dume Elementary. Pictured from left: Jeff Duclos, former Malibu Chapter chair, Ed Mazzarella, director of Surfrider Foundation chapters, Michelle Kremer, foundation interim executive director, founding members Lance Carson and Glen Hening, Alan Reed, Malibu Chapter chair, Nancy (Downes) Hastings, former Malibu Chapter chair, Southern California field coordinator. Photo by Nancy Hastings

Founders treat crowd to rare look at the legends of surfing and the birth of the foundation.

Story by Vicki Godal/Special to The Malibu Times

Twenty years ago, three Malibu surfers held their first town hall meeting to fight for the protection of world-renowned First Point surf break at Malibu’s Surfrider Beach. The issue was the destruction of a wave.

In 1984, California State Parks and the Department of Fish and Game began artificially breaching the lagoon in an effort to increase the amount of beach front near the Malibu Colony. Officials hoped that this would, in turn, increase the amount of revenue generated by the newly constructed parking lot. The effect of this breaching of the lagoon was environmentally disastrous. Polluted water began flowing directly into the surf zone at First Point, causing many surfers to become ill. However, the breach in the lagoon had even further impact-it ruined the shape of the First Point waves, changing them from the world class peeling right waves to what surfers at the time called “mushy closeout waves.” To add insult to injury, State Parks also planned to change the name of the beach from Surfrider to Malibu Lagoon State Park.

The surfers, Lance Carson, Glenn Hening and Tom Pratte, spoke out against the destructive changes resulting from the breaching of the lagoon at this historic meeting two decades ago. Their protest resulted in a halt to the breaching and the preservation of the waves and the name of Surfrider Beach. That victory served as the launching pad for today’s Surfrider Foundation. Their mission-the protection and preservation of the world’s oceans and beaches.

Last Wednesday night, the Malibu Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation hosted a dramatic commemoration of that first town hall meeting in the same location, Point Dume Elementary School. Two of Surfrider’s founders, Hening and Carson (wearing the same brown tweed jacket he wore 20 years ago), gave first-hand accounts of how they, along with Pratte, fought to protect Surfrider Beach and consequently started the Surfrider Foundation’s grassroots movement. The packed room surfed back in time with Carson and Hening as they related the story that began it all. Hening showed a Powerpoint presentation of rare photos of legendary surfers involved in the founding of Surfrider and the actual video from that first town hall meeting.

“These were the ideas behind the Surfrider Foundation; it was an interweaving of attitude, the beach and your style out in the water. In fact, it was all about style,” Hening said during his presentation. “In those days, if you used a leash, you didn’t compete.”

Carson read the moving speech that galvanized the crowd 20 years ago. The following quotes are excerpted from Carson’s well-known speech.

“Waves are a natural wonder …. They are a phenomenon that demonstrates all the laws of nature. They have a perfect parabolic shape that can be appreciated in only a very few places on earth. Surfrider Beach is one of those. Malibu must not become a battlefield because of indifference, neglect or ignorance. We must work together to save the beach and the waves that can be found nowhere else in North America.”

Two decades later, the Surfrider Foundation is a powerful movement, championing water quality issues, placing value on the preservation and protection of beaches and oceans and shaping management policies regarding coastal watersheds throughout the world.

But what was so special about these founding surfers? Why did they succeed where others had failed?

A passion for all things to do with surfing, as evidenced by the life of Carson, makes a strong case for their success.

Carson was the key architect of the 1960s longboard style. Carson created the drop knee turn, and his arching cutback mastery of riding the nose was unmatched. In a profile of Carson in the classic surfing film, “Endless Summer,” Bruce Brown said, “A lot [of surfers] run up and right off the end. Lance usually stays around for a while. He’s so relaxed up there, you get the feeling he could have a ham sandwich while [he’s there].”

Carson’s legendary status was cemented with John Milius’ “Big Wednesday,” in 1978, a film he loosely based on Carson, as well as in Milius’ screenplay for Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.” In a scene from this film, Colonel Kilgore, played by Robert Duvall, air attacks a Vietnamese beach so “Lance from Malibu” can surf.

After apprenticing under surfboard designer extraordinaire Hap Jacobs, Carson began creating surfboards and in 1976 started his own label, with longboards being his specialty. Today, according to Surfer Magazine, longboards make up nearly 40 percent of all surfboard production. Carson’s surfboard label is a mainstay of the surfing industry.

As Carson’s background makes clear, total dedication to the sport and lifestyle of surfing is what it took to make Surfrider successful in its fight to preserve Surfrider Beach 20 years ago. Surfrider has grown to an organization of more than 37,000 members in 60 U.S. chapters, with international chapters in Australia, Brazil, France, Japan and Spain.

More information on the Surfrider Foundation, Malibu Chapter can be obtained by visiting