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Catching the Wave: Chad Nelsen, and Jade Floyd at ComNet18

ComNet18 Second Stage

Chad Nelsen, CEO of the Surfrider Foundation and Jade Floyd, Vice President of Communications at the Case Foundation and Vice Chair of The Communications Network, unpack how a powerful communications strategy helped the Surfrider Foundation mobilize a local grassroots effort to “Save Trestles”.

Below, watch the video, listen to the podcast or read the transcript.




Jade Floyd: It’s your final few hours at ComNet and you chose to spend it with us, so thank you. I’m Jade Floyd, Vice President of the Case Foundation and it’s my pleasure to welcome Chad Nelson. He’s the CEO of the Surfrider Foundation who’s gonna be with us this morning. Over 3 decades the Surfrider Foundation has engaged in a powerful California surf industry campaign, which includes billion dollar businesses in the Save the Trestles campaign, and they blended grassroots organizing through multi-channel engagement and through their communication strategies. So the Surfrider Foundation is dedicated to the protection and the enjoyment of our oceans and our beaches and they use a really powerful activist network. They were founded in 1984 by a handful of visionary surfers in Malibu, California. And today the foundation has over 50,000 members in over 90 chapters worldwide and we were backstage with the amazing team here at the theater. We learned that one of the stage crew is actually a member the Surfrider, so that was awesome.

Chad Nelson: Yep.

So let’s jump in Chad, and I want to explore a lot of the transformational efforts that Surfrider has engaged in over the last few years, but first I want to watch this video showcasing your amazing work.

Don’t look back or you’ll see a giant version of yourself.

I know. Well, while they’re queuing that up, how ’bout we start with a question?

Let’s do it.

I wanna know what sparked your personal passion for environmental work. Why beaches?

You know I had a really incredibly privileged upbringing. I grew on the beaches of Laguna Beach in Southern California and as I said to you, you know if you watched Flipper as a kid, that TV show that took place in the Keys

They call him Flipper, Flipper.

That was my life. I was fishing, I was swimming, I learned to surf. My dad was a scuba instructor, so I had this great life. As a kid, if you got a cut on your hand, my mom would say, “oh, just go in the ocean, it will clean it.” Over the course of my lifetime, that went from that to, “hey, you can’t go in the ocean if you have a cut on your hand ’cause it will be infected.” The surf team at my high school, we have a high school surf team, gets a hepatitis shot before they go out and surf because the water is so polluted. The other part of it was, I became a lifeguard at 16, and me and my buddies wanted to go out spearfishing. We’d go out spearfishing off Laguna Beach. Beautiful rocky reefs, and we couldn’t catch any fish. So, we’d go to the older lifeguards, and say, “What are we doing wrong, I guess we’re bad at this.” They said, “No no, you’re fine, the fish are gone. We fished it out.” I remember just thinking, “we took all the fish out of the ocean?” So watching sort of this little paradise over the course of my lifetime, two decades, go from being healthy to being sort of unhealthy was what motivated me. I said, “Okay, that’s not right.” I didn’t want to accept the fact that that’s the state that we were in, and it was this downhill path. That kind of started my interest in like, how do we solve these things. For example, now Laguna Beach has a no take, no fishing marine reserve that it’s had for about seven years, and the fish are back. It’s teeming with life, and it’s a great restoration success story. You can make change if you get engaged and solve these ocean and coastal problems.

Exactly. So fast forward a couple of decades. Today you’re CEO of one of the largest environmental organizations protecting our beaches. Tell us a little bit about Surfrider and the work that you do?

We are a volunteer-driven grassroots organization. We have 81 chapters in the United States. 90 in high school and college clubs. We have a chapter in almost every coastal state in the country. We work on 5 issues. We work on keeping the water clean, not only for the fish but for the users. We work on coastal issues like sea level rise and climate change. We work on ocean protection issues, whether that’s setting up marine protected areas or stopping things like offshore drilling, which is currently a big threat around the country along with plastic pollution. And last is we fight for beach access. The ocean is a public commons. Beaches in America are public space. In Los Angeles County the largest public open space – it’s a park-deprived county – is the beach. So, there’s a actual environmental justice angle to keeping these beaches open, free, and accessible to everyone.

So talk to us a little bit about some of the images that we’re seeing. I think that you know as we all are looking at what this campaign has embarked on over the past few decades. It’s really transformational and you’re able to really rally citizens across various communities. Communications is such a big part of that. So tell us a little bit about what we’re looking at.

So this is an effort to save Trestles, which is one of the best surf spots in the world. People travel from around the globe to come to this surf spot. It’s also the fifth most-visited state park in California. Its got endangered species. It’s one of the last natural watersheds in Southern California. They use the water quality there as the baseline for cleanliness in the Southern California region. It’s got Native American cultural sites. This is a magical place for a number of different reasons.

The county, Orange County, wanted to put a six-lane toll road through this pristine watershed, eliminate the state park, and have this come out at the surf spot, which would destroy the surf spot. So there were a lot of organizations that were worried about this. We were also told we couldn’t win. The road was already on the map. It was almost a $2 billion project. The money was there, why are we gonna fight this thing and it’s in our backyard? This is 5 minutes from our office, and one of my former marketing guys actually came up with a lot of the creative for this campaign, he actually said “you know, if we don’t fight this – I don’t care if it’s winnable or not – like why are we here?” So he was the guy, to his credit, Matt McLean who lit the fire. And then what he did – there was a couple of great lessons from this campaign – we had the most people show up for a water board hearing in history of the state of California. We had the most people ever show up for a coastal commission hearing in the state of California, 1500 people. And the most people ever show up for a Congress hearing. Thousands and thousands of people showed up at these hearings due to what he did. In the coalition that we worked in, which was part of the strength, we divided up the communications by sector.

Sierra Club. People love state parks. You focus on parks. Endangered habitats league, you guys focus on the endangered species that are there and talk about why that’s so important. Surfrider you guys talk about, get the surfers engaged.

And that’s amazing how you’re able to mobilize different networks. Yet you’re still on same mission. You’re still on the same message. Talk to us a little bit about how you built that coalition.

Yeah. That coalition was led by the California State Parks Foundation. They were amazing. It was a great example of people coming together with the same goal in mind, and having the presence and the ability to work together, to trust each other and say, “okay, you get this, you get that, you get that,” and it worked really well. So for our campaign, some of those pictures – we looked at the surf industry. We adopted a campaign that was kind of rock and roll and punk rock focused. We were riffing off the Sex Pistols and The Ramon’s and the lesson there to me was: Don’t bring the people to you, go to where they are. So the surf industry has that sort of rock and roll punk sensibility. There’s a culture of t-shirts and stickers, so we made those, and it kind of went viral in a really positive way. People were wearing our merchandise, they loved it. Then all the surf brands started making their own. That is when we knew that it had captured their attention, and that just had this amplifying effect, ’cause as you mentioned, there’s a couple billion dollars worth of surf brands headquartered right in this region. So they took it on, they have hundreds of employees, they bussed their employees, gave them the day off to come to these hearings

It’s amazing how you’re able to monetize. Is that a new revenue stream for you as an organization?

Yeah it was. It was the revenue and the message. It was sort of this win win. But here’s another one. Another interesting thing about this state park is it’s surfing was opened by Nixon. The western White House is on the Bluffs above San Onofre, so when he was president, in what was the western White House, he opened surfing. So, Nixon was a hero to the surfing community in Orange County despite all his other things. And Ronald Reagan established the park, San Onofre State Park. So here we are in conservative Orange County, we can take two of the icons, Nixon and Reagan, and talk about why this place was so important to them. So that was another way of kind of flipping the script so it wasn’t the tree-huggers versus the pro-development conservative Orange County people.

To cross party lines.


So I’m told we do have the video.


I think let’s queue that up.

So I love the message from that. What are you fighting for? Just last week you had a monumental, well 2 weeks ago now, you had a monumental victory. The US Supreme Court declined the appeal of a billionaire venture capitalist who was seeking to keep a popular beach locked behind the gates of his exclusive property. Tell us more about that case and the outcome.

Sure. It is an interesting case study on how not to do communications. So, there’s a billionaire tech entrepreneur. One of the founders of Silicon Valley, Vinod Khosla, founder of Sun Microsystems. He bought a 30-acre, $35 million dollar piece of property at Martin’s Beach. It’s not very far from here. Five miles south of Half Moon Bay. That property had been owned by the Dini family for 100 years. And they had a gate, it’s a private road through the property to the beach that had been open for 100 years. So people had been using this place for multiple generations. And so Vinod Khosla bought the property, locked the gate, and hired a security guard. There was a sign that says “Welcome to Martin’s Beach,” and he painted it over in black. It was local surfers and Surfrider activists who were regular users of this place who first noticed it. They went to go to the beach they said, “you know, what the hell is going on?” They called us, and that started – that was in 2010 – so that started this effort to get that gate opened, and that beach accessible again. The county told him he needed a permit. The California Coastal Commission told Vinod Khosla he needed a permit. We wrote him a letter and said “Hey, you need to open this road, let’s work together. I get it you want your privacy. Let’s find a way to make this work.” and his response was “Talk to my lawyers.” So we said okay. We sued him.

Suing a billionaire is not a small task?

No it was not. And you know it was interesting. It also was a incredible communications success for us. We could do no wrong. It was David versus Goliath. You had this guy, tech billionaire, you know the Zeitgeist in San Francisco is the “haves” taking advantage of the “have-nots.” This felt right into the current climate of affordability and privilege and all those things. So here’s the evil villain Vinod Khosla, a rich guy trying to steal access from the public. It also is an easy story to understand. The gates closed. It was open, and now it’s closed, and the solution is also easy right? Open the gate again. Get rid of the security guard. So this story just went nuts for us. Every time we had a day at court or a decision made, we would issue a press release but it didn’t matter, it just took off. So for us, it was definitely one of these stories where you’re like, “Okay, this just has all the ingredients to get the word out about these issues.” Our challenge was to explain that this is an example of what is happening every day across the country. That’s the part we tried to extend to it. Vinod Khosla on the other hand either didn’t have good PR people or else wasn’t listening to them. He was playing victim – apparently works at the Supreme Court but they did not work for him. “I’m being extorted by these surfers, this is so unfair, why me?” And that didn’t fly at all. No one is feeling sorry for Vinod Khosla.

So talk to me about some of the challenges that you faced in that campaign, especially when it came to communications. Obviously there’s a lot of intake coming in, and if I remember correctly, every single major network and tier-one publication wrote on this campaign.


And wrote on this Supreme Court challenge. So tell me a little bit about what was going through the pipeline internally at the Foundation, as you’re facing this potential crisis moment.

Yeah, well, you know it was interesting. The Supreme Court gets a lot of cases petitioned. They actually don’t take very many of them, so we felt good about that. He had hired a guy named Paul Clement, which is a candidate for the Supreme Court. So he had the best conservative, private property rights lawyer in the country writing his petitions. That made us nervous. And we also knew that if we had to take on this fight, 2019 planning was gonna be easy. This is all we’re gonna be doing. And so, we were waiting for the Supreme Court to make the decision. They had 3 options, they could reject it and we win, which is what happened. They could accept the case and then its battle stations or they could punt it for 4 months given all the chaos that was going on in Supreme Court. So, we knew this decision was gonna happen Monday morning at 9 AM. It was the Monday after the weekend that Kavanaugh was confirmed. So the Supreme Court was already in the media which was just dumb luck on our part. So we did have all 3 of those prepared. We had videos edited with the different messages. We were ready to say, let’s go with whatever those three messages were. And we did really have a good sense of which one it was gonna be.

As I hear you talk about this. All of us have our CEO’s and the principles that we work for at our respective entities. You have a passion for communications and you really see strong value in it. And you’ve really given your team the ability and the tools that they need to mobilize and to engage different networks. We all wish that we could have CEO’s like you. I have one like you, but not everyone necessarily in the Communications Network does. So talk to us a little bit, you know, those in the audience who may not have a CEO who really embraces, who gets it, who is pushing us to try new things, to experiment. How can they go back to their office and use this as a best case practice for how communications worked?

You know I guess that’s a really good question. It was kind of like with my wife, we asked “why are we doing this.” She was just like, “’cause it’s what I do.” So part of it for me, is I’ve always believed that this is the key to having success with your advocacy. I think with Surfrider, we’re blessed. We get to talk about surfing waves in the ocean. It’s a fun and easy story to talk about. People love that stuff. I felt like we were doing great work. We’re a kind of group that nobody really knows about. We have an interesting communication challenge, which is “oh, you’re Surfrider. It’s a bunch of surfers. I don’t surf. I can’t be involved.” So we’re constantly trying to tap into the sexiness of surfing but also have an audience that’s broader than that. We want to appeal to anyone who loves the ocean, which should be everyone. So I kind of always just believed in it. Sean actually invited me to the ComNet conference 4 years ago in San Diego. I had never heard of it. He wanted me to give the opening welcome on the beach, serving a cocktail party in the beach.

I remember that cocktail party.

“We need the beach guy to come welcome us.” So that was me. I was so pleasantly surprised by the community. How smart people were. The issues that people were attacking. So it was easy for me to dive in and feel part of the ComNet family. I would certainly share that with anyone else who’s leading an organization that it’s not only skills-oriented. It’s community-oriented. It’s also really inspiring. You can learn a lot from looking how – I listened to a Planned Parenthood talk and I can learn from that and apply it to ocean conservation.


I also think, one of maybe the upsides of the last two years with Trump is just the lesson on how communications can really alter things for good or for bad. So if there’s somebody out there that doesn’t think communications is important at this point

Maybe they shouldn’t be CEO.

I don’t know what to tell them.

Or President. So talk to us about what tools resonate the best. You use a lot of different engagement tools to mobilize those chapters and your members. Tell us what seems to be the most for you, in present day, the most impactful tools you’re using.

This is sort of something I think that ComNet is preaching, and you heard all week, it depends on your purpose and your audience. I don’t think we’re necessarily using anything that is particularly unique. Social media, ’cause I guess we have three different goals. We’re trying to raise money like any charity so we use email for that ’cause that what works. We heard about that yesterday. Social media is a great organizing tool on top of a great communications tool. For us certainly, our chapters out there are using social media. Not only to say “Hey, these issues are important,” but also “come to this thing, Saturday at 10 AM, we’re cleaning this beach, we need you at this hearing,” or whatever it is. I don’t think there’s any real rocket science about it.

But the end person is so important. It seems like that’s where you’re getting a lot of this action. People want to come together. They want to be there to clean up beaches. They want to be at those rallies. You send out a email and say be there or a Facebook message and they show up.

Yes, and actually that’s a great reminder. So there’s two things, I think, or three things that make that work. We make it fun. Serious issues, you gotta make it fun if you want volunteers to participate. We make it a community. They tell you if you want to exercise more often get your friend do it with you ’cause if you say you’re gonna be there at the park to workout at Saturday morning at 7am, and they’re waiting for you, you’re more likely to go. So building community, which is person to person, nobody wants to go testify at a hearing, it is boring. You sit for 3 hours to talk for two to three minutes. But if you’re there with 30 of your friends, then it’s fun. So building that community, I think is really key. Lastly, we make a difference. So we win. People want to get involved in causes that are gonna have an impact. So we measure that, we communicate that and they feel that. There’s nothing better than having someone who says I want to ban single-use plastic bags in my community. I don’t know what to do. You coach him through all this. They’ve never been to a city council meeting before. They’ve never testified in front of people before. We help them with that and then you got the phone call like we won. They’re so excited. They’re an activist forever.

An activist forever. That’s what we all need. So we have about 30 minutes left. I wanna make sure we leave time for folks in the audience to ask questions. I have a couple more questions for you. You celebrated your 30th anniversary this past year. So congratulations. It’s a huge milestone. Tell us what do you think have been some of the organizations most impactful initiatives thus far. I mean, you’ve had a Supreme Court victory. You’ve saved the Trestles. So much has gone on in this 30 years what else is really resonated with you?

You know, it’s interesting, for us, one of our metrics is of victory. So we train our chapters to run campaigns – local, state, and federal. A campaign has to have like a political decision that they want a yes or no. We have about 115 active campaigns around the country right now, across a huge diversity of issues. This is the power of like pushing the power to the outside and giving it to your chapters at the grassroots. We started counting these in 2006 which was relatively late in our evolution as an organization. We just hit our 500th coastal victory this summer. So that means 500 times, a local, state, or federal decision-making body made a decision in favor of the coast or ocean. It’s hard to pick, they’re all my children. I love all 500.

It’s amazing. 500, that’s mind blowing.

Yeah, and it’s really just a testament to the power of grassroots action. We bat above our weight because we train people to do this. We can barely keep up with what’s happening out there. A couple, I think, of the most significant wins was this Trestles campaign and Martin’s Beach campaign which we’ve talked about, which all happened recently. We stopped, Obama interesting enough had a plan to open up the Atlanta coast to offshore drilling from Georgia all the way up to Virginia. Part of his “all of the above” energy strategy, which was pretty concerning. So we rallied over two years to stop that, and he pulled that off the map and protected it. Which is interesting ’cause now Trump has proposed opening 90% of US waters to offshore drilling. It’s the largest threat to our coast and oceans in America right now. So the Obama campaign that we were fighting, actually was kind of like the dry run for this bigger fight. We had Congress against us then, but we thought Obama might – it was an executive decision, might make the right call. The fact that he pulled it off the map actually makes it harder for Trump to put it back on the map, so there’s some value in that. So that was another big win. It was particularly gratifying because it was bipartisan. We had over 40,000 businesses up and down the coast to support the effort. It was a campaign where everyone was against it. It was unifying in a way that environmental issues aren’t often, so that was pretty satisfying.

40,000 businesses? That’s a lot of brick and mortar stores. Mom and pop shops. Companies supporting you in the community. How do you mobilize them? How do you touch each of them within relative far distances across the shores?

Yeah. I mean a lot of it was through the chambers, ’cause the national chamber of commerce is actually pro offshore drilling, anti climate change. Very odd. If you go to the local chambers, they represent hotels and restaurants and beach rental gear. They don’t want offshore drilling. They have nothing to gain and everything to lose. So we got local and state chambers, and that’s how we got a lot of those numbers. And we could rely on their organizing to do that. We also, one of the things we did which is a great communications’ gimmick, is we have a surf board that traveled from Georgia up to DC. We had over 1,000 coastal businesses sign the surfboard. So we went from surf shop to hotel to restaurant. We have another one that’s going from San Diego to Seattle right now. It just got to Seattle. And we bring these surfboards covered in the signatures to DC and we do our fly in lobby days. Every Congressman and Congresswoman wants a picture with the surfboard and every time I show up in DC now, the first question is, do you have the surfboard. A little bit like Ann Richards story about her son. This surfboard has become this incredible symbol of what we’re trying to accomplish, and now these guys know who we are.

They all wanted it in their offices for the day.

Yeah. They wanna look cool with the surfboard. But it’s a great mechanism to get them to remember who we are, what we stand for, and that coastal business is with us.

Can you bring the surfboard to the Case Foundation office when you come to DC next?

I will gladly do that.

Okay great. So you’ve been really open about sharing that you punch above your weight. You guys have a limited budget that you’re working with. Tell us how you are accomplishing so much on a purse-string budget?

Yeah. I think part of it is tapping into the – we’re almost more like a network closer in some ways from a communications stand point to Patagonia than to an environmental organization. So we capitalize on the beauty of the ocean and the thrill of surfing and the ambassadors that participate in that sport and use them to kind of get to that side of the culture and I think that helps. The other is you know, I remember hearing about UPS, they said you know what is your number one communication vehicle at UPS, and they said “it’s our drivers” which makes sense, right? That’s their brand. Their brand is their drivers, that’s who we all interact with.

You see their outfit, you know exactly that’s UPS’s lady or man.

And so we have these 80 chapters, these thousands of activists, flying to Virginia today to work with our East Coast activists. So we train these people to speak on behalf of the organization and empower them to do that. It’s like we have 80 little community groups doing their own communications in their own communities, their own websites, their own social media and they’re out there being ambassadors for the organization. So that part of it is the magic. We can’t do that in our little office on our little budget but when we have thousands of people out as ambassadors for our cause they can.

And it’s a trust factor too? You have to really trust, that they are going to be sharing the messages that you are trying to put out there.

Definitely. And we invest a lot of time and energy in trying to train them and make them as good as they can be.

Can you talk to me about what some of the training aspects that come with it, that you’re trying to do in each community?

We train them on a number of things. How to run an effective volunteer organization. We have this big oil drilling campaign, so we’ll talk to them about the tactics for that campaign. Eddie, my marketing guy is out there. He builds these amazing toolkits that are accessible on our website, and they’re just open source. So we build tool kits so they can come in and take that information, build it their own and get it out to their folks.

That’s great. Before we wrap up. We’re gonna get – if there’s a couple questions, raise your hands. We’d love to have you engage with Chad. But I have a couple of fun questions?


I’m gonna call these quick fires.

Let’s do it.

What do you love the most about the ocean?

Surfing with my family.

And you have twin boys I hear?

Identical twin boys that are really good surfers. Much better than me.

I was gonna say, are they better surfers than you?

A lot better.

What is the best beach, both domestically and internationally, that everyone in this audience needs to got to once in their lifetime?

I’m biased. Laguna Beach, my hometown. I think has some of the nicest beaches in the world I’m a beach snob as a result of growing up there. So get down there. They are public accessible, the water is clean, and now they are thriving with marine life. And then on the global stage, my favorite place is the Joaquin Coast of Mexico. So Mainland Mexico, really down far south. Beautiful beaches. The scale in geography of the – what’s going on down there is just awe inspiring. Some of these beaches have 50,000 sea turtles coming in to nest on them. For me it reminds me of what wild healthy coasts can be.

So I hear you have a goal to surf every coastal state?

I do. I do. We have chapters in every coastal state so I’ve been trying over my time at Surfrider to surf in every coastal state in America and I’ve got five to go.

Five to go?

Maine, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.

Nice. What do you think is the greatest threat to our ocean? It doesn’t have to just be one thing, it can be a couple.

I think that there’s two answers to that question. I think that the greatest actual threat to the health of the ocean is climate change, which is causing acidification, warming and other disturbances. There’s a horrifying IPCC – International Panel on Climate Change – report that came out this last week. That says “Hey guys, sorry we were wrong, it’s actually much worse than we thought. No coral reefs on the planet by 2040 if we keep up the pace were going.” Which most of us will be alive to see which is horrifying. So, I think that’s the actual threat. But I actually think that the other way to look at it, is complacency. The ocean is a communication challenge. This is what I actually talked about four years ago in San Diego. I took a picture the first day I got here. If you go down to the beach right now, you look out and it’s beautiful. It’s blue on the top and it looks great and it’s really hard to see the threat because it’s happening underneath the water or at time scales that are too slow to observe. So unlike a lot of other crises where you can see it, it’s really hard to get people to sense the urgency of the threats for the ocean.

Audience, does anyone have any questions that you’d like to ask Chad. Right here, second row.

Chad Nelson: Hey.

Speaker 12: In line with what you were just saying about the ocean looking beautiful on the surface and having it be really difficult to communicate the challenges facing the ocean. A lot of people, I think, see coastal conservation and ocean conservation as a problem for coastal people and not for the vast majority of humans that live far from the coast. Do you see it as part of the purview of Surfrider to try to reach people who aren’t coastal people, who have businesses, or livelihoods, or even recreational interests in seeing ocean conservation succeed?

Chad Nelson: Great question. It’s a great tee up to the thing I wanna preview at the end of this, but the answer is yes. The beach is the number one tourist destination, vacation destination in America. So almost everybody goes to the beach. Coastal ecosystems, mangroves, and sea grasses absorb more carbon than rainforests or other places on the planet. And they’re a carbon sink, and the ocean produces half of the world’s oxygen. We all have a stake in healthy oceans regardless of where we live and getting that message out is challenging for sure. But something that, you know, we definitely aspire to do. We’re also a coastal people. If you look at a satellite map of the United States or the globe at night, it pretty much outlines the planet. So at least we have that going for us, that is in general, we move to the coast. So most people actually live – I think 40% of Americans live within an hour of the beach – so over the coast somewhere. But yeah, we do need to extend that message. We have members in every state in the country but we certainly could do better in getting that message out to the rest of the country. At the end of this I’ll show you our most recent attempt to do that.

Any other questions?

Speaker 13: Good morning. Thank you. I’m curious with the Save the Trestles campaign. You talked how you kind of built a coalition with like-minded non profits and other organizations and how you went about doing that and if you encountered any resistance. In particular, I think sometimes we run into resistance in partnering because they’re worried about losing their people to possibly another.

Chad Nelson: Competition

Speaker 13: Exactly.

Chad Nelson: Yeah. The competition is sort of a dirty word in all of our work and it’s something we should probably just face and talk about. So obviously I want every other ocean conservation organization in the world to succeed because I want the ocean to be protected. Just like any social group wants their other competing or partner organizations to succeed. But I also want the credit, I want the funding and I want the members and all those things. It’s an interesting push-pull. If you’re in the private sector, it’s just outright competition. Samsung wants to beat Apple in the phone game, they’re not trying to pretend to get along. So that is a challenge. This case, and in some other campaigns that we’ve worked on, I think one of the easiest ways to make that work – and it was certainly the case in the Trestles campaign – is the people who funded the campaign. They were the ones who pushed us to get together. They had a power, right? They’re like “hey, we have this pot of money to help you win this campaign or fight this campaign. We’re only gonna give it to you if you form a coalition and can work together.” And Elizabeth Goldstein, the woman at the California State Parks Foundation, was given the leadership role and she was amazing at being strong and straight-forward and keeping everybody in their lanes and ensuring we were working together. I think the funders have power and strong leadership and clear roles and responsibilities were the things that definitely made the day. Surfrider actually gets a lot of credit for this campaign. I think more so than the other groups, which we’re self-conscious about ’cause we delivered the people and we had this really creative marketing campaign that was so easy to latch onto.

There’s two more questions I saw. One here, and one there I believe.

Tonya: Hey Chad.

Chad Nelson: Hi Tonya.

Tonya: I was hoping that you would talk a little bit about your strategies for member growth and grassroots engagement since no one does it better than Surfrider?

Chad Nelson: Yeah. Well, thank you.

Chad Nelson: It’s interesting. Membership is challenging in this current era. In the old days you had to join an organization like Surfrider as a member to get the information. Usually that meant you got the newsletter and that’s how you found out what was going on. Now you have social media and websites and all these other ways to get that information. So our membership isn’t quite as valuable in that sense. It’s also source of political power, so every comment letter we write, “I’m from the Surfrider Foundation Charleston chapter in South Carolina, we have 375 members and we want this to happen.” We try to use that, I think, as a motivator to join. The activism and the membership aren’t as tightly linked as we wish they were. So, we have a lot of people who are showing up, and are doing the work. Rolling up their sleeves and cleaning beaches and being active that aren’t joining. That’s a gap we’re trying to close. And convince them “Hey, of course we want your $25 because it helps fund our organization. But more importantly I want you to join because I wanna be the NRA of coastal conservation.” I tell people if we get 1,000,000 members I can probably go visit the President.

You’ll have the ear.

Chad Nelson: Yep.

One last question before we depart? Alright. Well. I want you to know that I’m gonna be your newest Surfrider Foundation member.


I’m committing to that and make sure that I will spread the word and I believe everybody here will to. Before we depart, tell us what’s next. There’s so much going on. You’ve had 500+ victories. You’re at 90+ chapters. You’re tens of thousands of members. What’s next?

Great question. Thank you for that. I mean I should also say that over the last two years, we’ve seen an unprecedented attack on our coastal and ocean environment. Just like we’ve seen it across so many other sectors that were working on at this conference. Ours aren’t really getting a lot of media attention with the exception of Martin’s Beach, because these other issues are so arguably more important, more graphic, and lives are at stake. So, we’re trying to make sure that people know that the Clean Water Act is being attacked. This offshore drilling is an issue and obviously climate change and so part of what we’re trying to do is say, “okay how do we respond to that? How do we get more people in the country to think about the ocean as something that’s part of what their responsibility is to protect?” One of the things we found is people don’t, because the oceans are a commons, people don’t feel responsible for protecting them the same way they feel responsible for protecting their hometown or their local park or a National Park. So how do we create that sense of ownership and accountability. The United States actually has more water than land by area which also many people don’t recognize. So we have a huge amount of ocean that’s under the United States’ responsibility to protect and maintain. So as part of that we’re about to launch a new campaign, called the United States and Oceans of America.

It’s beautiful.

This is our flag that signifies that and really what we’re trying to do here is tap into people’s love of country and sense of patriotism and expand that. Thank you. Thank you. I’ll have to practice that. It’s new. So now I’ll know next time. So really what we want people to do is to tap into that – everybody sees this, the flag of United States of America, and it evokes something, hopefully positive, and flip that on its head and extend that responsibility out to the oceans ’cause they’re there, and we don’t really think about that.

We’re pretty excited about this. So far the people we’ve shown it to, they’ve responded to it really well. It’s an easy symbol for people to wrap their heads around. We’ll see if it causes controversy. It probably will. There’s the blue line flag and other flags out there. So you know when you talk about the flag – the other thing, hey the oceans are a commons, it’s a place for inclusivity, it’s a place where all are welcome. So if we really succeed at this campaign we’re also gonna reclaim patriotism and some of these other concepts that I feel like the far right has claimed. And signify sort of a bigger, better, broader set of positive values.

That’s great. We have a video, but before we get to the video and we conclude for the day. I wanna recap all the amazing things that I heard from you. One, you said backstage which was, we need to trust the science and believe in it. We really need to educate those about what the science is. Two, we need to build coalition’s and we need to build trust in each other Don’t bring the people to you go to where they are. That really resonated with me. You want to make serious issues fun. Ensure that people have a fun time doing whatever it is you’re asking them. And make it a community. Anyone make a difference. And the last few things that really resonated with me was that, if you have the push and the power to be on the outside, and that we all have to use ambassadors, and we all have a stake in creating healthy ocean. So thank you.

Yeah. Thank you.

And before we depart. I want you all to watch this. I hope you all will become members of Surfrider, and tell us how we can do that

Yeah. you can join us. We’d love to have you as a member. I should also add that we’re launching this campaign end of this month. Beginning of the elections cycle. They will really try to drive people to get out and vote and think about ocean issues when they vote. So that’s another call to action we and I think everybody else has. I’ve been telling everyone the most important conservation action you can take in 2019 or 2018 excuse me, is to vote.

Here, here. Alright let’s tee it up and let’s leave on this note. This gives us a little taste of what?

So, this is the video that is launching the United States and Oceans of America campaign to try to invoke that interest and excitement in protecting our oceans. Thank you so for having me much.


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