The day after authorities announced an oil spill discovered off the coast of Orange County, hundreds of people gathered at Ocean Beach Pier to raise awareness of issues affecting San Diego’s waters.
The 29th annual Paddle For Clean Water event, hosted by the Surfrider Foundation San Diego County Chapter in each of the past 30 years except 2020, was not held in direct response to the oil leak found this weekend on a pipeline passing near Huntington Beach. But as the initial reports of the spill shame surfaced, the event’s message seemed particularly relevant to many of its attendees.
“What do we want? Clean water!” they chanted. “When do we want it? Now!”
The event began as a protest in the 1990s against border sewage, but over the years it has grown into a water quality awareness gathering as well as a fundraiser for the Surfrider Foundation, organizers said.
The oil spill is just the latest example of why they are doing what they are doing.
“It really underscores the work we’re doing and the need to move from fossil fuels to clean energy,” said Mitch Silverstein, chapter manager of the Surfrider Foundation in San Diego. “This will continue as long as we depend on fossil fuels. “
As the organization organizes beach cleanups and lobbies for a variety of policies related to climate change, clean energy and the use of plastics, the biggest local issue is contamination of seawater by sewage that escapes into the Tijuana River valley south of the border, says Silverstein.
On Sunday morning, he led the volunteers and gave safety instructions to the 500 people he said took part in the paddle.
At around 10:30 a.m., surfers and paddleboarders waded through a swell on the north side of the pier before winding up to circle it and back again to the north side. Many caught waves on the last stretch of the paddle to propel themselves to shore.
The full tour took between 20-30 minutes, although some opted to stay in the water for more fun in the waves before returning.
Ally Senturk of San Diego Coastkeeper said this is her fifth year of paddling.
“I always underestimate how long it’s going to be,” Senturk said. “My arms at the end are finished.”
This year, she opted for a paddle board instead of a surfboard. It was easier this time around, the North County resident said, even though she was hit by a wave.
In addition to its activism in the water, this year’s event also strived to include community organizations that encourage Blacks, Indigenous people and people of color to surf and get involved in environmental issues. related to water.
It was a welcome difference from past events, said Risa Bell, board member of the Surfrider Foundation. Bell, from Mission Valley, is also the founder and executive director of Paddle for Peace, a group that started in 2020 and organized a paddle to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
“There’s always been this gap in surfing and environmental activism,” Bell said. “It’s predominantly white, and we need to start diversifying that.”
Among the organizations represented at the event was Un Mar de Colores, a local non-profit organization that works with youth in North County.
“For a long time, the ocean has had a story about what an ocean protector looks like,” said founder Mario Ordoñez. “We want to have a seat at the table and have a voice.”
Who is included in ocean protection was also important to Marc Chavez, founder and program director at Native Like Water.
Oceans conservation and environmental activism events often do not include Indigenous voices, Chavez said.
“As indigenous people, the original guardians of these areas, it is good to be represented,” said Chavez. “If you want to do justice to the environment, you also have to think about including native flora and fauna, and that includes us. “