Paddle around Ocean Beach Pier pushes for clean water
The San Diego County chapter of the Surfrider Foundation holds its 29th annual Paddle for Clean Water the day after a big oil spill off Orange County.
The day after an oil spill off the coast of Orange County became known, hundreds gathered at Ocean Beach Pier on Oct. 3 to raise awareness about issues affecting San Diego County waters.
The 29th Paddle for Clean Water, presented by the San Diego County chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, wasn’t organized in direct response to the pipeline leak about four miles off Huntington Beach. But as reports of the spill’s environmental damage surfaced, the event’s message felt especially relevant to many who attended.
“What do we want? Clean water!” they chanted. “When do we want it? Now!”
The annual event began in the 1990s as a protest over border sewage, but it has evolved over the years into a rally for water quality awareness and a fundraiser for the Surfrider Foundation, organizers said.
The oil spill “really underscores the work we’re doing and the necessity to shift away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy,” said Mitch Silverstein, chapter manager for the Surfrider Foundation in San Diego. “This will keep happening as long as we depend on fossil fuels.”
Though the organization holds beach cleanups and pushes for a variety of policies related to climate change, clean energy and the use of plastics, the biggest local issue is the contamination of ocean water from sewage that leaks into the Tijuana River Valley south of the border, Silverstein said.
At the Ocean Beach rally, Silverstein directed volunteers and provided safety instructions to the people taking part in the paddle, whom he estimated at more than 400.
Around 10:30 a.m., surfers and paddleboarders splashed through a swell on the northern side of the pier before winding under to circle its end and return again on the north side. Many caught waves on the final stretch of the paddle to propel themselves back to shore.
The full circuit took 20 to 30 minutes, though some opted to stay in the waves for some extra time before going back.
The event also included a beach yoga session, bagels and coffee and live music.
Ally Senturk of environmental group San Diego Coastkeeper said it was her fifth year participating in the paddle.
“I always underestimate how long it’s going to be,” Senturk said. “My arms by the end of it are done.”
This year, she opted for a paddleboard instead of a surfboard. It was easier this time, she said, though she did get flipped by a wave.
This year’s event also strove to include community-based organizations that encourage people of color to surf and get involved in water-related environmental issues.
That was a welcome difference from past events, said Risa Bell, a board member for the Surfrider Foundation. Bell also is the founder and executive director of Paddle for Peace, a group that started last year and organized a paddle in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“There has always been that gap in surf and environmental activism,” Bell said. “It’s predominantly White, and we need to start diversifying that.”
Who is included in caring for the ocean also is important to Marc Chavez, founder and program director at Native Like Water.
“As Indigenous folks, the original caretakers of these areas, it’s good to be represented,” Chavez said. “If you’re going to do environmental justice, you must also think about including native flora and fauna, and that includes us.”
— Point Loma-OB Monthly staff contributed to this report.