Talk Story: Robert Zelkovsky & Barbara Weidner

The Surfrider Foundation is a worldwide organization aimed at ocean conservation and cleanup. It started in California 30 years ago when a group of surfers, fed up with the pollution in their waves, decided to take matters into their own hands.

In that group was Kauai’s Gordon LaBedz, who can still be seen meeting with some of the founders at the Surfrider Foundation headquarters in San Clemente, Calif., from time to time.

LaBedz and his wife, Diana, teamed up with Sheri Saari and Barbara Weidner in 2006 to start Kauai’s chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.

Surfrider Kauai spreads education about conservation, provides a platform for activism and starts conversations about ocean awareness at all levels.

The group organizes beach cleanups and Net Patrols, and now the its Blue Water Task Force has volunteers and citizen scientists testing water quality at surf breaks, in streams and in canals all over the island.

Weidner, currently the vice chairwoman of Surfrider Kauai, and Robert Zelkovsky, the organization’s media and publicity coordinator, sat down with The Garden Island last week to reminisce about the debut days of the Kauai chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.

So, how did it all start?

Barbara: For me, I got a Surfrider membership as a gift from my friend Shari Saari. She told me that it was the most rewarding thing I’ll ever do and she was right. It is really, really rewarding. We had our first event in 2006. It was Earth Day. Then, in May we had our first executive committee meeting in Kekaha.

Robert: We started off with about five or six members and maybe five volunteers, and now we have, between all of the activities that we do, probably about 30 regular volunteers. We have over 100 paying members on the island but Surfrider, worldwide, has about 300,000 members. We’re constantly getting more and more volunteers.

Why focus on ocean conservation?

Robert: You know, government can’t do it all. NGOs (non-governmental organizations) fill in the gaps. If they’re powerful enough, they can take the lead on some of the things that government, for whatever reason, can’t do.

There’s a war on the ocean going on right now — and I hate to put it that way, but it’s true. We’re happy to slow down and bring awareness to the ocean and its conservation. We’re about conservation activism, conservation awareness and all levels of ocean education. And we’re making a difference. We partner with a lot of other community organizations all over the island, too.

How much of a difference has Surfrider made on Kauai?

Barbara: Well, I’d say that the 38,000 pounds of the net we collected off the beaches on Kauai last year made a big difference. Our Net Patrol guy, Scott McCubbins, he joined us in 2013 and Net Patrol has really picked up since then. Last year we did 105 net cleanup events.

So we started the monthly cleanups and the Net Patrol in 2007, and then we started testing the water quality in the streams, canals and at surf spots with the Blue Water Task Force with Carl Berg. The first data sheet was out on May 12, 2007, and they were sampling about five locations. Now the Blue Water Task Force samples at 25 different locations. We were also really involved in the Superferry when it was coming to Kauai, and have also been in the whole Navy sonar issue.

Robert: Visitors also come and help us when they’re vacationing here and we get kids with Adventures Cross Country that come volunteer with beach cleanups and water testing. We’ve also got the 5th of July cleanup, that’s a big one every year.

What’s the secret to success for the Kauai chapter of Surfrider?

Barbara: It’s passion. Our core group is made up of people who have a personal commitment to conservation and who love our beaches, and who love Kauai. I mean, sometimes on a Wednesday afternoon when it’s time for Net Patrol cleanups, I’m really tired, but I always feel better afterwards.

And then our volunteers — they’re a really passionate group, and more and more people keep joining us.

Robert: It’s also our belief that personally, each of us can make a difference. We have a wide variety of volunteering opportunities, anything from net cleanups to food preparation, and there’s something for everyone. There’s a place for anyone who is intent on protecting the environment and the ocean.

Our message is that we can make a difference and you can be part of it.

What is on the horizon for Surfrider Kauai?

Barbara: We’re looking into sunscreen and how it affects the ocean, and we have two campaigns that we’re kicking off — the ocean-friendly gardens and the ocean-friendly restaurants campaigns. We’ll have more information on those as they develop. And we’re working on making Kauai Styrofoam free — starting with Kilauea. … That was because all of the businesses already were Styrofoam-free.

How can people get involved?

Robert: We are always looking for volunteers in all sorts of different areas and we accept donations of all sizes. We also have a membership, so you can become a member of Surfrider at different levels.

For more information on the Kauai Surfrider Chapter, visit www.kauai.surfrider.org or call Weidner at 635-2593.

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