Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Great Lakes surfers hit the environmental action waves

By HALEY WALKER
Capital News Service

Great Lakes surfer

Source: Ingrid Lindfors

LANSING — As a father and as a Grand Haven resident, Vince Deur said it’s natural for him to care about the future of the Great Lakes.

But that’s not what brought him to Capitol Hill last year to talk about water quality.

Deur is a surfer and founder of the Lake Michigan Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit group linking surfers to environmental causes.

The organization has 90 chapters and 50,000 members worldwide. Deur’s chapter represents some of those who surf hundreds of miles from any ocean.

The Healing Our Waters Coalition, a group of organizations working to restore the Great Lakes, invited Deur to lobby in Washington on Great Lakes Day. He was the only surfer among 100 business leaders, lobbyists and activists discussing the restoration and protection of the lakes to members of Congress.

“The act of surfing is one of the most intimate ways of interacting with the environment,” Deur said. “Chasing waves and surfing in all kinds of weather requires you to be an amateur meteorologist, and for me, this was a natural step to want to do more things for the environment out of respect for being able to enjoy this pastime.”

Surfers working to protect a popular surf spot in California established the foundation. Today, it promotes water quality, beach preservation, and ocean and ecosystem conservation around the world.

The foundation also works on educational outreach. For example, its Respect the Beach program teaches K-12 students about coastal ecology. Another program teaches people to create environmentally friendly gardens that reduce pesticide and fertilizer runoff.

The Great Lakes attracts surfers from around the world, and there’s now an association and a magazine dedicated to the sport in the region.

“More awareness of lake surfing over the past year or more in the media has definitely increased people’s interest,” said Mike Killion of Chicago, editor of Great Lakes Surfer Magazine. “However, it does require much dedication to surf in -20 air temps, with ice in the water.”

One of the Lake Michigan chapter’s largest projects has been raising funds to test water quality during the surfing off-seasons of September through December and March through May. Members of the chapter are working with Grand Valley State University’s Annis Water Resource Institute and the Norcross Wildlife Foundation in Massachusetts on the initiative.

“We want it to be clean so we don’t get sick,” said Ingrid Lindfors, co-chair of the Lake Michigan chapter. “Most surfers are very conscious about their surroundings and nature.”

Scientist Matt Cooper at the Annis Water Resource Institute said the tests are mainly for e-coli and entercoccus, two bacteria known to cause illness in humans.

The foundation also promotes open access to the world’s beaches for low-impact use.

For example, Lake Michigan chapter was also successful at getting four Chicago beaches open to surfing. The group wrote letters and sent e-mails to city officials after a surfer J was arrested for violating the city’s 30-year ban on flotation devices, which includes surfboards, according to Deur.

Deur said he was inspired to act regionally after traveling as a filmmaker. His film “Eco-Warrior” follows surfer and activist James Pribram through the Canary Islands, Chile, New Zealand, Spain and Japan, documenting the environmental problems threatening coastlines throughout the world.

Deur saw pulp mills in Chile dumping their waste into the ocean and the construction of marinas in New Zealand and Spain harming reefs and ecosystems.

“I watched guys stand up to parliament in New Zealand to stop this marina development from ruining the estuary as well as the surf break,” Deur said. “It was the experience in covering those stories that motivated me to take action here.”

In 2005, he released “Unsalted,” a film about surfing in the Great Lakes. It has since been used by the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, the Sierra Club and Clean Water Now, a coalition for the protection of aquatic resources.

“All these groups have used the film because it is an educational piece about what is so beautiful and magical about the Great Lakes,” he said. “It takes a pretty good geographical look at the region; it’s not just a surfing film.”

To Deur, it’s obvious why surfers would also be environmental activists.

“When you connect a personal passion to a larger cause, you can see the direct benefits, and you can draw those links,” he said.

Haley Walker writes for Great Lakes Echo.
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