by John Hasse

On Sunday, October 6th, 2019, as the sun rose over a beautiful, bluebird day in the funky neighborhood of Ocean Beach, where hippies mingle with land-locked inhabitants seeking respite from the hot, dry Santa Ana winds, an almost 30-year tradition to raise awareness about the ongoing battle for clean water and a healthy coastline began anew. Hosted by Surfrider’s San Diego Chapter, the Paddle For Clean Water Event is a hallmark in the San Diego community, as ocean lovers from around the county come to enjoy beach-side yoga, fantastic music played by local artists, tasty food and lots of good vibes. 

This year’s event was no exception, as more than 100 folks joined in for the 9am yoga class, led by Ashley from local yoga studio, Reunify. Soaking up the sun’s warming rays, Ashley’s grounding words, and the mellow strums of an accompanying guitarist, the tone for the day soon became clear – we need more peace, unity and love in our world and a great many of us draw this feeling from the ocean, which is unfortunately becoming ever-increasingly polluted and degraded.

Similar to many coastal cities, San Diego has a highly developed watershed with a slurry of water quality problems associated with stormwater runoff, sewage outflows and aging sewage infrastructure. San Diego is also a border town, neighboring the Mexican city of Tijuana, whose rapid population growth has outpaced its infrastructure capacity, causing frequent sewage spills into international coastal waterways.

In addition to spills, more than 20 million gallons of sewage per day are discharged into the Pacific Ocean just five miles south of San Diego’s border with Mexico. This partially treated effluent regularly flows north and pollutes beaches in southern San Diego County during the summer, as sewage contamination problems are so severe and frequent that beaches in the southernmost town of Imperial Beach were closed for roughly half of every year from 2015 to 2017. Fortunately, the Surfrider Foundation San Diego Chapter’s Blue Water Task Force has stepped up in a big way by providing water quality information to expand the coverage of agency water testing programs in an effort to empower and engage the local community to protect their local beaches and raise awareness of regional water quality issues. 

Following their stretch session, event-goers enjoyed some of Surfrider’s own sustainable-sourced (and delicious!) coffee accompanied by a bevy of bagels and fruit, as the hundreds of soon-to-be paddlers grabbed their craft of choice and prepared themselves for the day’s main event. Touted as the largest non-competitive surf event in California, the 2019 Paddle For Clean Water was no exception, as over 500 participants paddled their surfboards, SUPs, kayaks and other surf crafts around Ocean Beach’s iconic 1,971 ft. pier – the longest on the West Coast – to show their support for cleaner oceans and healthier beaches both in San Diego County and around the world.

As paddlers made their way out around the pier in the unseasonably warm October waters, rallying cries sprang up like popcorn. “What Do We Want? Clean Water!! When Do We Want It? Now!!!” Surfers of all different ages, backgrounds and abilities joined their efforts together as onlookers cheered them on from the pier above.  Following an impressive set of 4, 5 and even 6-person party waves, the paddlers returned to the beach for a short update from the SD County Chapter’s volunteer Program Leads. Information about everything from border water issues to beach cleanups to ocean friendly restaurants, members of the tightly knit chapter implored the event’s attendees to get involved in whatever way most spoke to their skill sets and their passion for the ocean.

Information about everything from border water issues to beach cleanups to ocean friendly restaurants, members of the tightly knit chapter implored the event’s attendees to get involved in whatever way most spoke to their skill sets and their passion for the ocean.

Following the Program Lead updates and a quick group photo with all of the paddlers, the event shifted into its final phase – all out fun! Starting with the raffle, in which boards, bikes, tasty food and sweet surf swag were given away, things quickly picked up steam as food vendors fired up their grills and Paul Canon and Iron Sage Wood took the stage. As the afternoon wore on, the temperature turned summery and the good times kept rolling, as local favorites, Band of Gringos took the stage to bring down the house with an epic set. 

In the end, the 2019 Paddle For Clean Water Event raised over $12,0000 thanks to the generous contributions of the event sponsors, donations form a peer to peer fundraising campaign, along with some sweet merchandise sales. Not only this, but the event also raised a huge amount of awareness to the San Diego community about the threats to clean water and the solutions that The Surfrider Foundation San Diego County is putting in place to address them. Needless to say, I know I’m not the only one already looking forward to doing it all over again in 2020 at next year’s event.