Portsmouth Herald, Friday July 18
Surfer dudes organize beach cleanup
On the Waterfront Archives
When film-maker Ben Keller and surfer Peter Slovinsky first met at
"Doc's," a surf break near Kennebunkport, on a bitter-cold mid-winter day
this year with a foot of fresh snow covering the sand, they had no idea it
would lead to this Sunday.
The Northern New England Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation is hosting
two local events this weekend.
The first event is a beach cleanup on Saturday morning in Wells. The
second is the premier of "Ishmael," a documentary film by Ben Keller
about New Englanders' relationship with the ocean and winter surfing, at
Muddy River Smokehouse in Portsmouth on Sunday evening.
Believe it or not, beach clean-ups can be fun; they're always satisfying.
The Wells Beach cleanup will run from 9 to 11 a.m. Volunteers will meet
at the jetty parking lot (south side) at 9. Coffee, bagels and donuts will be provided to fuel the
troops, as well as plastic and latex gloves. Volunteers will break into small groups and tackle a
two-mile stretch of sand between the sea wall and the jetty.
"We worked with the Wells town managers," said Peter Slovinsky, volunteer coordinator for the
NNE Chapter, "and they're pretty happy about it."
The town of Wells drag-rakes the beach with a tractor during the summer, same as the town of
York at Long Sands Beach, "but that only gets the big stuff," said Slovinsky. "Cigarette-butts, bits
of plastic and Styrofoam get left behind."
It is truly shocking what people dispose of on the sand. As I walked across a narrow stretch of
Long Sands toward the water late in the evening last week, I passed a mini-dump: the discarded
wrappings and white Styrofoam containers of an entire fast-food banquet. It was simply left
there on the beach at the end of the day, either for someone else to clean up (me, in this case)
or for the ocean to take. Water littered with floating trash must be normal for some people.
Thankfully, a tidal wrack-line full of litter is rare around here, and the local chapter of the
Surfrider Foundation is determined to keep it that way.
The Surfrider Foundation is an international nonprofit environmental organization. Their concern
and mission is simple, but vast: The protection and enjoyment of the world's oceans, waves, and
beaches, for all people, through conservation, activism, research and education. It was founded
by surfers 20 years ago to fight water pollution in California. Surfrider has grown since then into
a strong organization with 57 local chapters and more than 30,000 members worldwide.
The Northern New England (NNE) Chapter covers the Maine and New Hampshire coastlines and
is less than 2 years old. They are involved in local water quality testing, storm-drain identification
and stenciling, beach cleanups, the implementation of dog-doo cleanup stations (handily placed
All of this takes some money, of course. "Some of the grants we get are matching grants," said
Slovinsky, "and we need to have something in our checking account for that and newsletters
The second Surfrider event is a fund-raiser, membership drive, and film premier at Muddy River
Smokehouse in Portsmouth on Sunday from 5 to 9 p.m. In addition to information about the
organization and the state of our local waters, there will be the crucial raffle of surfboards,
wetsuits, ski-tickets, and gift certificates.
Headlining the event is the premier of Scarborough, Maine, film-maker Ben Keller's surf
documentary "Ishmael." The film features interviews with and footage of 10 avid winter surfers
(is there any other kind?) from Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
"It is a documentary about people who love the ocean, who are drawn to it," said Keller who
looks for connections between the call of the sea that inspires winter surfers today and the call
of the sea that has pulled New Englanders from their fields for centuries.
"Ishmael' really captures the depth of surfers' relationship to the ocean in northern New
England," said John Faherty, chairman of the NNE Surfrider Chapter, in a press release for
Sunday evening's event. Many of the featured surfers are Surfrider members and several are
"Ishmael" is the fourth film produced by Dubious Honor, Keller's 10-year old media company. "It is
my most ambitious and well-produced project so far," he said.
His chance meeting with Slovinsky on the beach this winter set wheels in motion that led to
Sunday's joint venture. "Surfrider is a positive force in the world of surfing," said Keller, "It was a
natural to hook up with them.
"Ishmael's" premier arrival in Portsmouth is reminiscent of the early days of surf-films when the
film-makers themselves promoted and toured their movies up and down the coast. Even Bruce
Brown's famous "Endless Summer" had a low-budget start, beginning its life in a tiny theater in
the Midwest and driven from town to town by those involved in its creation.
It is easy to forget that prior to videos and DVDs, movies came through a theater once and that
was that. For surfers, the rare arrival of a real surf film - one made within the surfing community,
instead of Hollywood horrors like "Gidget" and "Beach Blanket Bingo" - was greatly anticipated.
The resulting gatherings of what has always been a motley tribe of independent spirits are
etched in the memories of the previous generation of surfers and have been eulogized by
surf-lore historians of late. Surfrider's event on Sunday is a harkening back to such gatherings
and the early days of surfing's film presence.
It is also a look forward by a recently-formed group of passionate and involved shore stewards
toward the health and future of the waters that define our region - the Seacoast.
"My hope for this event is to get people interested in Surfrider," said chapter marketing chairman,
Seth Balliett, who spearheaded Sunday's event. "This is about getting word out," he said. "If you
see trash, pick it up."
Nicholas Brown is a free-lance journalist, boat-carpenter, and Navy veteran. For more