Portsmouth Herald, Friday July 18

Surfer dudes organize beach cleanup

Nicholas Brown, 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 bag-dispensers).

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 and mailings."

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.

"ŒIshmael' 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 chapter board-members.

"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 information: www.nnesrfriderchapter.org.