Saving the ocean? All in a day’s work

All photos courtesy of Alexis Henry.

All photos courtesy of Alexis Henry

From the moment Alexis Henry begins to speak, it becomes clear she's engrossed in her work on a level that goes beyond a paycheck. She's also the first person you notice when you walk through the doors of the Surfrider Foundation's San Clemente, California, offices, and that's not because she's already beat you there, ushering you inside with a welcoming smile. It's because Alexis is tall. Really tall. Tall in a way that commands the attention of everyone around her, a fitting attribute for someone whose job is to draw attention to environmental issues threatening our oceans and waterways. As eloquent over the phone as she is in person (even when the topic diverges to—ahem—fecal matter. No really, it's relevant) here, Henry walks us through a day doing some very important work:

What you do for Surfrider?

I'm the communications manager, so I oversee the majority of all the communications for the organization from a 30,000-foot level, working and establishing media relationships. The same goes for celebrity, tastemaker, and athlete relationships. I create a lot of content, so anything you read in the blog—I'm curating and creating that content. My job is make sure all of our messaging is appropriate. I also work with different local chapters, so if there's a chapter with a local issue that will have a lot of media inquiries about a specific campaign, I make sure they're prepared and well-versed in everything from giving an interview to working with reporters. No two days are the same. I come in say, "I'm going to get this, this, and this done," and then there's an oil spill and I'm like, "OK, well that's not getting done today!"

What's the dynamic at the office like?

Our staff is about 35 to 40 people, and then we have an additional 15 or so out in the field working with the chapters. It's a fun environment; we're a giant family. A lot of us have been working together five years or more, so we've been there through marriages, birth of kids, everything like that. We play hard, but we work really hard, too. The campaigns that we're working on can range from assisting a chapter to working on the litigation side with lawsuits, so everyone's working really, really hard. But then we like to take time out and go surf on Wednesday night at San Onofre. We used to have a Thirsty Thursday Instagram contest, so then we decided Thirsty Thursday in the office would be fun, too. We have some excuses to pull away from our desks and reconnect and talk about something other than what the tasks are at hand.

Alexis rubs shoulders with Joan Rivers at a Surfrider event.

Alexis rubs shoulders with Joan Rivers at a Surfrider event

What are some of the causes Surfrider works on that really resonate with you?

One of the first campaigns I jumped onto when I started there was the Save Trestles campaign. Being at those hearings was so eye opening. The fact that the results have been going in our favor helps a lot, too. Another campaign I was super involved with was our Stop Seismic campaign, which had to do with potential seismic testing off the central California coast. That kind of flew under the radar and came onto our plates two weeks before a coastal commission hearing about it, so it was one of those all hands on deck, go go go, two-week things with another favorable outcome. I also really enjoy our clean water campaigns, because I think almost anyone who enjoys the beach wants clean water there, and it's something everyone can be passionate about. That and public beach access—everyone has a right to the beach.

Are there certain events that get the whole staff out in the field?

Once a year the whole staff gets out on International Surfing Day. We participate in the beach cleanups, and then of course go surfing, which we all love to do! It's tough with so many people and schedules and family life to get us all out together!

Which are some pressing environmental issues that you guys deal with that maybe we don't hear much about?

I think overall one of the largest issues is water quality. There are so many people who don't realize that the oil leaking form their car will eventually enter a storm drain, which then drains into the ocean. Or they're walking their pet and their pet poops—but they think, “Oh it's so far away fro the ocean, it doesn't matter.” But everything is connected. The runoff from fertilizers will eventually get into our water supply or float into the ocean. People need to realize it's sea to summit. If you leave trash on the mountain when you're skiing, well, when that snow melts, it goes into a river, which eventually drains into the ocean.

"It's summit to sea," says Henry of how waste enters our waterways.

“It’s summit to sea,” says Henry of how waste enters our waterways

Like they say in hiking; pack it in, pack it out. That goes for fecal matter, too.

Yeah, exactly. Do what you do with your animals, then put it in a plastic bag! I know it's not good for the wildlife either.

What's something we can do immediately to make an impact on water quality?

Don't litter. Pick up your trash, and if you're at the beach, pick up other people's trash. I also tell people to resist using single-use plastic bags at the store, and the same goes for water bottles and coffee mugs. It makes more sense to brew your coffee at home and take it in your reusable mug. Take a mug to the coffee shop, it helps, it doesn't hurt. Pick up after your pets, going back to our poop conversation, and if you're car is leaking oil, fix it. Those are really simple things people can do immediately.

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And when you aren't hard at work saving our oceans, what are you up to?

In the winter I'll be snowboarding at Mammoth [in California]. I logged 30 days this past season, and the goal for the next one is to get more than that. Fingers crossed there's a lot of snow! In the summer I'm at the beach, either attempting to learn to surf still, or I just did a standup paddleboarding session for the first time in Huntington Harbor, so you'll find me more in the still water paddling around. I go and hike in Laguna Canyon, all that outdoor stuff. Oh and yoga, I'm always doing yoga.

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