Combing the Coast with Surfrider

When I travelled to Spain on study abroad last year, I was shocked at the amount of litter I saw on the streets. I’ve been conditioned to pick up my trash and it appalled me to see people drop receipts and plastic bags, and just walk by them.

Even though disposable cups and plastic bags are branded as a North American evil, I realized that trash and waste is a global problem, and one that I hadn’t taken personal steps to combat.

I came back to Canada with a resolve to try to lessen my environmental impact and start attending more community clean-up events. I wanted to do my part to make the world a little cleaner after my travels, and when I saw that Surfrider Vancouver Island was hosting its Second Annual City-Wide Beach Clean-up, I knew I couldn’t miss it.

The Surfrider Foundation is a grassroots environmental group dedicated to the protection of the world’s beaches and waves with over 80 chapters worldwide. Each chapter recruits volunteers to participate in beach cleans-ups like this one.

I arrived at Willows Beach at 10 AM on Sunday to meet a bevy of volunteers; university students, families, surfers, hippies, and Oak Bay residents all came out to clean one of Greater Victoria’s most popular beaches. After a quick meeting with our coordinator, Naomi, we split into groups and began to comb the beach.

Even in mid-October, it was warm and bright. The sun beamed over beachside joggers and older couples with every variety of (expensive-looking) dog. Not unsurprisingly, Willows isn’t a party beach, unlike others, where common litter like beer cans and Solo cups are left by…uh…careless nighttime beachgoers.

Volunteers dig out a wrecked boat from Willows Beach. 

Still, I managed to collect napkins, Styrofoam pieces, various degenerate plastics, and even a few toy army men. But our greatest find came at the end of our trek; we found a dingy old rowboat buried in the sand below the high tide line.

We were feeling capable and competitive, and decided to try to extricate the boat and bring it back to our meeting spot. We managed to bail enough sand out of the boat to wriggle it out and flip it over. Triumphant, we lifted the boat up and paraded it back to our meeting point with the rest of our trash. A mass of fishing net, a strange iron hoop, and even half of a large plywood box also crowned our collection.

After our cleanup, we all headed over to Clover Point Park with our trash for snacks, a reception, and trash-sorting. Atlas Junk Removal was already at work sorting recyclables when we arrived.

Vancouver Island Chapter Manager Gillian Montgomery noted that the Surfrider City-Wide Beach Clean-up started last year with the push to ban plastic bags in the city of Victoria. “Last year’s [cleanup] was so successful that we decided to make it an annual event. This year, we’re focusing on cigarette butts, which are a major problem. They’re the last acceptable forms of litter.” At the end of the event, Surfrider Vancouver Island collected over 665 pounds of trash, including 35,000 cigarette butts, from 10 local beaches.

Atlas Junk Removal sorts the day’s collected debris. 

I couldn’t believe the positive energy radiating from the clean-up. Toddlers were rolling around in the grass; adults compared their best trash finds, and everyone with a reusable mug enjoyed a hot cup of Mile Zero coffee. I felt the warm glow of a group of like-minded individuals uniting to make a difference, no matter how many cigarette butts they were able to collect.

Even during a busy week preparing class papers and projects, it soothed me to meet other members of the community who love our oceans too. That spirit of community was more than evident when, foolish student that I am, I forgot my BusPass at home on the way to the event.

Naomi and her son offered to give me a ride home, even driving out of their way to drop me off by UVic. The generosity of a new acquaintance, the epic piles of debris we collected, and the beautiful day I spent with Surfrider will keep me coming back to beach clean-ups again and again. 

Feeling inspired? The next Surfrider Foundation Comb the Coast beach cleanup is Sunday, November 11th, 11 am-1pm, at Jordan River. Ride sharing can be found through the event’s Facebook page. Find more event details at

Group photo credit: Surfrider Vancouver Island

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