washingtonpost.com  > Metro > The District

The Dudes Of Clean Water

Surfers on Potomac Take On Pollution

By Cameron W. Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 22, 2004; Page C03

It must have seemed a strange sight to the joggers on the Key Bridge: 13 surfers bobbing on the ever-so-slightly rippled waters of the Potomac.

Just to give voice to the weirdness, one surfer yelled up from his board: "Hey, which way to the beach?" Another offered: "Anybody seen any waves?"


Ben Robinson of the District, left, and other surfers launch into the Potomac at Thompson Boat Center for the Paddle for Clear Water awareness event. (Photos Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

_____D.C. Government_____
Few D.C. Students Seek New Schools (The Washington Post, Aug 22, 2004)
Where Some See Eyesore, Others Eye Bit of History (The Washington Post, Aug 22, 2004)
Block by Block, Access Denied (The Washington Post, Aug 22, 2004)
Decline In Unwed Birthrate Attributed (The Washington Post, Aug 22, 2004)
More Stories
_____Free E-mail Newsletters_____
• News Headlines
• News Alert

There were no waves on the Potomac River yesterday morning, but the point was not to catch a break. The surfers were out for a paddle to raise awareness about the need for clean rivers and oceans.

The D.C. chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, an environmental advocacy group, has organized "clean water paddles" on the Potomac for a decade. Yesterday, nearly 20 people took to the water, most on boards and some in kayaks, and paddled from Thompson Boat Center to the bridge and back.

On the riverbank, Darryl J. Hatheway, a member of the foundation's executive committee, showed off a surfboard signed by scores of members of the House of Representatives to mark the passage of the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act of 2000, which requires states to adopt minimum water quality standards and to warn the public when water becomes unsafe.

Surfrider lobbied for the bill, which passed both houses of Congress unanimously.

Even so, Hatheway said, "we need to let people know that we don't have all the solutions in place." He noted that recent research has shown that efforts to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay may be less successful than once thought.

Wearing a T-shirt and flowered shorts, he said surfers are the ultimate environmentalists: "Surfers bring a whole different level of passion to our cause -- it's so much a part of our lifestyle."

Yesterday's event was a long way from the drama and grace of actual surfing. Matthew McMullen, 46, a commercial artist and skateboard maker, led his fellow surfers toward the Key Bridge, bellies on their boards and arms paddling in the water. A few kayaks kept them company. The going was slow.

After a rest under the bridge, McMullen propelled himself quickly enough to stand on his board for a few seconds. "When there are no waves, you got to make waves," he said.

Mike Brunnick, sitting in one of the kayaks, called the display the equivalent of a NASCAR winner doing a donut on the speedway.

Chants of "clean water" went up occasionally. Runners, cyclists and early-morning partiers on a moored motorboat watched the paddlers, who enjoyed a fish's-eye view of the Watergate Hotel, the Kennedy Center and the Washington Monument.

The surfers covered a little more than a mile. Back at the boat center, Amanda Lenhart shook her head at the prospect of paddling a surfboard to the bridge. She favors a scull with oars. "They're crazy," she said of the surfers.

The surfers were under no illusions that the water in which they were paddling and swimming was entirely clean. Braving the waters in a kayak, Jennifer Seggel spied her surfer boyfriend, Edward Eads, just as he dipped his hands in the Potomac. "Don't wipe your face, you freak," she admonished him. He did anyway.

Later, he shrugged his shoulders at the possibility of "a little illness for clean water."

Drying off on the riverbank, McMullen acknowledged that he was looking forward to a shower. "I'd like to hose off right now," he said.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company