You know the saying: Another year, another fantastic Surfrider Leadership Academy! Last week, the 2017 class of the Surfrider Leadership Academy gathered for their final retreat in Port Angeles. This year’s class demonstrated impressive development of their skills and ability to engage their community in the short period of time they were together, culminating in a really interesting group project that is teaming with potential. For this post, we’ll recap the journey this group followed. As a reminder, we shared a blog post recapping the 2016 Leadership Academy which focused largely on Marshall Ganz’s public narrative framework. Take a look if you need a refresher on that aspect of the program as we’ll mostly be focusing on other elements this time around.

We had a great amount of interest in this year’s academy. Many impressive individuals applied, making the selection process very difficult, which is a good problem to have! After much deliberation we finally settled on and offered the opportunity to the following eight individuals.

Meet the Surfrider Leadership Academy Class of 2017 (from left to right):

  • Natalie Lord – Aquatic Reserve Manager for RE Sources for Sustainable Communities
  • Rebecca Blasko – Human Resources Director for the Adrift Hotel
  • Kyle Deerkop – Selfish Farm Manager for Coast Seafoods
  • Johannes Ariens – CEO of LOGE Camps
  • Deborah Moriarty – Administrator for the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation
  • Audrey Lamb – Biological Project Manager with Taylor Shellfish
  • Sarah Bisson – Grant Coordinator and Development Officer for the City of Ocean Shores
  • Daniel Ravenal – Environmental Protection Manager for the Quinault Indian Nation

Like the previous two years, our first retreat was held at Lake Quinault. It is really an ideal location for several reasons. It’s centrally located on the Washington coast, making it relatively accessible to all participants, and it’s very peaceful, with a freshwater lake on one side and a rainforest with miles of trails on the other. Another perk is that cellular reception is very poor, so it’s a great place to disconnect from modern noise, focus on personal development, and get to know some fellow conservation minded folks who love the Washington coast.

Stuart Coleman dropping some storytelling knowledge on the 2017 Surfrider Leadership Academy.

For this year’s program, we had a guest expert for each of the three retreats. At Lake Quinault, we were fortunate to have Surfrider’s Hawaii Field Manager, Stuart Coleman, join us. In addition to being a superb organizer, Stuart is also a published author having written Eddie Would Go and Eddie Aikau – Hawaiian Hero. He was a natural fit to train the cohort on storytelling, specifically, developing and refining their Stories of Self.

The first retreat is also where the academy participants identify their common goal, also known as their Story of Us, that helps guide them as they develop their group project. The group settled on this as their Story of Us:

We are a network of empowered leaders and passionate stakeholders who care deeply about the heritage, culture and resilience of our Washington coast where we play, work and raise our families. Through education, we strive to create pride in our communities by building a legacy of conservation and sustainable economic development.

With their manifesto in hand, they mapped their professional network and identified who they would interview to gain a deeper understanding of the issue at hand and how they might be able apply their skills and abilities to make some positive change.

A fully armed and operational network map.

Several weeks later, the Surfrider Leadership Academy reconvened for their second retreat in Cathlamet in conjunction with the annual Coastal Marine Resources Committee (MRC) Summit. The primary objective of this retreat is to define their group project and share it with the community, in this case the coastal MRCs, to gather feedback, both positive and negative. As this would require speaking before a sizable crowd of stakeholders, and potentially elected officials, we brought Washington Policy Manager Gus Gates in to educate the cohort on best practices for public speaking and to provide legislative engagement tips. They put these skills to the test the following day as they presented their project prototype. After receiving great feedback from the attendees of the MRC Summit, they had just over a month to refine the project into a final product that they could present to their peers at the final retreat.

Gathering feedback from 2017 MRC Summit attendees in Cathlamet.

Last week’s gathering at Port Angeles was the pinnacle of their journey that began in August at Lake Quinault. When they arrived they still had considerable work to do on their 90 minute presentation. For this retreat our featured expert was Liz Banse with Resource Media who provided her expertise on fast pitch presentations, video storytelling, and general guidance as they prepared for their final presentation.

Despite the pressures of their looming big event, we still found time to further cultivate the deep personal connections and teamwork that was already at hand. The night before their big pitch, the group prepared a phenomenal salmon dinner together. It was a great way to informally collaborate and celebrate one of their final evenings together.

Did you know it’s legal to put bacon on salmon?!

Finally, the big day had arrived! Three years into the Surfrider Leadership Academy, the energy, visibility, and interest had reached a critical mass, demonstrated by the large and diverse crowd that attended the final presentation. The leadership cohort began by sharing their personal stories (Story of Self) before explaining why they collectively cared for their coastal communities (Story of Us). They then revealed their final pitch (The Story of Now).

Celebrating another successful academy with friends and colleagues at H2O in Port Angeles.

It is no secret that coastal communities face numerous challenges. Their economies are directly tied to the natural resources at their doorstep. They strive to be good stewards of their resources but at the same time face some of the highest unemployment and worst access to good medical care in the state. Despite the high unemployment, it is extremely difficult for local businesses, such as oyster growers, to find individuals who are willing to work in sometimes nasty weather conditions and at hours that are dictated by the tides. Essentially, despite their beautiful surroundings, and sustainable economies tied to natural resources, recreation, and tourism, there is a deficit of community pride.

Having some fun at Hollywood Beach on the last day of this year’s leadership academy.

In order to turn the tide on pride, this year’s leadership academy plans on launching a video contest in 2018 geared toward high school students that would highlight their local heroes. There are many known champions and heroes in these communities but their stories aren’t necessarily well known. Maybe locally and within their own circles, but certainly not to the larger world. These communities are filled with many fascinating people that have done amazing things in their lives and sharing those stories is a great way to celebrate them and develop community pride.

Open to all coastal counties, a yet to be determined prize would be awarded to best video. Many of the specific details are yet to be determined, but the general idea is that coastal MRCs would likely score their local entries. Finalists would have a showdown at the annual MRC Summit where the winner would be crowned. This year’s group will engage with coastal MRCs and the 2015 and 2016 classes of the Surfrider Leadership Academy as they continue to develop this program over the coming year. Make sure to check back here as we will provide updates and additional information as the project evolves.

Sunset at Lake Quinault.

Before we wrap things up, we’d like to congratulate this year’s graduates on their phenomenal work. And we’d also like to thank many of you for supporting the Surfrider Leadership Academy, especially The Packard Foundation and The Harder Foundation for their backing, as well as the acadmey alumni and the coastal MRCs. We couldn’t do this without you!