It began on a rare wintry day on the Washington coast, when a handful of coastal conservation champions made the snowy trek to the Adrift Hotel in Long Beach for the first ever Surfrider Leadership Academy (SLA) alumni retreat. The goal of the gathering was to bring together the three graduating SLA classes from 2015-2017, to continue skills development, reconnect with colleagues, strengthen their professional network, and to chart the future of the Surfrider Leadership Academy.

Road conditions caused a minor delay to our kickoff but we eventually got back on track after everyone had a chance to fill their bellies with lunch. As some of the participants did not know each other too well, we began by having everyone share their Story of Self and how they have used the skills and knowledge they developed during their time as part of the SLA.

Following that, we brought in Kelly Rupp to talk about effective meeting facilitation and how to deal with disruptive personalities. Kelly’s drew on his extensive experience as he described how to create agendas with clear outcomes, arrange seating to fit the crowd, set ground rules, and keep control of a meeting even when it becomes contentious. Of course, Kelly wasn’t the only expert in the room, so he provided space for all the participants to share their own experiences and best practices.

After Kelly’s session and a short break, we focused on how to manage and structure collaboration. For part of this, everyone broke into small groups and and then shared out examples of successful collaboration. At this point, the sun was setting and we wrapped up the formal training sessions. That evening we had a delicious meal called the “Fruit de Mer” at the Pickled Fish that featured a wide selection of local seafood.

The next day was the real heart of the retreat. Using the principles of collaboration, we conducted two co-design sessions that focused on the biggest questions about the direction of the Surfrider Leadership Academy. The first one, which we tackled in the morning, was: what should be the goals and structure of an alumni engagement program? The second, which we covered in the afternoon, was: what should the future of the Surfrider Leadership Academy look like?

Three groups were formed for those sessions and they used a canvas to develop their visions. They were then shared with the entire group and then we distilled all three into one final product. There was a lot of content generated with this exercise, but the takeaways were that alumni are extremely interested in staying connected and supporting each other’s conservation efforts, and that there is still considerable demand and opportunity for additional Surfrider Leadership Academies.

At this point, we turned our attention to conservation priorities on the Washington coast. To start the session Gus Gates provided a presentation on “The State of the Washington Coast” that highlighted Surfrider’s current priorities and what we see as the most pressing issues to focus on in the coming years. That was then followed up by a crowd-sourcing exercise where we populated a wide range of coastal conservation issues that warrant attention. It had been another very long day of hard work, so we again wrapped up just before the sunset. That evening we had a great meal over at the Lost Roo.

Our final half-day together began with an overview of tools for communication and collaboration, including video conferencing, scheduling, using the cloud to share project documents, and an introduction to Slack. Next, we returned to the conservation issues we discussed the day before and discussed how the group as a whole might prioritize them in order to determine which would be best suited for the collective group to engage. We then developed a list of partners, and potential candidates for future leadership academies. At this point, our time was almost up and we concluded the event with a closing ceremony.

All in all, it was a superb retreat. New relationships were forged, old ones were rekindled, skills were honed, and a substantial amount of work was accomplished that will guide the future of the Surfrider Leadership Academy.