By Max Liboiron

The Surfrider Foundation’s mission “is the protection and enjoyment of oceans, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network.”
As it turns out, that means most of their work has to do with discards, waste and pollution. Litter, oil spills, wasting water, plastic trash, and chemical runoff are some of their primary concerns.

As groovy activists, they’ve developed a rich visual vocabulary that uses juxtaposition, animism, and other visual code switching to bring out the more absurd aspects of ocean waste and discards as “matter out of place.”

“Absurdity” derives from the Latin absurdusm meaning “out of tune.” The absurd is irrational, without reason, and is often contrasted with seriousness. The Surfrider Foundation uses absurdity in all seriousness, however, to make a sophisticated point about the bad reasoning that goes into ocean wastes. This includes bad reasoning in infrastructure, as when sewage systems dump directly into waterways, bad reasoning by litterers, and bad reasoning by industry and designers when they make disposables out of a permanent substance like plastic. If dirt, as Mary Douglas insists, is about “harassing one another into good citizenship,” then the tactics employed by the Surfrider Foundation can be described as a moral absurdity, where they “show” that individual, cultural and industrial practices can lead to an violently incongruous order that knocks the ocean “out of tune.”

This has implications for what the Foundation sees as ordered and unordered, natural and unnatural, just and unjust, but I’ll let you see for yourself:

Each year, millions of marine animals are killed by our rubbish. Sign the petition against marine debris at notonourbeaches.com

Our oceans aren’t the one only ones in danger. Make a difference. Join Surfirder.org.au

November. Surfrider calender.

In the sea there’s no such thing as a little bit of rubbish.

When we pollute the sea, we pollute for a long time. Help us to keep the ocean clean.

Fight pollution. Operation beach clean up.

Found on Redondo Beach. August 21, 2005.

What goes in the ocean goes in you. Recent studies estimate that fish off the west coast ingest over 12,000 tons of plastic a year. Find out how you can help turn the tide on plastic pollution at http://www.surfrider.org/rap

Unfortunately, the beach doesn’t clean itself. Cleaning days March 23rd, 24th, 25th

It’s not a dump. It’s a beach. Let’s keep it that way.

Our oceans aren’t the only ones in danger.

Our oceans aren’t the only ones in danger.

You might not see this as the quickest way to the ocean, bit in a 24 hour period, 329 million gallons of sewage is discharged into the waters off our oceans form places just like this. Demand clean water. Join the Surfrider Foundation.

Help us keep the ocean clean.

The sea is at risk of becoming uninhabitable. Join us before it’s too late.


Max Liboiron is a postdoctoral researcher with the Intel Science and Technology Center for Social Computing and the Superstorm Research Lab.