It's midday at Lower Trestles, and while there's a small city of temporary athlete lounges, retail shops, and judges' booths just a stone's throw away for the Rip Curl WSL Finals, it's not contest commentary that's floating on the gentle onshore breeze on the north end of the beach. Adelia Sandoval is leading Acjachemen elders in a beautiful melody sung in their native language while a few dozen volunteers and representatives from local land management agencies, conservation groups, and Indigenous collectives gather around them.
"We're singers," says Sandoval, the Spiritual Overseer of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians Acjachemen Nation. "Our ancestors sang for everything they did, from hunting to building houses to harvesting to gathering. The song today is an ask for blessings as we gather, just to make sure that we're doing it in a good way with the correct intention."
The intention today is two-fold: Acjachemen leaders and members of the Indigenous educational nonprofit Native Like Water are demonstrating traditional methods of harvesting tule to make mats while representatives from the California State Parks, Surfrider Foundation, and San Onofre Parks Foundation are teaching people to remove invasive species from the area. It's all part of the World Surf League's One Ocean initiative, which aims to spread awareness of environmental issues and elevate Indigenous voices in the surf zones that host World Tour events.
"I love that the WSL has this initiative," says Joe Fayer, Associate State Archaeologist and Tribal Liaison with California State Parks. "It's really wonderful to connect with all these local groups-the local Indigenous groups, the land agency, and others to work together to help educate the public. It's an opportunity to create something special for people."
After the opening song, the large group splits into two, with one grabbing curved knives, kicking off their sandals, and wading into the lagoon to harvest tule while the other grabs gloves and buckets to rip out the pesky, dune-colonizing sea rocket that has grown in small clumps between the lagoon and tideline.
"Sea rocket is part of a small subset of non-native plants that, if left to their own devices, could really take over and lower the native biodiversity overall," says Riley Pratt, Senior Environmental Scientist for California State Parks. "So those are the subset of plants that we focus on as resource managers to try to maintain the environmental quality of any habitat."
According to Surfrider Foundation CEO Chad Nelsen, the habitat surrounding San Mateo Creek is unique in this area, and protecting its natural state is not only good for biodiversity-it's also good for waves.
"This is one of the most intact watersheds in Southern California," says Nelsen. "What that means is that it's almost all natural upstream, so the water that flows down here is clean, it's one of the few places you can surf after a rain, and the sand and cobble that come down this natural watershed are ultimately what make the incredible waves at Lowers and Uppers and this whole stretch."
This isn't the first time that the Acjachemen Nation, Surfrider Foundation, San Onofre Parks Foundation, and others have joined forces to protect this beautiful stretch of coast. Back in 2008, a coalition of Acjachemen leaders and environmental advocates came together to stop the construction of a proposed 6-lane toll road that would have cut through the watershed, impacted the waves at Trestles, harmed local ecology and destroyed Acjachemen sacred sites.
"Being part of the [California Coastal Commission] meetings at Del Mar, being there in person still sends chills through my body about the impact that the Acjachemen made," says Acjachemen tribal leader Sean Acuna. For Acuna, nothing could be more important than protecting Panhe, the Acjachemen name for this area which once served as one of the tribe's largest villages. But considering Acuna is also a surfer, the significance of the waves was certainly not lost on him.
"For Native Americans, there's been so much loss of culture and homeland and language, so saving Panhe was a tremendous win that I'll always carry in my heart," says Rebecca Robles, Acjachemen Culture Bearer. "The lesson we should all take away is to not give up, to remember our relationship with the land, and that even with something as big as climate change, the only way that we can be successful is to acknowledge it, settle our differences and work together."
Heading north toward Uppers, the group of sea rocket wranglers have nearly topped off their buckets with the invasive plant-by all accounts, it's a great haul. Among the volunteers are pro surfers and Rip Curl team riders Alyssa Spencer and Erin Brooks, who have long appreciated the waves at Trestles, but are new to the invasive-species-removal game.
"I think that when you're more connected to the land and the people and learn more about the place where you are, you definitely feel a deeper connection to the wave and it makes it all just a little bit more special," says Spencer.
Back at Lowers, Kumeyaay surfer and Native Like Water member Shuuluk Leo-Retz sits in the sand, delicately weaving a string between green shoots of tule to bind them together into a 2-foot by 3-foot mat. Historically, tule was an incredibly useful material for Southern California tribes, and mats like these were used for everything from constructing dwellings to cradleboards for carrying infants.
"That's such a cool thing about this area in addition to the waves-we've got naturally growing tule not even 100 yards from the shoreline," says Leo-Retz. "So it gives you a little glimpse into how Indigenous people utilized all these different organisms and plants and medicines that we had access to. The beach wasn't just a place for recreation, but also for harvesting, raising families, and practicing traditions."
According to Steve Long, founder of the San Onofre Parks Foundation, the combination of the natural watershed, teeming biodiversity, and Indigenous history make Trestles a truly unique stretch of Southern California coast, and one that surfers should do everything they can to protect.
"When it comes to the management of this resource, we want it to be as close to natural as possible," says Long. "And when we can engage the public in an organized activity, we get this collaboration and awareness, and then we're sharing this with millions of people around the world. We're saying, ‘Here's the story of this place, and this is what we can do collectively to help it to remain as natural as possible.'"
To learn more and support the efforts of partners involved, visit the links below:
- California State Parks
- Surfrider Foundation
- Native Like Water
- San Onofre Parks Foundation
- To learn more about the Native stewards of your home coastline, click here
As surfers, the ocean is our sanctuary and our playground. Getting involved in protecting and conserving the ocean is critical for us today and for future generations. Join the "Speak Up for the Ocean" campaign and show us what you are doing to protect our one ocean. Here's how you can help:
- Record yourself doing a sustainable action. Big or small we want to see it all.
- Post your video to your socials, tag @WSL and @WSLOneOcean and use the hashtag #WSLOneOcean
- Celebrate all the people, communities and initiatives who are collectively protecting our one ocean
- Linked here is a toolkit of assets
- Search "wsl one ocean" as a "GIF" on Instagram stories to add fun stickers to your posts
WSL One Ocean is a global initiative supported by SHISEIDO and YETI.