Photo by Myles RobinsonScott Morlan has no problem getting students to enroll in his class. He teaches Surfing 101 at Newport Harbor High School in Newport Beach.
"They have a blast," he said of his 30 or so beginning-surfing students. "While 2,000 kids are in English class, we're out there on our boards in the sun."
But Surfing 101 deals with more than getting up on a board, keeping sand out of one's crotch and practicing proper inflections for the word "dude." Besides weekly shredding sessions at Blackies near Newport Pier, students learn lifesaving from city lifeguards, receive safety tips from the U.S. Coast Guard, and study tide pools with Crystal Cove naturalists.
The lesson that may do the most to shape their love of the ocean is the yearly beach cleanup organized by Stephanie Barger, executive director of the Costa Mesa-based nonprofit Earth Resources Foundation.
Barger, who befriended Morlan when both were involved with the Surfrider Foundation, has headed the trash drive for four years. After spending a class filling large orange trash bags with debris, students work with Barger in the next session, drafting letters to politicians and the media detailing their displeasure with the state of Newport Beach's beaches.
Two days after this semester's Feb. 15 pickup—at which they filled 20 bags in 45 minutes—students wrote the Weekly (see excerpts from some of those letters below)to say they found unopened cans of food, a plastic milk bottle filled with what they guessed to be a fisherman's pee, and a prescription bottle with the name and address of the former owner. (They sent the bottle to the Costa Mesa woman whose name appeared on the prescription but received no reply.) The youths saw dead seagulls floating in the water and, according to Kevin Potter, a 1980s-era, wood-frame television set bobbing in the water off the 56th Street jetty.
"We could have had a whole meal of trash," said Potter, pointing out that he and his classmates found a discarded tray, cups, silverware, napkins and wrappers worthy of a multicourse feast.
Finding discarded junk on the beach was nothing new to senior Heather Clark, an experienced surfer who serves as one of Morlan's teacher's aides. "A friend of mine got a hypodermic needle stuck in his surfboard," she said.
Several students said picking up other people's trash has made them stop littering and start confronting family, friends and even complete strangers they catch tossing crap out of cars or onto the beach without thinking.
"You don't have to be a kook about it, either," said student Mike Bellavia. "There are a lot of people holding trees and stuff, but you can just go and show your friends the trash."
"If these 25 kids start talking to their friends about the environment," Morlan said, "it'll have a trickle-down effect that's great."
Barger wants the class to launch a petition drive aimed at prodding the local Police Department to cite more people caught dumping trash that eventually washes into the ocean. That's fine by Ryan Bellerose, another teacher's aide. "I think there should be a way bigger fine for polluting," he said.
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Student James Hamilton believes the time has come for him and others concerned about the coast to stop picking up the trash themselves and start bringing polluters down to the shore to do the work.
"Getting fined is bad, but community service is worse," he said. "You have to wear the little orange jump suit and pick up trash and miss work. That would be more embarrassing than a fine."
All the students agreed that something more drastic must be done.
"Every year we pick up 8 million bags of trash, and by the next day, it's like we were not even there," said Clark. "I'm down there a lot. It's kind of depressing. It feels almost like, what'd I even do at all? Year after year after year, it's the same."