Social Beings

The San Diego Surfrider Foundation Chapter watching a presentation on the patio of Culture Brewing Co in Solana Beach. Photo Credit to Olivia Roberts

There is a driving force behind most things humans do. This was theirs. 

Around the gathering, ages ranged anywhere from those in their late twenties to those glancing at what their seventies would look like. Some wore Hawaiian shirts, Patagonia puffer jackets or button-ups. Others wore flannels, flip-flops or dress shoes. Despite the differences, conversation filled the time and lingered into the official start time of the gathering.

Some came in pairs, most in groups and a few alone as they funneled into Culture Brewing Co, a local brewery in Solana Beach, on a Tuesday night. As they made their way through the brewery and out onto the patio, they were met with a welcome table asking them to sign in and make a nametag for themselves. For many, this wasn’t their first time practicing this routine, but for some, it was the first sense of belonging. 

What brought everyone together on April 2 was the first San Diego County Surfrider Foundation Chapter Meeting of the year, hosted by their Climate Change Committee. Though this was their first official meeting of the year, familiar faces reflected on their time just a week prior when they came together and marched along Carlsbad Boulevard to protect the endangered stretch of beach between the State Beach campground and Terramar Beach. 

For Elaine Brodie, a Carlsbad resident, the march had been her first time attending a Surfrider Foundation meeting, yet, introductions from the previous event carried into this one. 

As the meeting commenced, conversations continued at a whisper, hands clapped in applause and more welcomes were given. Joana Guerra, the chapter manager, acknowledged first-timers and apologized to the couple in their 20s in the back who happened to be on a date when the crowd crashed the patio of the brewery. 

Even with the presentations, speeches and talk of policy changes, the two on the date stayed. Bodies shifted toward the group to focus on what was being said.  

“We were just talking about how there aren’t many community-based things in Encinitas, so it intrigued us,” said Juliet Buck, who happened to stumble upon the Surfrider Foundation meeting. 

Buck and her date, Anton Navazo, made their way to the welcome table mid-presentation to discover more about what the group had to offer. After reading a few fliers and talking with a staff member, they grabbed a pamphlet and sat back into their seats to listen to the rest of the presentation.

Something was drawing the two to this organization. The foundation doing good things for the earth and others was a plus, but for them, it was the community that peaked thier interest. 

Humans have an inherent draw to being in communities and a social environment, it’s how we’re wired. 

“Structures in the brain, collectively described as the ‘social brain network,’ work to manage our moment-to-moment interactions with other people,” said Michael Platt, Penn State professor of neuroscience, psychology and marketing, in an Omnia article. “In individuals who have more friends, the social brain network is larger.”

The human brain functions and grows best when it isn’t isolated, and the attendees of the Surfrider Foundation San Diego County chapter show this best. 

As the presentations came to a close, a space opened up for those who had questions regarding the topics discussed. Unlike most classroom settings following an hour-long presentation of someone talking at you, multiple hands shot up. People were engaged and wanted to know more. 

Still, the excitement of the night seemed to be when there was no presentation or talk of the foundation at all. The official meeting ended, but everyone stayed. It was 8 p.m. on a Tuesday and not one person rushed off. They were all there to be alongside one another, even if it meant random small talk. An introvert’s worst nightmare. 

But, the facts are that even the introverts of this world need community. 

“Across many studies of mammals, from the smallest rodents all the way to us humans, the data suggests that we are profoundly shaped by our social environment and that we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed,” said Matthew Lieberman, a University of California, Los Angeles professor of psychology, psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, in an article for Scientific American. “We may not like the fact that we are wired such that our well-being depends on our connections with others, but the facts are the facts.”

This was true even for the man who found himself standing alone and scanning the crowd at the end of the meeting. Looking around, he saw groups of people in circles greeting one another or catching up. Hesitantly, he walked toward one circle, and as he did, the circle widened, inviting him into the conversation. He stayed there talking for the remainder of the night despite his body’s natural reaction telling him to isolate.  

What aided this internal battle was the kind of people that filled this community. 

“Surfers and white men” is what Joanna Guerra hears most when asking people what they think of when they hear Surfrider. 

“Do I look like a white dude? I actually don’t even surf,” said Guerra. She is neither white nor a male. Growing up a ten-minute drive away from the US-Mexico border, she was never introduced to surfing as a hobby but still experienced the gift of free beach access. 

Udo Wahn, a member of the Surfrider Foundation since the 1980s and surfer for “all his life,” currently serves as the executive committee vice chair for the San Diego Chapter. 

Despite Guerra and Wahn’s polarizing backgrounds, the two work alongside each other, not just in a productive way, but also in an enjoyable one. 

“I have not met a single person in the community that I can genuinely say I don’t like,” Guerra said. 

Their differences are what sets them apart without pulling them apart. Each individual who’s a part of this community is helping, whether intentionally or not, fulfill others and their own need to interact with one another. 
More information on the Surfrider Foundation San Diego County Chapter and their upcoming events can be found at https://sandiego.surfrider.org/.