Surfboards find new life as artwork — all for a good cause
About 12 years ago, Meghan Dambacher got together with a friend for a beer, where they discussed their shared values and goals when it came to surfing and keeping their beloved ocean clean and healthy. That discussion set them on the path to start their nonprofit, Rerip, which collects and recycles surfing gear.
“Lisa Randall and I were both interested in learning more about what was going on in the surf industry. We had heard stories about boards being toxic and contaminating workers and the local environment,” she said of the co-founder of Rerip. “We also knew that people outgrew and wanted to swap boards regularly, and thought that there might be a need for what we had in mind. So, we just committed, met weekly, talked daily, asked our parents for small loans, and just kept moving.”
In that time, Rerip has collected and repurposed thousands of surfboards and wetsuits, along with giveaways and donation programs, an annual fundraiser, and participation in this year’s Mission Federal ArtWalk in Little Italy on April 27 and 28. Rerip is donating 35 surfboards, in honor of the event’s 35th anniversary, to be transformed by visual artists and auctioned off to benefit the visual arts education nonprofit ArtReach.
Dambacher, 38, is also the residential operations manager at the San Diego Center for Children. She took some time to talk about her work at Rerip, her passion for the environment, and spending the weekend with her husband and their friends at the beach.
Q: Tell us about Rerip.
A: Rerip started about 12 years ago when a friend of mine and I decided to get a beer together. ... We started talking about our goals, core values, problems with the world. The idea blossomed out of that conversation. We both knew we wanted to make a positive impact on the community that gave us so much: the ocean and surfing. Rerip was born there and our original idea was to create a hub for people to reuse equipment and start conversations about our collective environmental footprint.
Q: In which city did the program start? And what are the other cities you’ve expanded to?
A: We started in my backyard in Solana Beach. A guy stopped by to look at a board and told me to call a guy he knew, who turned out to be Rerip’s greatest asset, and my new business partner. Billy Burns helped move Rerip out of my backyard and into his shop (Coconut Peet’s Surfboard Repair & Trading Company in Point Loma). Establishing a legitimate home base was huge, as I was able to set up drop-off points and collect more boards without compromising my relationship with my landlord and roommates. We were able to expand up to Cardiff, then San Clemente, Ventura, San Francisco and Westminster.
Q: Have there been any adjustments in how the program operates, that had to be made in other cities to better meet the specific needs of a particular city?
A: Absolutely. For example, Rerip was invited by Berkeley to be a project coach to students studying sustainability in surfing. Their semester-long study led to the development of a model very similar to ours. The engineers and professors involved with that class helped us establish a drop-off spot at a local surf shop in Ocean Beach. The shop currently can’t support the board drop-off program anymore, but the people involved are still passionate about keeping the bin going. So now, the bin is outside of our dearest volunteer’s house. People bring boards there (and some people take them) and what is leftover, we pick up when our driver is in the area already doing a run. This is totally different than how it works at Patagonia. There, they have a large bin and space dedicated for us, and when it gets full, they let us know and we arrange transport within a few days.
What I love about Little Italy ...
I love how some of the restaurants have music, how absolutely delicious the food is, the walkability and lights, the fashion — that place is magical!
Q: I understand that you also participate in public speaking engagements to tell people about the toxicity of surfboard manufacturing and about sustainability?
A: I used to do a lot more of this, when there were a lot of questions and a lot of companies working in this space. It seems as if we have figured out a lot, which is so awesome to see. I would usually just talk about what we knew, which was that many of our materials and manufacturing processes were poisonous, and that there were people and small companies who were coming up with new materials and new ways of doing things. I would talk about the importance of learning more about some of these solutions, and then demanding them when we went to make a purchase.
Sustainability is really just about being thoughtful, thinking through our purchases a little more, understanding where things are made and how they are made; questioning what we need and when we need it and how we get it; and picking things that were built to last and/or have an end use that isn’t the dump.
Q: Tell us about your partnership with the upcoming Mission Federal ArtWalk in Little Italy April 27 and 28. How did you initially get connected with the ArtWalk to do this?
A: ArtWalk reached out to me. We talked through their idea to showcase artist-transformed surfboards at this year’s event as a way of celebrating their 35th anniversary. We were very inspired by ArtReach’s mission of providing free art education programs in schools throughout San Diego County that have few or scant resources for art education. Since the surfboard art auction would benefit ArtReach, we knew we wanted to get involved. We love the work they do in schools and we were really excited to partner with an organization that gives back to the San Diego community.
Q: How will the auction work?
A: ArtWalk will auction off the 35 transformed surfboards online, and they’ll be on display at the Piazza della Famiglia (on West Date Street, between Columbia and India streets) during the two-day event. The Surfboard Art Auction bidding is currently open online and interested bidders can register at charityauction.bid/artreachsandiego and view the surfboards on both the Mission Federal ArtWalk and ArtReach websites, as well as at the event. The auction closes at midnight on April 28. Potential bidders can also download the Auctria app to bid for the surfboards. There’s also a chance to bid for a surfboard transformed by singer-songwriter Jason Mraz that he created for the auction.
Q: What’s your goal for Rerip as an organization?
A: Our goal is to expand our program from boards to cars. We are currently gearing up for that, shopping around for grants and donors and mentors for support. We would like to replicate our model and create an auto program that also incorporates a trade school where youth can learn business, life, and technical skills.
Q: What has this work taught you about yourself?
A: That I need not be attached! Not to any outcomes, models, people, ideas, anything. Business is all about demand and it is my responsibility to respond to that demand by making adjustments to the business. I am not in charge.
Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
A: I would have to say that my parents taught me to be very inclusive, that everyone was invited into the circle, had a voice at the table, that no one was better or above anyone else. I think that has helped shaped me as it has opened me up to so many different experiences and relationships.
Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?
A: I love talk radio: Howard Stern, Jim Rome, the SPI (Smart Passive Income) and Mark Divine podcasts. From rock stars to athletes and coaches to entrepreneurs and Special Forces; the stories I hear on these shows are incredible. They really inspire me to work hard and embrace challenges. Baba Booey!
Q: Describe your ideal San Diego weekend.
A: My ideal San Diego weekend would include an early surf with my buds as we holler each other into waves, some beach time with my husband and our favorite beach families, dinner at The Solana Beach Fish House, and then dancing to a funky jam band at the Belly Up with my girlfriends. Anytime I can get with my godkids and nephews in between is cherished.
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