David Helvarg on “The Golden Shore: California’s Love Affair with the Sea”


No one has done more to educate the public on ways to preserve our coast and ocean than David Helvarg. Author of six books and the founder and Executive Director of the Blue Frontier Campaign, Helvarg will be speaking about his newest book, The Golden Shore: California’s Love Affair with the Sea at the Birch Aquarium on Tuesday Feb. 26 from 6:30-8 p.m.

Serge Dedina: What is your first memory of the coast in California?

David Helvarg: Flying into San Diego at night to help out some friends in trouble in the Ocean Beach neighborhood and then staying up ’til dawn watching the Pacific lapping on the shore, small breaking wavelets sparkling with silvery luminescence. Two days later there was a concert on Sunset Cliffs. Watching the young OB residents dancing on the beach and wading into the bracing 68-degree water where silky-haired California girls in bikinis were tossing Frisbees, I knew I’d come home to a place I’d never been before.

Dedina: What does the coast mean for California?

Helvarg: The Pacific defines California and its spirit of adventure, exploration and enterprise. Teddy Roosevelt called California “West of the West.” It’s where U.S. expansion ended, but not the promise, where the frontier turned to liquid and a gold rush and World War transformed the golden shore. Without the ocean and coast, California is just a long skinny, seismically active clone of Nevada.

Dedina: What did Jack London have to do with the development of surfing in California?

Helvarg: Jack London arrived in Hawaii in 1907, saw the Hawaiians surfing at Waikiki and tried it himself. He was so taken with it, he wrote an article in the Women’s Home Companion (and a chapter in his next book), titled, “A Royal Sport” displaying the kind of unbridled enthusiasm for surfing he usually reserved for brave dogs. This was the first mass-media reporting on surfing on the U.S. mainland. He also wrote a letter of recommendation for Hawaiian surfer George Freeth, who used it to find work in California, where he is often credited with introducing the sport to the state.

Dedina: Sometimes we overlook the role of the military transforming our ports and managing our coast. How have our armed forces aided in the development and conservation of the California coast?

Helvarg: It started with the Navy and Marines seizing California from Mexico and expanded with the military port towns of San Pedro and San Diego (today SD remains the second largest naval complex in the U.S.).  The war in the Pacific transformed California during World War II with millions of Army and Navy personnel training and deploying from here.  California also became a major industrial war producer with its shipyards and aircraft factories.

Population increased, and the state became a center for the aerospace industry during the Cold War that followed. The Navy even jump-started the electronics industry in Silicon Valley. Today the Navy is working on reducing its C02 emissions by half in the next decade. Working on my book, I visited a new amphibious assault ship that burns one third the fuel of other ships of its class in a massive combat training zone off the coast.

Dedina: What was the role of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill in developing our California coastal protection system?

Helvarg: California was where the first offshore drilling was done on piers near Santa Barbara. And because of blow outs and oil pollution Santa Barbara banned drilling off its beach till 1969 when the federal government promised new technology made it safe. Within days of the first wells being drilled there was a massive blow out and oil spill. Three years later, still shaken by the spill’s impact, the people of California voted to create a Coastal Commission to protect our shore even though opponents of coastal protection (real-estate interests, PG&E and the oil companies) outspent its supporters 100 to 1. Today, 30 years later, the commission continues to limit reckless development along the shore while guaranteeing public access to our spectacular coastline.


Dedina: What is your favorite place along the California coast?

Helvarg: My home on San Francsico Bay, also most of what exists to the north (Mendocino, the Lost Coast, Del Norte) and the south (Monterey, Big Sur, Baja)

Dedina: Is the Coastal Act still relevant? Do we really need to worry about protecting our coast anymore?

Helvarg: To Quote Peter Douglas, who wrote the act and headed the Coastal Commission as executive director for many years, “The Coast is never saved, the Coast is always being saved.” The Coastal Act is for California what the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts are for the nation.

Dedina: California institutions such as Scripps lead the world in ocean exploration and research. How did California become a pioneer in marine research?

Helvarg: Appreciating what we had and how little we understood it, George Davidson began exploring the marine frontier that was California in 1850.   The newly established Stanford University set up the nation’s third-ever marine lab, the Hopkins Seaside Lab in 1892 and the Scripps family in San Diego supported zoologist Bill Ritter in creating another lab a few years later that became the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Today, California marine science is leading the world in understanding marine ecosystems, marine wildlife, upwellings, ocean acidification and other anthropogenic (human-caused) changes in the world ocean. Also exceptional is the fact that state ocean and coastal policies are driven by the best available science.


Dedina: How has the the mythology of the beach and the coast in California defined or influenced popular culture in the U.S and globally? Has Hollywood played a role in that?

Helvarg: From Gidget and The Endless Summer, to Sea Hunt, Baywatch and The OC, not to mention surf music and language, dude, California has taken on a mythic place in world culture. Southern California’s major industries are maritime, military and fantasy (Hollywood) and so they mix naturally along the shore. But that’s nothing new. When Richard Henry Dana wrote, Two Years Before the Mast in the 1830s, his tales of life along the California coast fascinated the nation and that sense of wonder, envy, inspiration and interest has yet to fade.

Dedina: What is the purpose and mission of the Blue Frontier Campaign?

Helvarg:  The Blue Frontier Campaign works to build the seaweed (marine grassroots) constituency of citizen activists needed to protect our ocean, coasts and the communities that depend on them. We do this through actions like this spring’s Blue Vision Summit in Washington DC May 13-16 that will include the largest Capitol Hill Healthy Oceans day in history with hundreds of people letting their elected representatives know we expect them to restore the blue in our red, white and blue – in other words to follow the California model.

A family (I suppose) of Sea lions in Santa Cru...

A family (I suppose) of Sea lions in Santa Cruz, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dedina: California is the home of the some the world’s most iconic and popular ocean animals – white sharks, gray whales, sea otters, harbor seals, bottle nose dolphins and even giant blue whales. What is your favorite California ocean animal?

Helvarg: The California Sea Lions (all 300,000 of them) because they’re loud, smart, kinda messy and often rowdy, just like us humans. Know what they call a congregation of sea lions?  A mob.

2012 in Review: Thanks for Reading!!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 45,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 10 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

My TEDx AFC Video: Sex, Soccer and El Santo

This is the video of my recent TEDx America’s Finest City presentation, Sex, Soccer and El Santo: The New Rules for Communicating about the Coast and Ocean.

Sexing it up at TEDx America’s Finest City

I spoke on Tuesday at the TEDx America’s Finest City forum at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The venue was amazing, the surf was firing, the lineup of speakers was incredible. The organizers did a great job of attempting to bring together a “new” San Diego. I was honored to be invited to participate and to be able to speak about WilDCOAST campaigns.

Me and Grant Barrett of Public Radio's "A Way with Words." Photo: TEDxAFC

My talked was titled: Sex, Soccer and El Santo: The New Rules for Communicating about the Coast and Ocean. Photo: TEDxAFC

As always our "Don't Eat Sea Turtle" campaign poster went over very well. Photo: TEDxAFC

I always wanted to be one of those TED guys--with the headphone microphones in a blue shirt talking about "cool" stuff. Photo: TEDxAFC

The theme of the event was "Get your fix." Photo: TEDxAFC

I’m at TEDxAFC on Tuesday the 10th

I’ll be at the TEDx America’s Finest City on Tuesday May 10th. TEDxAFC features an an incredible lineup of San Diego innovators seeking solution including High Tech High CEO/Founder Larry Rosenstock and one of my personal heroes, Scott Silverman the President/Founder of Second Chance. I’ll be speaking on: Sex, Soccer and El Santo: The New Rules for Communicating about the Coast and Ocean. Should be a blast. Hope to see you there.

Wild Sea at PB Surf Shop

I love this poster for my upcoming signing at PB Surf Shop on Saturday April 16th. Any time I get a get a surf flick meets rock and roll poster out an academic book signing I am stoked.

Blue Ocean Tour in Southern Baja


From April 2-7 I will be touring the Cape Region of Baja California to show the Blue Ocean Film Festival “Blue on Tour” ocean documentaries and give talks on my book Wild Sea.

APRIL  2nd:  San Jose Organic Farmers Market, 10am-2:00pm


APRIL 3rd:  Los Barriles Art Festival, Hotel Palmas De Cortez Los Barriles

APRIL 3rd: Vinorama Country Club, East Cape, 6pm

APRIL 4th: DREAMS Spa and Resort, @ 6:00pm

APRIL 6th: Sculpture Francisco Merino Galeria @ 6:30pm

APRIL 7th: La Esquina, Todos Santos @ 7:00pm

When I am there I look forward to seeing old friends, making new friends, and surfing the crystal clear blue water of the East Cape and Todos Santos–two of my favorite places in Baja.


Wild Sea on Tour in Guerrero, Mexico

Last week, I toured the southern Mexico state of Guerrero as part of the Blue Ocean Film Festival “Blue on Tour” and my Wild Sea book tour. Ben McCue accompanied me and Sergio Flores and Natalia Parra of WiLDCOAST. Natalia and Sergio are our Southern Mexico Pacific coordinators. We gave talks, press conferences and showed ocean related films in Acapulco, Zihuatanejo, Troncones and Saladita.

On our second to last day we met activists attempting to stop the Mexican Tourism Agency, FONATUR, from building a new mega-resort and cruise ship terminal at Barra de Potosi, a stunningly beautiful mangrove lagoon, beach and headland where leatherback sea turtles nest and humpbacks can be found offshore. Of course the local fishing community of 600 residents at Barra are adamantly opposed to the project and have barely been consulted about it, even thought FONATUR received a concession to build there.

A special thanks to Sergio and Natalia, Cat and Kristy of Siren Surf Adventures, Fortaleza Lounge and Theater of Acapulco, Lourdes of Lourdes Bungalows in Saladita, the Instituto Tecnologico de la Costa Grande, Pato, Roberto of Roberto’s Bistro, and Mike and Lainie Johnstone.


Ben McCue in Acapulco talking to an estimated crowd of over 200. Our presentation went over very well.

WiLDCOAST'S Natalia Parra talks to the Acapulco press about the plight of sea turtles in Guerrero.

A local restaurant owner talks to the crowd about the importance of coastal protection.

At Saladita I was lucky to meet Alan Weisbecker, author of "In Search of Captain Zero."

Lourdes, who hosted our presentation at Saladita for the Mexican and American communities there. Lourdes is a surfer and a pioneer in Mexico in surfing tourism.

My talk at Saladita. More than 60 people were in attendance. I couldn't think of a nicer place to give a talk--on a beachfront palapa, watching the sun set over a "reverse Malibu" point break.

Ben, Lourdes, Cat Slatinskly, me, Pato, and Kritsty Murphy. Cat and Kristy of Siren Surf Adventures from my hometown of Imperial Beach organized the events in Saladita and Troncones and hosted us there. Pato is a local activist.

Before the event in Troncones at Roberto's Bistro, Roberto arranged the release of olive ridley sea turtles. He manages a sea turtle nesting beach camp there too.

Children releasing sea turtles.

Roberto and his local sea turtle conservation team. These kids were so passionate about saving sea turtles and protecting the environment.

Ben and me with activists from Barra de Potosi who are opposed to the proposal by FONATUR to build a new mega-resort there.

Wild Sea in San Diego Magazine

Here is an article about my book Wild Sea in San Diego Magazine.

San Magazine article on Wild Sea

My Wild Sea and BlueOcean Film Festival Tour of Mexico

I’ll be in Acapulco, Zihuatenejo, Troncones and Saladita this week in Guerrero, Mexico to host the Blue on Tour: Blue Ocean Film Festival in Mexico and talk about my book Wild Sea. I hope to be tweeting and blogging all week about our adventures (depending on web access).
Ocean Film Festival presented by WiLDCOAST, La Fortaleza Lounge and Guardianes del Mar.


Where: La Fortaleza Lounge, Acapulco’s Zocalo, in front of the Cathedral.

When: Tuesday, March 15th, 2011 at 2:00 PM

Additional Mexico tour dates:

MARCH 16: Zihuatenejo, TBD

MARCH 17: Saladita, Lourdes Bungalows @ 7pm

MARCH 19: Troncones, Roberto’s Bistro, @ 7pm

%d bloggers like this: