Gilles Asenjo, president of the Surfrider Foundation Europe, enters a huge building branded with a gigantic Surfrider logo. Bright eyes and a smile on his face. We follow him curiously, look around and suddenly know the reason for his happiness: Gilles presents to us the new headquarter of Surfrider Europe, an old yet completely refurbished warehouse.
The center piece of the imposant building is a huge wooden imitation of an enormous wave: “On the left side of this wave we will have our exposition and educational program. On the right side our staff and all the volunteers will have their new offices.” Surfrider wanted to take a new approach to collaboration and open space office architecture. We were deeply impressed.
It’s not the first time Surfrider turned to something new, taking on things from a different angle: “Surfing was the first sport that created a real awareness in itself for environmental issues. The Surfrider Foundation was born because of this awareness raising among surfers”, Gilles tells us certainly proud. He joined Surfrider many years ago: “I wasn’t too aware of environmental issues before I became a surfer in the 1970s. But surfing for a while I saw a lot of pollution at our coasts and got really angry about it. That’s why I joined Surfrider.” In his day job Gilles is air traffic controller at the local airport in Biarritz. Executing the presidency at Surfrider doesn’t earn him a Euro. It’s a volunteers job.
Over the last decades the president has seen a lot of change in the authorities’ perception of environmental problems: “Authorities first denied the existence of environmental problems. Then they said there might be problems but it’s too expensive to get on top of them. Now they have already done a lot saying ‘Do you see how much we have done to solve the problem?’ That’s an incredible change of thinking because citizens had a feeling about environmental issues. It was the citizens that helped to start the process from deny to accept and take on environmental issues.”
“We focus a lot on educating kids and teenagers” Gilles explains. Another major area of Surfrider’s activity is lobbying: “You can’t influence people, organizations and companies only by protesting and rebelling against something. You have to be a responsible and act like a serious dialog partner to reach your goals.”
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