Wavelength caught up with Andy Cummins, Campaign Director for Surfers Against Sewage to find out about life at SAS, his passion for surfing and his weakness for collecting surfboards.
Who are you?
Father, surfer, environmentalist, campaigner, woodcutter!
What do you do?
I’m the Campaigns Director so I work across a number of issues covering water quality, marine litter and Protect Our Waves at a grass roots level right up to dealing directly with national and European governments. I’m incredibly proud of what the campaign team is achieving at the moment.
How long have you been at Surfers Against Sewage?
I’ve been at SAS for 12 years. I left uni with an environmental science degree and sailed down to Cape Verdes and across to the Caribbean. As a surfer, I’d been exposed to the impacts we are having on our coast, and the degree opened my eyes further to the human impacts on the environment. What really shocked me was the amount of plastic I’d seen in the middle of the Atlantic, at least a thousand miles from land and there was a constant reminder of our the impacts our throwaway society is having on this beautiful environment. I’ve been the Campaign Director for the last four years.
What do SAS do?
The mantra at SAS is Community – Waves – Environment. We are striving to empower communities to help protect their waves and environment. From the classic SAS direct actions to engaging with and influencing decision makers at every level. SAS produce robust scientific reports to help decision makers understand the importance of surfing waves and continue to use media effectively to apply pressure on polluters.
What’s the worst aspect of the job?
I have a great view of the sea and a ‘to do’ pile that means I’m often restricted to longing glances at the lines coming in. Also, the speed of change with some campaigns can also be frustrating. For example, when we are campaigning in Europe, we are working with both the European Parliament and Commission and at the mercy of the wants and needs of 28 member states. Juggling all these issues is difficult but we still secured a phenomenal success in 2006 with the revised Bathing Water Directive, delivering significant water quality improvements for 600 UK beaches and many thousands more across Europe. SAS had been working on that campaign for almost a decade.
What’s the best?
I work with an unbelievably talented and dedicated team on issues we are all really passionate about. Best of all, I get to benefit from our work as the beach is my favourite place.
What’s been the worst campaign?
I 100% believe in all of our campaigns, we are trying to protect and improve the UK coastline. It’s hard to pick the worst campaign.
What’s been the most successful?
That’s like asking me which of my children I like best! This year SAS will mobilize almost 10,000 volunteers at over 300 beach cleans around the UK. We have just published a great marine litter report and last year we published a ground breaking economic report valuing UK surfing at £1.8 Billion. The revised Bathing Water Directive has driven water quality improvements at over 600 UK beaches and supported our Safer Seas Service that informs surfers in real time, and for free, when sewage and diffuse pollution is impacted over 300 beaches around the UK. I think the Protect Our Waves campaign is the campaign that has captured the support of the UK surfing population the most. Last year we delivered 55,000 signatures to Downing Street. This year we launched the Protect Our Waves All Party Parliamentary Group addressing water quality, marine litter and inappropriate coastal developments.
What’s been your favourite moment in this job?
Standing waist deep in a river, in the pouring rain, just before dark on a Saturday evening capturing disgusting footage of a sewer overflow discharging into St Ives Bay in August. The smell was revolting and I was left with a nasty chest infection that took several rounds of antibiotics to clear. But I knew I’d just captured the footage that would be used on Panorama to expose the number of sewer overflows discharging untreated human sewage at beaches all over the UK. The footage was also used on ITV’s Tonight and Countryfile soon after the Panorama programme and helped us launch the Safer Seas Service.
What’s your background?
I started surfing in Saltburn in the early 90s, which is a great place to learn to surf with its flat weak beachies and steep shapely reefs. Like most surfers when I was ill after surfing in sewage, I reached out to SAS, as they are the only group representing surfers on this issue.
When I left collage I spent a few super fun years travelling Australia, Europe and the Middle East looking for waves before deciding I should go to university as a degree gives you more options. I have an environmental science degree from Plymouth, but I studied at the Cornwall College campus as I thought this was the best place for waves. I started at SAS 12 years ago as a campaign officer. I’ve worked with some talented campaigners and loved every minute of it. Today, I can look around the office and see the strongest and most talented team working tirelessly on an array of issues all around the UK.
Do you surf and if so how long have you been surfing?
I love surfing. It’s shaped my life since I was 15 and always will. Big or small, steep or slack, rights or lefts there’s always one wave worth going in for. Now my youngest is getting into surfing and this summer I was getting super stoked on introducing her to green waves.
How many boards do you own?
Too many! Let’s say I’m in double figures and leave it at that. Boards are my big weakness. My favourites at the moment are a sweet performance bonzor for a good clean swell and a Fred Stubble for everything else. Malcolm Campbell came to St Agnes and that’s an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Getting a bonzor hand shaped by the master. And the Fred Stubble is a Channel Islands made from recycled EPS.
Where’s your favourite place to surf?
Sennen, far out west is special. I ran a surf school there whilst I was studying and really fell in love with the place. There must be something in the water because that small village produces some amazing surfers. Rippers like Bert Wright, Sam and Seb Smart, John Buchorksi, trade great waves with style masters Sam Bleakley, Dave Muir and James Parry.
Where’s your favourite place to holiday and why?
Home. We have some amazing waves here, loads of swell and if you have the time you can usually find a quiet corner to enjoy.
What do you like to eat?
I’ve been a veggie for almost 15 years now. A great post winter surf snack is steamed asparagus with lots of butter! It’s quick and easy to make, instantly warms and reenergises you (and don’t worry if it makes your pee smell, that’s normal).
What is heaven?
Spending a warm and sunny day on a quiet beach with family and friends, obviously with fun waves.
If you weren’t doing this, what other job would you like to do?
There are lots of issues in society that make me angry. The widening gap between rich and poor and the options available to people is an issue that infuriates me.
What makes you happy?
The simple things: good surf, spending time with my family, work and obviously new surfboards. And Liverpool FC winning, but that seems to be a distant memory.
What makes you mad?
Ignorant people in any walk of life; people dropping in on you at your local beach. The CEO who puts shareholders profits before the good of society; the man in the street who is taking his frustrations out about his life on the easy targets like immigrants.
What advice would you share?
Persistence pays off – (and on a more practical note, water quality will be reduced after periods of rain, so download the Safer Seas Service app.)
Find out more about Surfer’s Against Sewage on their website.