SAS history

Surfers Against Sewage is widely recognised as one of the UK’s leading marine conservation charities. Surfers Against Sewage today deals with a wide spectrum of marine conservation issues from marine litter to climate change. Not just surfers – not just sewage.

History of Surfers Against Sewage

Surfers Against Sewage was established as a single-issue campaign group in 1990 by a small collective of passionate, local surfers and beach lovers in the picturesque north coast villages of St Agnes and Porthtowan, the organisation swiftly created a well-known movement calling for improved water quality UK-wide.

The tide had really started to turn on the need to drastically improve bathing water quality with the privatisation of English water companies in 1989. This change, coupled with two key pieces of European legislation, gave a framework for the campaign, including new obligations and timescales provided by the EU Bathing Water Directive and the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive – 1991. These were the real game-changer that helped provide a perfect legislative backdrop to for early SAS campaigns.

In the early 1990’s SAS became an effective catalyst for change, pressing on these key pieces of legislation, collating health evidence and connecting previously disparate groups of surfers into what became one of the best-recognised environmental campaign movements of the 1990s.

In 2012, Surfers Against Sewage took a vital step forward and was established a national marine conservation charity focused on the protection of waves, oceans, beaches, marine wildlife and coastal communities. The charity was founded by the current SAS trustees and SAS team, and reflects the evolution of the organisation and the current range of issues it works on.

Today, water quality remains a core campaign with the alarming increase in sewage discharged via the UK’s network of 31,000 combined sewer overflows and the revised European Bathing Water Directive about to strip many UK beaches of their coveted standards. Marine litter and coastal developments are also two issues on which SAS has to campaign today like never before in its history. With the amount of marine litter found on UK beaches doubling in just the last fifteen years, this environmental crisis alone shows the great need for SAS’s ongoing work.

Surfers Against Sewage continues to build its catalogue of environmental successes through its mission to protect the UK’s oceans, waves and beaches for all to enjoy safely and sustainably.

SAS timeline

Key dates in our history


SAS visit Parliament!

SAS make history with the delivery of the biggest surfing-related petition in the world to Number 10 Downing Street. 55,000 signatures calling for better recognition and protection of UK waves, oceans and beaches, and those that use them.


Launch of pioneering Sewage Alert Service App

The SAS Sewage Alert Service is now available as an app to download for free on your iPhone or Android smartphone!


Beach clean record!

SAS organises the biggest ever UK beach clean, setting an unofficial UK record of 314 beach clean volunteers. This record will contribute to an unprecedented year of SAS volunteering, with a target of 5,000 beach clean volunteers, the continued development and training of 40 highly skilled Regional Reps and more experts contributing to the organisation than ever before.


POW bags another award!

The Protect Our Waves Petition campaign wins 3rd at the Sony World Photography Awards. Congratulations to photographer Spencer Murphy!


Global Wave Wednesday

Surfers Against Sewage mobilises surfers around the world in the first-ever truly global enviro-surf campaign action, Global Wave Wednesday.


Award nominations and wins!

SAS were shortlisted in the Observer Ethical Awards 2012. The Protect Our Waves Petition won Silver at the 2012 Lovie Awards, the largest digital awards in Europe. The POW petition also won a Silver Award at the Creative Circle Awards.


Launch of the Protect Our Waves petition

The aim of SAS’s Protect Our Waves petition is to generate at least 100,000 signatures to highlight the value of surfing waves and locations to the UK government and encourage MPs to debate legislation in order to recognise the importance of waves as a cultural, social, economic and environmental asset to coastal communities. SAS believes that waves and surf spots deserve to be seen as part of UK heritage and should be afforded greater recognition and protection through debate and legislation. Supporters of the POW petition include Lord Matthew Taylor, Caroline Lucas MP, Stephen Gilbert MP, Kelly Slater, Rob Machado, Stephanie Gilmore, musicians Jack Johnson, Ben Howard, Ed Sheeran and Gabrielle Aplin and Olympic swimmer Rob Bale.


Full charitable status

In a move that recognises the importance of its work, Surfers Against Sewage was awarded full charitable status by the Charity Commission of England & Wales (No 1145877). This significant step forward recognises the broad and on-going environmental remit SAS today operates around, and the importance and effectiveness of SAS initiatives. It also reinforces the fact that SAS is a current, highly effective and powerful force for good for UK waves and beaches.


The Sustainable Guide To Surfing

SAS published a new report. Download ‘The Sustainable Guide To Surfing’


Sewage Alert Service

The dramatic expansion of SAS’s pioneering Sewage Alert Service, a real-time SMS service protecting surfers and water users from sewage spills, covering almost 200 surf spots and bathing waters nationwide.


Global Wave Conference

SAS are a founding partner of the Global Wave Conference, bringing environmental surf NGOs together from around the globe to discuss protecting the worlds oceans, waves and beaches.


Recreational water users

SAS victory: After extensive lobbying, SAS celebrates the inclusion of recreational water users in the Scottish Marine Bill.


The WAR Report

SAS publishes groundbreaking report­ The Waves Are Resources (WAR) Report. The WAR Report not only focuses on the intrinsic value of waves to surfers but also the economic value to the wider community. Download the WAR Report


BBC's Best Marine Green Project

SAS awarded the BBC Coast Magazine award for Best Marine Green Project, for its work combatting marine litter through its Mermaid’s Tears campaign.


New guidance highlights sites of special surfing interest

SAS publishes Guidance on Environmental Impact Assessment of Offshore Renewable Energy Development on Surfing Resources and Recreation. The guidance highlights sites of special surfing interest that developers should avoid. If the guidance is used effectively it could also help speed up the consent process for suitable offshore developments. Download the PDF here…


Protect Our Waves campaign launched

The Protect Our Waves campaign launched with SAS’s biggest ever supporter action at Broad Bench, Kimmeridge, Dorset. 350 activists and supporters turn out to support the launch. Read more about the launch here…


SAS on Panorama

Britain’s Dirty Beaches ­SAS star in BBC’s award-winning primetime documentary programme Panorama, highlighting the problem of combined sewer overflows being used to discharge untreated sewage onto UK beaches.


Ground-breaking Return To Offender campaign

SAS was awarded a BBC Coast Magazine Award for the ground-breaking Return To Offender campaign, which addresses the worsening issue of litter on our beaches. This campaign has subsequently positively influenced industry giants including Coca-Cola.


Analysing scientific evidence on climate change

SAS publishes Climate Change: A Surfer’s Perspective. The report analyses the latest scientific evidence available on climate change in terms of impacts on water quality, sea level rise, coastal erosion, storm tracks, water temperatures and ocean acidification. It also looks at the emergence of the marine renewables sector as one of the solutions to reducing our energy requirements. Download the Climate Change Report here…


EU finally agree to new Bathing Water Directive

SAS campaign success as the EU finally agreed a new Bathing Water Directive. SAS’s specific demands are included in the new text including a strengthening of the water quality standards and a provision for more real time information for recreational water users.


Attitudes towards and impacts of household chemicals

SAS publishes Barriers to Green Buying: Household Chemicals. A report exploring the attitudes of the UK public to chemicals in household products and measured awareness of their environmental impacts.


New sewage disposal report

SAS publishes A Green Blue Print For Sewage Sludge Disposal. This report analyses sewage sludge production in the south west of England and the best practicable and environmentally sustainable options for its disposal.


SAS investigates toxic chemicals in ship's cargo

The bulk carrier RMS Mulheim ran aground close to Lands End, spilling its cargo of scrap car parts. Investigations by SAS resulted in the discovery of many toxic chemicals contained within the cargo including PCBs. Thanks to SAS’s robust campaigning on this the owners were prosecuted and fined for breaching the International Safety Management Code.


Lack of information for UK bathing waters

SAS publishes There’s No Such Thing As Too Much Information. A report examining the lack of information provision concerning water quality at UK bathing waters and providing solutions for real-time improved signage that allows recreational water users to make more informed decisions about where and when they use a body of water.


House of Commons demo

The House of Commons was the target of an SAS demo made up of over 150 wetsuited water users, calling for the UK Government to back a new, revised Bathing Water Directive.


1990 - 2000

Led by founding member Chris Hines MBE, SAS blitzed the UK’s newswires with hard-hitting actions that saw sandy footprints enter the corridors of political power for the first time. Initial media coverage was quickly followed by the first wetsuited and gas-masked hit squad demo at the South West Water’s exhibition at the Royal Cornwall Show, which involved the handing out beach pollution fact sheets.

In the following months, the campaign had spread nationally to other sewage hotspots such as Brighton and, with a joint action teaming up with Langland Boardriders concerning the dumping of toxic waste, began to other marine pollution issues apart from sewage. By the end of the year, just seven months after its inception, SAS had achieved a membership of 2,000 and had gained extensive press, radio, terrestrial and satellite coverage.

The following year saw the campaign message being taken to Westminster, complete with the now standard surfboards, wetsuits and gas masks. This resulted in the announcement that funding would be granted for health studies in five locations in the UK; the first SAS victory The next few years saw SAS put pressure on water company investors and OFWAT, as well as the water companies themselves. Welsh Water became the first water company to be praised by SAS when they adopted a full sewage treatment policy for all coastal and estuarine discharges.

The first of several SAS-supported legal cases gained support from a leading virology expert who agreed that ingestion of sewage contaminated seawater was the probable route of infection. On the back of this, a medical database was set up by SAS to record cases of water users who had become ill after exposure to polluted seawater.

SAS began to be accepted by industry and policy makers as experts in the field, resulting in being asked to meet and give evidence at the House of Lords, the European Parliament and the European Commission.

1995 saw the results of an 18-month long Astrovirus study published proving the health risk of entering sewage contaminated waters and the start of a 2-year long investigation into the incidence of hepatitis A in surfers. The year also saw the opening of several full treatment works (including UV disinfection), one at Criccieth in North Wales and one on the island of Jersey.

The initial campaign contributed to the pressure on water companies to invest approximately £5 billion in sewerage infrastructures, and a dramatic improvement in the cleanliness of our oceans and rivers.


Founded on the 10th May 1990

Surfers Against Sewage was started after a public meeting by a group of surfers who were literally sick of surfing in the sewage polluted waters of three local beaches (St. Agnes, Chapel Porth and Porthtowan) and equally exasperated by the National Rivers Authorities (now the Environment Agency) and the newly privatised water company’s apathy and disinterest with the problem.