Skip to content (press enter)
Activist Spotlight: Keni Rienks With the Cape Fear Chapter


Activist Spotlight: Keni Rienks With the Cape Fear Chapter

Q: What is your current role with the Surfrider Foundation?
I am currently the Cape Fear Chapter Chair.

Q: Why and when did you get involved with the Surfrider Foundation?
I was drawn to Surfrider’s mission of beach protection and accessibility. Overall, I’m very passionate about the ocean, and I wanted my students (I’m a high school science teacher) and my own children to witness me engage with our community. 

I’ve been involved with this chapter since 2014. I went to UNCW, so I was familiar with the area, and after living all over the world, I came back to the area with my husband and two children to lay down our roots. I knew I needed to be by the ocean. At the time, there was a fantastic chapter chair named Ethan Crouch — it was through his legendary leadership and some really great people that I've been able to work with and learn from (David Jacobs, Kevin Piacenza, Amanda Jacobs, Lindsey Dignan, et al.). I couldn't be the chair that I am without their leadership before me. I've got such a fantastic crew of people that I love, adore, and respect, so I really enjoy this position.

Keni Rienks With the Cape Fear Chapter holding a 2016 Volunteer of the year sign

Q: What are some environmental issues that are affecting your local community?
I'm a little bit worried about the pace of development, and the disregard of the pace at which sea level rise and coastal erosion are happening. Everybody wants to live at the beach, but here on the southeast coast, our barrier island system is just not able to keep up with current sea level rise, particularly with the strength and consistency of strong storms and hurricanes. But more importantly, I'm looking into the living shorelines and nature-based solutions, trying to build climate resilience here on the southeast coast. 

Our chapter has allocated resources to join forces with a lot of local organizations that are fighting water pollution, particularly from hog waste, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), and the chemical discharge from the factory that's putting the PFOS into our water. That's becoming a hot topic and it's becoming even more prevalent as we start to look at the tissues of fish and the tissues of alligators. PFOS is airborne and in our groundwater — it’s almost inescapable. I would really love to see environmental health start to become a little more prominent in Surfrider’s issues.

Q: What Surfrider projects have you worked on?
I’ve been involved for almost a decade, so I feel like I’ve worked on everything! I think I started with the Ocean Friendly Restaurants program, then Rise Above Plastics, and have held various roles in chapter leadership including secretary, volunteer coordinator, vice chair, and after almost a decade, it seemed just like my time to be chair.


Q: Are there any specific projects that you have worked on which benefited your community? If so, can you tell us about that?
I can still remember the opposition to offshore drilling in 2015 vividly. After working so hard for an entire year with other fantastic organizations in the area, to be at this Wilmington City Council meeting all dressed in blue, standing room only, and witnessing this resolution get unanimously passed, was the most magical moment. The energy in the room was fantastic. I had only been here for about a year and so I was still relatively new with Surfrider. I showed up at meetings, wrote letters to the editor, and took part in the public commenting period with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. 

I'm pretty confident at this point that North Carolina is moving in a good direction, and we're in the midst right now of working on some offshore wind projects. I think North Carolina realized that offshore drilling is not the best decision, and to move forward with renewable technologies is the way to go.

Keni Rienks With the Cape Fear Chapter holding "Dont Drill North Carolina" signs

Q: What has been the highlight of your Surfrider experience (i.e., campaign, program, victory)?
The dune restoration with the Christmas trees!  The Cape Fear Chapter seems to be the poster child for Surfrider for this initiative. I’m very proud of that. 

Anybody can come down to the beach, grab a tree, grab a shovel, grab a stake, and walk the beach, and stake this tree. Then the whole family goes there in the summer, and they can still see the fruits of their labor. It's so fun to have these families come back and talk about how that one experience changed them so many years ago, and has really started to bring them awareness of the issues that we're facing, particularly with erosion and storms.

We've been doing this for a long time, pretty much the entirety of my involvement with the chapter, and we've got a great working relationship with the town of Carolina Beach. It's a great awareness-builder to bring community members together — it's about community involvement, outreach and education, and having an opportunity for people to actually do something.

Q: Do you have any personal experiences or campaigns/issues that you're passionate about where the social justice and environmental movements have intersected? If so, can you tell us about them?
For the past three years, we have developed swim lessons, an eco-camp, and eventually even surf lessons with some underserved groups in our community. We partnered with a swim organization called NC Swim, and just last month we took our first crew out surfing, so we are really excited about that. 

Our fantastic volunteer Maia Dery and I had the initial meeting with the mayor and the head of the youth camp, and we said, "We want to take everybody surfing." They laughed and said, "Well, that's great! We'd love to surf, but we'd like to learn to swim first.” And that's how that program got started. 

We've been able to see the progression of these young men and women learning to swim. One young man, Marcus, became so involved that he's now going to college to be an early childhood educator, and he wants to teach swim lessons. 

I think the cultural and the social aspect of the surfing community are really important, and I'm really happy to see that our program continues to grow. Maia is a perfect leader for that, and I'm so thankful to have her on our team.

Activist Spotlight: Keni Rienks With the Cape Fear Chapter

Q: What is the most important thing you tell others about Surfrider?
Again, I have to talk about my passionate crew and how fun we are!

The people involved, from the executive board to the volunteers, to the one-timers who just come to beach cleanups, are so passionate and so inspiring, and so genuinely driven to make a difference. There's so much selfishness out in the world, but the people in this community are so selfless. I feel like a better person because of the community that I have with the people in Surfrider.

On my worst days, when I've had a long day at work, and I can't think of anything worse than getting in a car and trying to go lead up a meeting, it takes me one glance around the table, and my entire soul is engaged and lit up. I always feel better when I'm around those people.

So that's why I keep going back. That's why I could never leave. That's why I keep pushing on and trying to stay as involved as much as I can.

Q: Why is being a part of the Surfrider ocean conservation community important to you?
I’ve been drawn to the ocean my entire life, and I just feel I want and need to be a part of conserving every aspect that I can.

Activist Spotlight: Keni Rienks With the Cape Fear Chapter