Tony Soriano was riding the waves at his favorite surf spot, Ray Bay on Seal Beach, when he saw a plastic bag floating near the surface of the ocean.
He tucked it into his wetsuit and then stopped at the Surfrider Foundation’s beach cleaning tent on his way back to his car. He asked to learn more about marine conservation groups.
That moment saw Soriano dedicate nearly two decades to environmental advocacy, a passion driven by a love of the sea and the waves.
Soriano, who died April 6 of cancer at the age of 74, will be remembered on Saturday, May 28, during the memorial rowing at the mouth of the San Gabriel River, the same place that inspired his work with the nonprofit, where he rose to leadership for the Huntington Beach/ chapter. Its Seal Beach.
“During those 22 years, he was at the forefront of fighting every environmental project that arose in Orange County, Huntington Beach and Seal Beach,” said KC Fockler, co-chair of the chapter. “He has been at the forefront of the environment on a variety of issues for years.”
One of the marquee events Soriano has set up is Ohana Day at Seal Beach, which is always held around Earth Day – a way to bring the community together to learn about marine pollution and health. Going forward, the event he started 15 years ago will be renamed “Tony Soriano Ohana Day.”
“We will continue that in his honor,” said Fockler.
During his time as chairman for the Surfrider chapter, Soriano helped fight for the termination of the offshore oil rig and desalination plant proposed by Poseidon Water, which was recently rejected by the California Coastal Commission.
He also sat on the Huntington Beach city ward council for more than a decade.
And since that day Soriano discovered the plastic bag during his surfing sessions, he’s been found in nearly every beach cleanup held from the Santa Ana River to the San Gabriel River – both waterways dumping inland trash straight into the ocean.
“That’s important to him, to the next generation,” said Fockler, calculating Soriano likely attended about 1,000 cleanups over the years.
Joe Samoa McMullin, from Long Beach, remembers meeting Soriano at the surf that borders Seal Beach and Long Beach about 20 years ago.
After getting to know each other, Soriano encouraged McMullin, who had recently retired and was looking for a way to spend his time, to join some Surfrider meetings.
“I went to one of his shows and was totally hooked on him … he ended up being a big part of my life and big brother to me,” McMullin said. “I spend a lot of time with him, he has a good heart.”
Soriano has leadership skills and a way of connecting people, qualities that helped him develop the Surfrider chapter. In recent years, he has taken on a staff position at the Surfrider Foundation as chapter coordinator.
“He gave me insight into how he loves the ocean, Surfrider,” said McMullin, who served as chair of education for seven years. “He has the ability to get people to work together and find stars. He was very good at tying these stars together. ”
Surfrider CEO Chad Nelsen said Soriano was the embodiment of the group’s mission.
“A Huntington Beach resident who cares deeply about the ocean, waves and beaches, welcomes them all, and takes action every day to preserve them – from organizing beach cleanups to leading efforts to reduce plastic pollution, and everything in between,” said Nelsen. “Tony’s legacy lives on through the protection and enjoyment of Huntington Beach’s beautiful coastline.”
Soriano, along with fellow Surfrider member Don MacLean, started the “Hold Your Ass” program that places canisters of cigarettes along Huntington Beach Main Street, a program that helps dispose of tens of thousands of butts every month that would otherwise end up on the road and eventually in the ocean.
But it is perhaps the increase in plastic pollution that worries him the most. One day, he will ride his bicycle for 30 miles up the Santa Ana River looking up and down the channel for signs of poison discharge or other debris that is in danger of drifting into the ocean.
“He was so worried about it, he was going to do his own personal research,” Fockler said.
Fockler adds he has one wish for people when they remember Soriano and his contributions to the water world: Be a little more like him.
“Love the neighborhood,” says Fockler. “Love the sea.”
Saturday’s rowing ceremony will take place from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the Seal Beach pier on First Street.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made on his behalf to the American Cancer Society or the Huntington Beach/Seal Beach Surfrider Foundation chapter.