Broward News

Who Benefits from Surfing License Plate?

By the end of today, Florida drivers could have a new design option for their license plate: an image of a surfer inspired by the 60s surf flick, The Endless Summer. The state legislature is expected to OK a bill authorizing the new plate. Sounds pretty rad, right?

But some longtime surfers were surprised to learn that proceeds from the license plate (for which drivers will pay an extra $25) will benefit a non-profit called Surfing's Evolution and Preservation Corporation -- an entity that does not even have so much as a website -- rather than an organization like the better-known Surfrider Foundation, which has 90 chapters around the world (including 11 in Florida).

A bill analysis prepared for the senate reveals that  Ron Jon Surf Shop -- a private company in Cocoa Beach -- is behind Surfing's Evolution and Preservation Corporation.

The document also reveals that it costs the state $60,000 to create new plates, and so the non-profit had to front that fee to the state in an application fee, and then can keep each $25 as it dribbles in, plate by plate. Popular plates can be profitable; sales of specialty plates generated more than $37 million in revenues last year alone.

The bill analysis specifies that the non-profit can first recoup all the money it spent to establish the plate, then fund administrative costs. Beyond that, monies may be used to fund "the proposed Surfing's Evolution & Preservation Experience project; provide funds for the provision of lifeguards or the building of artificial reefs" and give money to other organizations that promote the sport or teach coastal ecology.  No one at Ron Jon was available to comment Friday afternoon. 

Surfrider's regional manager, Ericka D'Avanzo said that any profits would probably go towards building a pilot artificial reef in Cocoa Beach, and that due to numerous questions directed her way, some lawmakers may have mistakenly believed that the plate would have a more direct impact on environmental education. She noted that Surfrider members in other states had looked into establishing a license plate, but found that in Florida it would take a long time to recoup such costs and therefore wasn't the best use of donors' money and energy. "There are so many other important issues that require our attention and resources than a license plate," she said. The most pressing issue, she said, was to fight oil drilling in Florida.

Since the state already has more than 100 different license plate designs, there is currently a seven-year moratorium on new plates. D'Avanzo said that, in her opinion, the sea turtle plate is the best choice for environmentalists. "They truly use it for solid projects, spending less than 6% on admin/overhead costs versus the 25% of other plates that goes to admin."

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Deirdra Funcheon