OCEAN PARK BEACH — Actress Tanna Frederick remembers the first time she got up on a wave. She was learning to sail and decided on a whim to try surfing as well — one less thing between her and the “amazing playground” the native Iowan had found in the ocean.

“It’s weird because it’s indescribable,” Frederick said of surfing. “It’s like Disneyland — you can’t put it into words.”

Suddenly her life changed dramatically.

There was a new schedule: asleep at 7:30 p.m., up by 6:30 a.m. and surfing through the morning. It was this intimate connection with the sea that brought Frederick face-to-face with the problem of pollution, especially when conditions got so toxic that surfers were banned from the waves.

She decided she was going to do something about it.

This Sunday Frederick and Shaun Tomson, featured in the surf documentary “Busting Down the Door,” will host Project Save Our Surf, a surf-a-thon at Ocean Park Beach in Santa Monica to raise money for the international ocean conservation group Oceana.

Celebrity and professional surfers including Michelle Rodriguez (”Lost”), David Chokachi (“Baywatch”), Rob Machado, and World Champion of International Professional Surfing P.T. Townend will surf for sponsors to raise money and awareness for Oceana.

The event runs from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. with participants surfing five-hour shifts, while also carving it up during free-style sessions. For the casual surfer, five hours is a long time to be in the water, fighting the pull of the ocean and wrestling with the waves.

But this is nothing compared to the last surf-a-thon Frederick hosted.

“Last time it was a 24-hour event, so people were doing really long periods of time,” she said. “This one is just a bit shorter.”

For those who prefer the sand to the surf, the line-up includes a host of activities from free massages to a musical performance by Birdsong and the Eco-Wonders. Kids will enjoy face-painting and team relay races.

The evening will culminate with a celebrity gala at the Shutters on the Beach Ballroom. Actor Noah Wyle will co-host a live auction. The goal is to raise $150,000, and all the proceeds will go to Oceana.

Oceana was founded in 2001 to combat global ocean degredation. The group is based out of Washington D.C. and lobbies to improve standards for ocean health.

Despite tough economic times, Oceana remains afloat because of widespread support for ocean issues.

“It’s definitely a concern that hits all nonprofit communities as people try to be more conservative about how they spend their money,” said Juliana Stein, senior communications manager with Oceana.

The cause garners a great deal of support because it is as close to instant gratification as environmental improvements get, with simple steps producing change relatively quickly.

“Oceans are among the causes that people can really make a difference in a short period of time,” Stein said.

That’s good news, because United States coastal areas are facing major pollution-related challenges.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s most recent figures, pollution-caused beach closings hit their second-highest level in 18 years in 2007. Ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches had over 20,000 closing or advisory days, meaning that authorities counseled beach-goers to avoid the water.

Many of the problems come from stormwater contamination and sewage spills that can lead to conditions like skin rashes, pink eye, meningitis and hepatitis, the NRDC reported.

Beaches in Los Angeles County have many of the same issues.

“Los Angeles County beaches are some of the most challenged beaches in the state,” said Matthew King, spokesperson for Heal the Bay. “Generally it’s an optimistic story, because we’re seeing major improvements. Part of that is low rain totals in the last few years, and some is infrastructure and education.”

Reports like these are why Frederick is hosting Project S.O.S., because for her it’s as much about the education component as it is about fundraising. And nobody said becoming aware had to be boring.

“Being an environmentalist is not always associated with being depressed about the state of the world, but getting together and celebrating,” Frederick said. “Improvement can come that way and the world can become a better place through celebration and joy.”

Tickets for the gala are $100 per person and can be purchased by calling (310) 271-0202. For more information, check out the Project S.O.S. Web site at www.projectsaveoursurf.com.

news@smdp.com