Giv­ing Back (And Tak­ing Waves)

Surfer - - Contents -

Surf-cen­tric vol­un­teer or­ga­ni­za­tions aim to help coastal com­mu­ni­ties while scor­ing waves around the world. But can these groups ac­tu­ally ef­fect mean­ing­ful change be­tween ses­sions?

In early March of this year, a low-pres­sure sys­tem blitzed through the Western At­lantic and de­liv­ered some of the big­gest waves the Do­mini­can Repub­lic had seen in over a decade. At La Pun­tilla, the is­land’s pre­mier big-wave spot, lo­cals and vis­it­ing surfers alike were dust­ing off their rhino chasers and fas­ten­ing their big-wave vests in prepa­ra­tion for the his­toric swell.

Sure enough, the waves were al­ready reel­ing on my first day in the Do­mini­can Repub­lic—the only prob­lem was that I was nowhere near them.

“Oh god, that was a dirty di­a­per,” said Chris­tian Shaw, pulling rub­bish from the shal­low, stag­nant canal we were drift­ing down on SUPS. Shaw, a skinny, bearded vol­un­teer from Plas­tic Tides—an en­vi­ron­men­tal non-profit started by avid stand-up pad­dlers—was lead­ing our group on a cleanup in the nar­row, fresh­wa­ter canal be­hind Calle­jon De La Loma, one of the poorer neigh­bor­hoods on the north­east coast of the Do­mini­can Repub­lic, about a mile from the ocean. The marshy shore­lines were lit­tered with trash, as lo­cals no­to­ri­ously use the wa­ter­way to dump their garbage. Try­ing my best to keep my lunch down af­ter Shaw’s an­nounce­ment, I re­al­ized this was not go­ing to be a typ­i­cal surf trip.

A few weeks be­fore, I had been in­vited to tag along on this trip with Chang­ing Tides Foun­da­tion (CTF)—A non-profit founded by women surfers back in 2016 with the goal of part­ner­ing with com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions in the places they visit on surf trips as a way to give back. Ac­cord­ing to one of the CTF co-founders, Becky Men­doza, their goal is to raise aware­ness and money for these lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions af­ter they leave through fundrais­ers and so­cial me­dia cam­paigns, even­tu­ally help­ing other trav­el­ers con­nect and vol­un­teer with the lo­cals groups. Last year, CTF raised money to fund a lo­cally-ad­min­is­tered, 10-week pro­gram in Bo­cas del Toro, Panama, that fo­cused on women’s em­pow­er­ment, marine ecol­ogy and teach­ing lo­cal girls how to swim and even­tu­ally surf.

For this trip they part­nered with the Mari­posa Foun­da­tion, a lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion in Cabarete—a pop­u­lar surf­ing des­ti­na­tion in the Do­mini­can Repub­lic—whose goal is to ed­u­cate and em­power lo­cal girls from im­pov­er­ished ar­eas by help­ing them fur­ther their ed­u­ca­tion and teach­ing them how to swim, surf and be good ste­wards of the en­vi­ron­ment. Our plan was to spend a lit­tle over a week with six of the girls in the pro­gram who knew how to surf. But first on the agenda was pick­ing up trash with the girls in the canals be­hind the neigh­bor­hood where some of them live.

Just 20 min­utes into our pad­dle, my bucket was al­ready half full of trash. So­ranny, a 15-year-old lo­cal girl with glasses and braids, steered the SUP around a tan­gle of low-hang­ing tree branches while I sat on the front of the board, col­lect­ing dis­carded coke bot­tles and scummy candy wrap­pers.

Speak­ing to her in bro­ken Span­ish, I learned that So­ranny lives near the Mari­posa cen­ter with her cousins and her grand­mother. Many of the other girls in the pro­gram come from im­pov­er­ished homes, some liv­ing in one-room houses with dirt floors. Ac­cord­ing to the pro­gram’s direc­tor, Pa­tri­cia Thorndike Suriel, the Mari­posa cen­ter pro­vides a safe space for women to be­come more ed­u­cated in an area with high teen preg­nancy rates and few ca­reer and ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties for young women. Suriel be­lieves that even the act of com­ing to­gether to pick up trash can in­still con­fi­dence in young women, teach­ing that they’re in con­trol of their lives and their en­vi­ron­ment.

Men­doza pad­dled by me, mov­ing slowly as not to tip her in­flat­able craft with Pamela, one of the pro­gram’s staffers, sit­ting on the nose. Men­doza’s a lawyer by trade, but be­came in­ter­ested in the idea that surfers can do good work while chas­ing waves back in 2014, when she pulled a ham­string right be­fore get­ting ready to leave on a trip to Nicaragua. In­stead of can­celling the whole thing, she de­cided to go any­way, tak­ing wa­ter fil­ters to dis­trib­ute while she was out of the ocean, nurs­ing her in­jury. Shortly there­after, she brought more wa­ter fil­ters on a trip to Mex­ico, and ev­ery­thing snow­balled from there, even­tu­ally lead­ing her to start CTF with some of her clos­est friends.

As we drifted fur­ther down the canal, scoop­ing up rub­bish in the swel­ter­ing heat, I felt my mind con­tin­u­ally go­ing back to the waves. Were we miss­ing the best of the swell? Would we fin­ish this cleanup in time for a glass-off ses­sion? With such a promis­ing forecast lead­ing up to the trip, most surfers would likely find it hard to think about any­thing else.

The de­sire to give back to the com­mu­ni­ties we visit as trav­el­ing surfers isn’t a new phe­nom­e­non. NGOS and phi­lan­throp­i­cally-minded ocean lovers have been do­ing vol­un­teer work in far-flung surf des­ti­na­tions for decades, rang­ing from surfers bring­ing mos­quito nets to Mentawai Is­land vil­lages to fight the spread of malaria to build­ing schools in Costa Rica to pro surfers or­ga­niz­ing board drives for chil­dren in South Africa.

Like other surf-re­lated vol­un­teer trips, this one pen­ciled in time in the lineup. But be­fore I had ar­rived in the Do­mini­can Repub­lic, I won­dered how well the self­ish pur­suit of surf­ing and self­less act of vol­un­teer­ing would ac­tu­ally mix. Are vol­un­teer­ing and bag­ging waves in­her­ently at odds? Are core surfers re­ally able to have mean­ing­ful, pos­i­tive im­pacts on dis­en­fran­chised coastal com­mu­ni­ties? Or, at the end of the day, does chas­ing waves limit the ef­fi­cacy of surf-cen­tric vol­un­teer­ing?

At this point, you’ve likely heard of the con­cept of “vol­un­tourism,” wherein ad­ven­ture-seek­ing trav­el­ers weave vol­un­teer work into their va­ca­tions, of­ten build­ing schools, teach­ing English to lo­cal chil­dren or par­tic­i­pat­ing in en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion projects. While it may sound all well and good, there’s an oft-ref­er­enced 2008 study con­ducted by a tourism re­search firm which found that, af­ter sur­vey­ing 300 or­ga­ni­za­tions that mar­ket to those seek­ing vol­un­tourism ex­pe­ri­ences, an es­ti­mated 1.6 mil­lion peo­ple vol­un­teer on va­ca­tion and col­lec­tively spend around $2 bil­lion an­nu­ally on such trips, swap­ping pool­side loung­ing for the prom­ise to make a pos­i­tive im­pact on the lo­cal area.

Surfers con­trib­ute to this statis­tic as well. If you were to Google the phrase “surf vol­un­teer travel,” you’d get lost in the num­ber of or­ga­ni­za­tions of­fer­ing trips for surfers look­ing to give back to lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties around the world while also get­ting the chance to catch a few waves.

Vol­un­teer­ing while trav­el­ing is no doubt a well-in­ten­tioned way to ex­plore the world and ex­pe­ri­ence new places. But vol­un­teer trav­el­ers, along with vol­un­tourism or­ga­ni­za­tions in gen­eral, have come un­der scru­tiny over the past few years. Some find fault with the idea of vol­un­tourism on moral ground, stat­ing that it’s pa­tri­ar­chal to as­sume that tourists, with lit­tle la­bor or teach­ing skills, can as­sess the needs of a very com­plex de­vel­op­ing coun­try and solve a prob­lem in the short span of a week or two—and that, per­haps, it does more to stroke the ego of the vis­i­tor than help the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

A cou­ple years ago, a reporter for The New York Times was in Haiti and stum­bled upon a group of vol­un­teers stir­ring ce­ment while build­ing a school. Sit­ting right next to them was a group of “mus­cu­lar Haitian ma­sons” who stood by watch­ing, “per­plexed and a bit amused at the sight of men and women who had come all the way from the United States to do a mun­dane con­struc­tion job.” The sight made the reporter won­der if maybe their good in­ten­tions had been mis­placed, rais­ing ques­tions posed by many crit­i­cal of over­seas vol­un­teer work: wouldn’t the money they used trav­el­ing to Haiti be bet­ter spent em­ploy­ing lo­cal la­bor­ers who per­haps needed the work? And what was go­ing to hap­pen with the school once the vol­un­teers were done? Did the vol­un­teers have the bud­get to train and em­ploy lo­cal teach­ers to run the school af­ter they left the com­mu­nity?

Then there are a few ex­am­ples of al­tru­is­tic mo­tives go­ing hor­ri­bly awry. A re­search pa­per au­thored by Amy Nor­man, a re­searcher at the Queen Mary Univer­sity of London, and Linda Richter, a PHD and Dis­tin­guished Re­search Fel­low at the Hu­man Sciences Re­search Coun­cil ex­plains that, de­spite their good in­ten­tions, vol­un­teer tourists cy­cling through or­phan­ages to help out for a short pe­riod of time can be psy­cho­log­i­cally detri­men­tal to kids, leav­ing them with at­tach­ment is­sues. Next Gen­er­a­tion Nepal, an NGO work­ing to res­cue kids from or­phan­ages, re­ported on an or­phan­age in Kath­mandu that was run by a lo­cal Nepali woman who abused the kids in her care, ad­ver­tis­ing through vol­un­teer­ing agen­cies to at­tract for­eign char­i­ta­ble trav­el­ers and pock­et­ing do­nated money into her own ac­counts. Once the chil­dren were res­cued from the or­phan­age, the NGO found that many of the kids in her care had liv­ing par­ents and some of them had been stolen from their homes.

Ac­cord­ing to Tara Rut­ten­berg, writer and PHD can­di­date in Devel­op­ment Stud­ies at Wa­genin­gen Univer­sity, surfers who choose to vol­un­teer around the world should do their re­search be­fore div­ing into ser­vice work in a for­eign place. Through­out her grad­u­ate stud­ies in sus­tain­able surf tourism and time spent chas­ing waves around the world, Rut­ten­berg’s seen well-in­ten­tioned surf vol­un­teers travel to wave-ad­ja­cent com­mu­ni­ties to help out in ways that turned out to be not-so-help­ful—like when she watched surf vol­un­tourists teach indige­nous chil­dren in Cen­tral Amer­ica the im­por­tance of the stan­dard Amer­i­can di­etary food pyra­mid, which some doc­tors in the U.S. now blame for the rise in adult and child obe­sity.

“It’s ridicu­lous and cul­tur­ally in­sen­si­tive to be teach­ing some­thing like that in a place where the ma­jor­ity of foods on the pyra­mid are not at all a part of the tra­di­tional diet, are not har­vested lo­cally or even ac­ces­si­ble to the com­mu­ni­ties where they are be­ing taught,” Rut­ten­berg told me over email re­cently. “This sends the mes­sage that, ‘Your food is wrong and not what ed­u­cated, civ­i­lized, healthy peo­ple eat,’ in­still­ing the idea that lo­cal ways of life are some­how not good enough.”

The prob­lem with many forms of surf vol­un­teer travel, Rut­ten­berg says, is when non-prof­its or trav­el­ers adopt a “White Sav­ior Com­plex”—a crit­i­cal term used for peo­ple from tra­di­tion­ally wealthy na­tions who travel to de­vel­op­ing coun­tries in or­der to “save” them from poverty, with lit­tle re­spect for the lo­cal way of life. There’s an In­sta­gram ac­count called Bar­bie Sav­ior, sat­i­riz­ing this type of trav­el­ing vol­un­teer, which posts images of white Bar­bie dolls holding dolls rep­re­sent­ing African chil­dren, with cap­tions like, “Or­phans take the best pho­tos! So. Cute….#black­ba­biesarethe­cutest”, or a Bar­bie shar­ing her es­sen­tial oils with lo­cals as an easy way to “re­vamp the lo­cal health care sys­tem.”

“I don’t think there’s any­thing wrong with want­ing to sup­port the well-be­ing of other hu­mans on the planet,” says Rut­ten­berg, stat­ing that in­fra­struc­ture projects like build­ing boat docks and bridges, clean wa­ter ini­tia­tives and pro­vid­ing trans­porta­tion sup­port can be very valu­able for com­mu­ni­ties. But, ac­cord­ing to Rut­ten­berg, these pro­grams are only help­ful if they ad­dress an ac­tual need ex­pressed by lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

Dr. Leon Mach, a pro­fes­sor of sus­tain­able tourism at The School for Fields Stud­ies in Bo­cas del Toro, has seen what can hap­pen when surf vol­un­tourism or­ga­ni­za­tions ac­tu­ally do meet a com­mu­nity’s needs. Over the past decade, a group called Surf for Life has com­pleted over 27 projects in eight coun­tries, rang­ing from ren­o­vat­ing ex­ist­ing schools in Nicaragua to con­struct­ing a com­puter lab in Gu­atemala. Pro­ject Waves of Op­ti­mism (who is no longer in op­er­a­tion) helped build the first com­mu­nity health cen­ter in the Nicaraguan vil­lage of Gi­gante and as­sisted in launch­ing the town’s first pub­lic bus sys­tem, which re­sulted in an 80-per­cent in­crease in high school at­ten­dance among lo­cal kids.

Most surf vol­un­tourism or­ga­ni­za­tions charge surfers a fee (some­times $1,000 a week) in ex­change for ac­com­mo­da­tion, food, trans­port to nearby surf breaks and other ex­cur­sions like zip-lin­ing or camp­ing trips—all while or­ga­niz­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for surfers to vol­un­teer in the com­mu­nity. The funds surfers bring with them help sus­tain the or­ga­ni­za­tion, with many em­ploy­ing lo­cal, long-term staffers who, in Mach’s words, are “mak­ing dick” while “mak­ing a lot of sac­ri­fices be­cause they care.”

Ac­cord­ing to Mach, even if you look at surf vol­un­tourism through a cyn­i­cal lens, be­liev­ing some trav­el­ing surfers are more in­ter­ested in the ex­pe­ri­ence of vol­un­teer­ing than ac­tu­ally ef­fect­ing mean­ing­ful change them­selves, that’s still not nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing.

“It’s called ego­tourism a lot of times for a rea­son,” ad­mits Mach. “Peo­ple want to have that cap­i­tal or some­thing to put on a re­sume that they went some­where and helped peo­ple. But I think if that’s the car­rot that’s dan­gling in front of peo­ple to get them to do some­thing while on a surf trip that’s just marginally bet­ter than do­ing it an­other way, I’m an ad­vo­cate.”

Ten years ago, when then-30-year-old New York surfer Dave Aabo was in the Peace Corps, work­ing with cof­fee farm­ers in the moun­tains of North­ern Peru, he would travel down to the coast reg­u­larly and visit the small fish­ing vil­lage of Lo­bitos. Fronting the town was a long, flaw­less left-hand point with me­chan­i­cal waves peel­ing for a hun­dred yards—of­ten times go­ing un­rid­den, which Aabo soon found out was due to the fact that the lo­cals didn’t have ac­cess to surf equip­ment.

Aabo and a few of his friends got to­gether and per­suaded Global Surf In­dus­tries to do­nate a hun­dred surf­boards to the com­mu­nity. When the boards ar­rived, they ran a two-week pi­lot pro­gram, teach­ing 50 or 60 kids in the town how to surf, do­ing beach cleanups and giv­ing them English lessons.

“We wanted to in­tro­duce surf­ing and bring surf­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in a sus­tain­able way, one that lo­cals could ben­e­fit from,” says Aabo, now 41 and liv­ing back

in New York. “It wasn’t just this hand­out, like, ‘Hey, this is your lucky day! You get a surf­board.’”

Af­ter re­ceiv­ing pos­i­tive feed­back from the com­mu­nity, they con­tin­ued the pro­gram, at­tract­ing vol­un­teers from around the world to help out in Lo­bitos. From there, Waves for Devel­op­ment was born, a non-profit that now helps or­ga­nize trips for surfers who want to do vol­un­teer work be­tween ses­sions, not only in Peru, but places like Nicaragua and Mex­ico, too.

Aabo is aware of the neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions that can sur­round vol­un­tourism and the “Bar­bie Sav­ior” men­tal­ity that some­times comes along with it, which is why com­mu­nity con­sul­ta­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion is the key to suc­cess in his eyes. Waves for Devel­op­ment em­ploys lo­cal staff as surf in­struc­tors and vol­un­teer co­or­di­na­tors and makes sure to hire lo­cal con­trac­tors dur­ing any con­struc­tion projects—like when they helped in­stall con­crete floors in lo­cal houses.

“I think it’s nec­es­sary to step back and ask the lo­cal com­mu­nity, ‘Are we of­fer­ing things that you value?’” says Aabo.

Through Waves for Devel­op­ment, past vol­un­teers have been in­volved in projects rang­ing from the con­struc­tion of a skate ramp and a surf shack to giv­ing mu­sic lessons and pho­tog­ra­phy classes and putting on ed­u­ca­tional movie nights. But how help­ful is it, re­ally, to teach some­one how to surf or use a cam­era in an area strug­gling with things like gen­er­a­tional poverty and in­suf­fi­cient health care?

When I put these ques­tions to Aabo, he told me about Henry, a boy who started the pro­gram when he was 12 years old, and af­ter tak­ing pho­tog­ra­phy lessons from a vol­un­teer, Henry now is able to sell his images to trav­el­ing surfers while work­ing for the or­ga­ni­za­tion as a vol­un­teer co­or­di­na­tor.

“And the skills learned surf­ing can be ap­plied to so many as­pects of your life— build­ing con­fi­dence and ca­ma­raderie be­tween lo­cals,” ex­plains Aabo. “It’s a healthy out­let. We’re get­ting kids to think, ‘How can I get out there and surf more?’ rather than just sit­ting on the cor­ner get­ting in trou­ble. In the end, I’d rather light one small can­dle than curse the dark­ness. Let’s do some­thing. Let’s start some­thing and see where it goes.”

Founder of Waves for Wa­ter and for­mer pro surfer, Jon Rose, is quick to ad­mit that he started his or­ga­ni­za­tion—which is now a large, in­ter­na­tional non-profit aimed at pro­vid­ing ac­cess to clean drink­ing wa­ter around the world—for seem­ingly self­ish rea­sons: to have an ex­cuse to travel back to In­done­sia once or twice a year on tube-hunt­ing trips.

“The idea of go­ing out there and fo­cus­ing only on vol­un­teer­ing, that speaks to an old, an­ti­quated way of com­part­men­tal­iz­ing our lives,” Rose told me re­cently over the phone. “And we do that nat­u­rally as hu­mans—we go, ‘OK, this is where I work, this is where I have fun, this is where I help.’ My thing is, let’s just take the Etch-a-sketch and erase the whole thing and fuse pas­sion with pur­pose.”

In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, as Rose’s surf ca­reer was com­ing to an end, he be­gan do­ing re­search on the lack of clean drink­ing wa­ter in many of the places he was vis­it­ing and dis­cov­ered that he could eas­ily bring wa­ter fil­ters on his next surf trip—which he did.

“I bought 10 fil­ters with my own money and went to Indo,” says Rose. “But be­fore I got to the vil­lage I planned on go­ing to, I was caught in a 7.2 earth­quake in the city of Padang and I sort of be­came a first re­spon­der by ac­ci­dent. I ended up im­ple­ment­ing those fil­ters right then and there. I didn’t know what I was do­ing,

"I'd rather light one small can­dle than curse the dark­ness. Let's start some­thing and see where it goes." - Dave Aabo

"The idea of go­ing out there and fo­cus­ing only on vol­un­teer­ing, that speaks to an old, an­ti­quated way of com­part­men­tal­iz­ing our lives" - Jon Rose

but I went into com­mon-sense mode and just went for it. I came home from that ex­pe­ri­ence a changed man.”

Two months later, on Jan­uary 12, 2010, a 7.0 mega-earth­quake shook Haiti to its core and left many with­out ac­cess to potable drink­ing wa­ter. “I thought I was go­ing to go for two weeks and I ended up stay­ing for two years,” says Rose. “Haiti is re­ally where I built the or­ga­ni­za­tion and de­vel­oped who we are, what we do and how we do it.”

Waves for Wa­ter has since re­sponded to over 20 nat­u­ral dis­as­ters and has part­nered with com­pa­nies like BMW, Paypal and even the U.S. Mil­i­tary and United Na­tions to im­ple­ment large-scale pro­grams that pro­vide ac­cess to clean drink­ing wa­ter by dis­tribut­ing wa­ter fil­ters, build­ing wells and con­struct­ing rain har­vest­ing sys­tems in over 40 coun­tries. But Rose be­lieves the le­gacy of Waves for Wa­ter lies in its courier pro­gram, which sup­plies trav­el­ing surfers and back­pack­ers with portable wa­ter fil­ters to dis­trib­ute in the places they visit.

“If we get to the point where mil­lions of peo­ple are do­ing this, that’s a much larger scale than what we’re do­ing as a non-profit,” says Rose. “That would change sta­tis­tics dra­mat­i­cally. The po­ten­tial is there for, say, 10 or 15 years from now, it be­comes sec­ond na­ture for trav­el­ers to be like, ‘OK, I need my pass­port, I need my toi­letry bag, I need my fil­ter,’ and it just be­comes this stan­dard­ized way of think­ing for trav­el­ers. That’d be a game changer.”

Rose calls the courier pro­gram “DIY hu­man­i­tar­i­an­ism,” and has at­tracted trav­el­ing vol­un­teers—in­clud­ing pro surfers like Rob Machado and Carissa Moore—to bring wa­ter fil­ters to over 90 coun­tries. The com­pany es­ti­mates that over 7 mil­lion lives have been im­pacted be­cause of their ef­forts.

“There’s a large per­cent­age of the pop­u­la­tion not do­ing any­thing be­cause they just feel like they have one va­ca­tion a year and they just want to surf,” says Rose. “Maybe they do care about the world and want to help, but they don’t want to spend five days build­ing a house. This is a real good start­ing point for some peo­ple to make a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence with­out mak­ing much ef­fort. Surfers in­evitably travel to chase waves, so we’re poised to be this mili­tia for good—this awe­some, trav­el­ing group of pos­i­tive war­riors.”

Ac­cord­ing to Rose, chas­ing waves and giv­ing back to the com­mu­ni­ties we visit aren’t com­pet­ing pri­or­i­ties. In fact, they can co­ex­ist quite nicely. “Our tagline for the or­ga­ni­za­tion is ‘Do what you love and help along the way,’” he says. “It’s not, ‘Help and then do what you love.’ It’s re­ally about go­ing out there and serv­ing your­self first.”

My time in the Do­mini­can Repub­lic felt both sim­i­lar and different to surf trips I’ve taken in the past. We scored waves nearly ev­ery day, but in­stead of park­ing my­self in a ham­mock and play­ing hours of card games be­tween ses­sions, we spent our free time hang­ing out with the Mari­posa girls, tak­ing them surf­ing, teach­ing them how to get out of rip-cur­rents and do­ing beach cleanups.

Ac­cord­ing to Men­doza, CTF is still a bud­ding en­tity, but their pur­pose is to show other surfers how to give back in the right way while trav­el­ing. “Our en­tire goal has al­ways been to be the an­tithe­sis of vol­un­tourism,” says Men­doza. “For us, it’s about rais­ing aware­ness about the peo­ple do­ing epic shit on the ground. We have to be re­ally cau­tious when we go some­where that we’re not be­ing like, ‘Hey we’re he­roes, we’re here to save your lives.’ That’s why we col­lab­o­rate with the or­ga­ni­za­tions that al­ready have roots on the ground and are able to ad­min­is­ter the pro­grams. We’re not try­ing to save any­one’s life. Our hope is that maybe some­one will say, “Where’s my next surf trip? Well, CTF has a pro­gram in Bo­cas, why don’t we go there?’”

On my last day of the trip, we vis­ited the girls at the Mari­posa cen­ter—an old, run-down pri­vate school that had been re­fur­bished by the or­ga­ni­za­tion. In the mid­dle of the court­yard sat a small swim­ming pool, sur­rounded by a row of class­rooms. There was a garden main­tained by the girls in the pro­gram and a half-built yoga deck be­ing worked on by an­other group of vis­it­ing vol­un­teers. Col­or­ful mu­rals and pos­i­tive quotes from fa­mous women cov­ered the build­ing’s façade.

I sat in a stuffy, white-walled room next to an os­cil­lat­ing fan with Ka­tiana, one of the pro­gram’s el­dest girls. Through an in­ter­preter Ka­tiana told me she’s 17 and has been in the pro­gram for al­most a decade. She’s seen many vol­un­teers through­out her time here, so I won­dered what she thought about our visit that week.

She told me she en­joyed her time with the vol­un­teers, and that she learned a lot about surf­ing and about the trash prob­lem in her home­town—and that af­ter watch­ing us surf the big­ger, punchy surf around the is­land that week, she now be­lieved that she could do that one day, too.

A week of pick­ing up trash and push­ing girls into waves isn’t go­ing to solve all the prob­lems in a given com­mu­nity. But per­haps Aabo and Rose are right: maybe it is pos­si­ble to si­mul­ta­ne­ously chase waves and do real good—even if that just means mak­ing a teenage girl feel more con­fi­dent in her­self. Surely, that’s bet­ter than just go­ing surf­ing.

Surf-cen­tric vol­un­teer or­ga­ni­za­tions aim to help coastal com­mu­ni­ties while scor­ing waves around the world. But can these groups ac­tu­ally ef­fect mean­ing­ful change be­tween ses­sions?

(Above) CTF co-founder Anna San­toro, giv­ing a clinic on proper pad­dling tech­nique and how to es­cape a rip cur­rent. Photo by JIANCA LAZARUS

(Above, left)Vol­un­teer­ing and surf­ing may seem like op­pos­ing ideas, but vol­un­teers like Steve Kelty—pic­tured here with a lo­cal grom in Lo­bitos, Peru while par­tic­i­pat­ing in Waves for Devel­op­ment trip—be­lieve surfers can strike a bal­ance be­tween the two dur­ing surf trips. Photo by HENRY ESPINOZA

(Above)This lengthy left-hand point is what ini­tially drew Dave Aabo to the small town of Lo­bitos, Peru, which even­tu­ally be­came the birth­place of his non-profit, Waves for Devel­op­ment. Photo by RYAN STRUCK

(This page)Waves for Wa­ter founder Ron Rose, scor­ing fun waves and set­ting up a clean-wa­ter dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ter at a lo­cal med­i­cal cen­ter dur­ing a trip to Ecuador. Rose and his team also set up a se­ries of fil­ters at a res­cue shel­ter for those who had been dis­placed by a 7.8 earth­quake that hit the area back in 2016.Pho­tos by DY­LAN GOR­DON

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