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How a Group of Surfers Give Back to Coastal Communities Around the World How a Group of Surfers Give Back to Coastal Communities Around the World
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How a Group of Surfers Give Back to Coastal Communities Around the World

by Bill Stefanacci

January 31, 2014

Surf For Life started as a group of surfers that decided to do something about the harm that sometimes comes from an international surf/travel lifestyle. People who surf often feed their obsession through world travel. The waves we're looking for are at times found in some very 'undeveloped' parts of the world. Through this, we have a chance to see what life looks like before new business opportunities and the first world comes crashing in. Many of us are also aware that surf breaks in developing nations are often exploited by corporate tourist industries that ignore the needs of the local population. Hotels explode around discovered point breaks. Sometimes, the most a local can hope for is a janitorial or maid job in this new boom town economy.

That is why a group of young friends on a surf trip in Mexico decided to take action. Surf For Life was born with a mission to fundraise and take teams of volunteers to go and build community development projects with the residents of affected areas.

When I first saw a flyer for Surf For Life, still in its infancy, I was captivated by being able to combine my passion for surf with a vehicle to give back. I joined the organization shortly after founders Alex Fang and Jonathan Sofer established it. I help lead trips, I developed some of the early systems and took the reigns in the media department.

Now in its fifth year, the nonprofit, supported primarily by volunteers, has completed several important infrastructure projects. These include new school buildings, school additions and renovations, community center construction and refurbishing, and footbridges that provide basic access to schools and services through wet seasons in the tropics. In February 2014, the doors of the very first high school in Manzanillo, Nicaragua will open a joint project realized between Surf For Life and Waves of Hope.

Most people who I hang out with belong to what is considered the middle class. However, none of us considers ourselves rich. Rather, we all feel as though we must work hard to pay mortgages, ensure our kids get educated, and create a safe and comfortable retirement. Very few of us see ourselves near the top of the food chain: apex predators with most of the world underneath us.

However, from a global perspective, my friends and I—average Americans—are, in fact, very close to the top of the vast pyramid of humanity—firmly established in the top ten percent of the world’s population. Computers, phones, TVs, cars and supermarkets with every type of food available year round—this is not the norm for the world, only our world. The group of surfers on the beach that day in Mexico had that insight to use their spare time, and even sometimes spare money, for good.

Surf For Life is based on the premise that human development is all of our responsibility. Seeing ourselves accurately to where we really sit in the world is key to understanding this, and the next step in both our personal and cultural evolution.

This year Surf For Life is raising funds for a long form documentary, “The Next Step,” addressing this topic and other socially conscious themes of activism, voluntourism and giving back. The film team is now gearing up for our final international shoot in the Philippines, where Surf For Life is partnering with Returning Wave to rebuild a school that was destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan last year. Have a look at our teaser for 'The Next Step':

Images in order of appearance: Surf For Life Team Rider, Holly Beck; First high school in El Cuco, El Salvador; Co-Founder Jonathan Sofer; Footbridge in Tempescal, El Salvador; Community center in Carbon, Costa Rica.

environment living sports community surfing travel cities development global development surf real talk travel like you give a damn global impact
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