The defining moment was something I’d never seen before: a perfect 4-foot wall reeling along the cobblestone point without a soul scratching for it – the way it had done, probably, for at least a few hundred years before Malibu became one of the most crowded breaks in the world. It was like something from a dream. Uncrowded waves. Friends. Pros. But, best of all, everyone was gathered in the name of doing something good. Something in hopes to change the lives of mothers, children, and families thousands of miles away.
For the last five years, SurfAid, an international organization that promotes public health and assists with disaster relief in rural Indonesian communities, has hosted its annual SurfAid Cup Malibu in an effort to raise funds and awareness.
It’s an event unlike any other. Weeks if not months in advance, fundraising teams set out into their communities to spread awareness and accept donations on behalf of SurfAid. Teams are incentivized to raise more money than their fellow competitors because come contest day, the highest raising team gets to select first from a roster of pro surfers to join them and gets their name on the cup for their efforts.
This year’s event boasted a star studded lineup including Shane Dorian (who was named SurfAid Humanitarian of the year along with Kelly Slater), Reef McIntosh, Matt McCabe, Mike McCabe, Johnny Noris, Anthony Petruso, Allen Sarlo, Jen Smith, Pascal Stansfield, Guy Takayama, Joel Tudor, and Tyler Warren. Not to mention, Rob Machado who was the heavy hitter on the Firewire squad, and Kassia Meador and Leah Dawson who surfed for a team they called Crystal Blue Persuasion.
According to SurfAid founder, Dr. Dave Jenkins, the connection between the organization’s work in rural Indonesia and the surf community at large is intentional. The juxtaposition between the “Disneyland of waves” on offer in the Mentawais and throughout Indonesia (often accessed via a privately chartered yacht), and the level of poverty just beyond the shoreline is staggering. Indeed, it’s that curiosity about what life was like on land that led Dr. Dave to leave his charter boat and take a walk in 1999. When he witnessed firsthand the types of treatable and preventable illnesses locals were dealing with, that was it. SurfAid was born.
More than anyone else, surfers have a connection to these communities. Some areas are so remote and have such limited infrastructure that surfers are virtually the only outsiders to come anywhere near them. All for the singular draw of quality waves. So if surfers don’t contribute to preventing the spread of disease and promoting public health there, who will?
Different SurfAid Cups have cropped up around the world according to this mantra: the idea that surfers can be agents of change. All told, this year’s event in Malibu raised $125,000, bringing the total raised over the past five years to half-a-million. Team Firewire won for the fourth year in a row.
The feeling on the beach was palpable. People were excited. And everyone was there for the same reasons. Malibu was pumping, so that was a plus. But first and foremost, everyone wanted to do good. Save lives.