Surfers' Helping Hands Impact Beach Communities
California native Lissette Perez lives in El Salvador, she loves to surf. there was once a hotel for surfers near the dark sand and big waves of the Cuco beach.
There was also a non-profit organization to improve educational opportunities in El Salvador. A year ago, a group of surfers from San Francisco stayed at her hotel,she talked with them about her plans to build a high school. They volunteered to help.
“They came down and spent almost two weeks," she says, "About 20 surfers came and worked, hands-on, and helped us finish the foundation and begin the walls on the project.”
They were members of surf for life based in San Francisco. Financial planner and surfer Alex Fang co-founded it four years ago.
“My friend and I wanted to create an organization that would allow people to travel, but also focus energy towards creating something positive," Fang says.
Surf for Life organizes trips to surfing destinations, where surfers also work on infrastructure projects which promote education in the local communities.
“For us, that includes bridges, things that allow people to access schools, schools themselves, renovating schools so they’re usable or completing unfinished schools.”
“We’re saying, 'Thank you so much for providing us with your waves and your beaches and as a treat for you, we’re going to build a school un your community because your community needs it.'”
32 years old Sierra Brasher joined the group three months ago, she just returned from a Surf for Life trip to Costa Rica.
“It was the most memorable week of my entire life," she says. "I got to co-lead a trip of 14 volunteers. We went to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. It’s in a jungle. It’s on this beautiful beach.”
Brasher and her group helped build a two-room elementary school.
“We had a total of 40 volunteers that traveled down there and the first group was laying the foundation," Brasher says. "Then the second group laid the tiles down and they finished the dry wall. Then our group grouted the tiles, cleaned up all the grout, and then we painted the entire interior and exterior of the two rooms.”
Then they moved on to another project. our group also put a deck that called a breach, it's a soup kitchen and it serves the BriBri, which is a local indigenous tribe there.
“I don’t think I ever sweat as much as I had when I was down there in Costa Rica," he says. "I think it was a combination of all of the manual work and then also the climate.”
still, says Computer security expert Ian Sharpe, it was a rewarding experience.
“You see the smile on the kids’ faces and you know you’re making a lasting impact in the community. At the last day the students all created some thank you cards and thanked us for all the hard work, for helping them build up the school.”
So far, Surf for Life has focused on Central American communities, but co-founder Fang plans to expand.
“We’re looking at potential projects and partnerships with a few other organizations in Japan, Africa and in South Asia," Fang says. "We’re looking at Bangladesh and trying to create a women’s center in one of the surfing villages out there.”
While Surf for Life members are building what local communities need, they are also changing perceptions about surfers. They are not interested only in riding the waves and having fun, they also care about the people who live near the beautiful beaches they love.