Surfing’s New Aloha: The 2012 Groundswell Conference

The conference took place at SDSU.

It used to be that surfers didn’t worry about anything except catching the next wave.

For Glen Hening, founder of the Groundswell Society, the 10th Annual Surfing, Arts, Sciences and Issues Conference, was all about surfers moving beyond sefishness and embracing a new spirit of aloha.

Co-hosted and organized by SDSU’s new Center for Surf Research, the event brought together more than 120 surf industry stalwarts, social entrepreneurs and everyday surfers to examine the myriad of ways in which surfers can give back.

“The conference confirmed a whole new trend in surfing that’s not about commerce or competition, but about community,” Hening said. “A university setting, great presentations, honest answers, and a real surf-stoke vibe made SASIC 10 a bit of a milestone.”

For Jess Ponting, director of the Center for Surf Research, the conference marked the beginning of a new era in surfer philanthropy and giving back.

Originally from Australia, Ponting has carried out research on the economic, ecological, and cultural impacts of surfing tourism in the surfing “nirvanas” such as Indonesia.

During his research, he found that the multi-million dollar surf tour industry was a complete contrast to the abject poverty and environmental degradation of the rural communities that populate many third-world surfing destinations.

But in some places that situation is changing. Over the past decade, with the development of organizations such as SurfAid, and the emergence of a more strategic form of surf industry philanthropy, a new culture of giving back has emerged among surfers and the surf industry.

Dave Aabo is the founder of Waves for Development, an organization that works to link surfing and community development in the wave-rich coastal desert of northern Peru.

At the conference, he provided an overview on how to make a strategic request from a surf company to carry out community work.

Aabo, an ex-Peace Corps volunteer who departed for Peru the day after the conference, is slowly bringing a more business-like approach to the complex field of community development.

Other presentations were given by staff from Surfing the Nations, SurfAid, Surfing Magazine, and Surfers for Cetaceans. Pierce Kavanaugh screened his film, Manufacturing Stoke.

In the panel on corporate philanthropy, Jeff Wilson of Quiksilver, PJ Connell of Reef and Derek Sabori of Volcom, all provided an overview of how these companies make an impact in their giving (in full disclosure, WiLDCOAST, the organization that I am Executive Director of, receives support from Quiksilver, Reef and SIMA).

For all three companies it is critical for their staff and surfers to get more involved in the projects they are funding and support.

Giving back has now become another important element for professional surfers as well. Kelly Slater for example launched the Kelly Stater Foundation to facilitate his philanthropy.

Rob Machado, who was interviewed by Ponting in a video presentation, carries out his philanthropic work in San Diego County through the Rob Machado Foundation.

The iconic Cardiff surfer also worked with Reef to create a more sustainable sandal made from recycled tires.

One of the more well-received presentations of the day came from Kevin Whilden, co-founder of Sustainable Surf, who identifies and implements environmental solutions for the surf industry.

In one of its key programs, the start-up organization has helped to collect thousands of pounds of used styrofoam that is then collected, compressed and reused in recycled EPS surfboard blanks.

These blanks produced by Marko foam only cost $5 more than those that are non-recycled, and according to Whelden, “are 10 percent stronger.”

Additionally, Sustainable Surf partnered with the Rip Curl and Waste Busters at the San Francisco Rip Curl Pro to reduce waste by 90%.

It is solutions like these and green and social entrepreneurs such as Whilden, Aabo and the new plethora of the members of surfing’s new “aloha” generation who are changing what has typically been a group of inward-looking athletes, into a community that understands the need to give back.

Jake Stutz, a High Tech High sophomore, who attended the SDSU event, exemplifies this new generation.

Recently returned from a school trip to Nicaragua, Jake and his classmates volunteered for community development projects and caught some great waves.

“It was cool,” he said.

Israel Dedina at the WiLDCOAST table. Thanks to Daniel and Jake Stutz for helping out!

Jeff Knox, Megan from San Diego Coastkeeper and Marco Gonzalez from Coast Law Group.

Zach Plopper and AJ Schneller of WiLDCOAST

Jess Ponting, Director of SDSU's Center for Surf Research and Dave Aabo of Waves for Development.

Panel on Corporate Philanthropy with PJ Connel of Reef, Derek Sabori of Volcom, Jeff Wilson of Quiksilver, and Michael Steward of Sustainable Surf.

Panel on Surfer Driven Non-Profits: Andrea Yoder Clarke of SurfAid, Zach Plopper of WiLDCOAST, Tom Bauer of Surfing the Nations, and Kevin Whilden of Sustainable Surf

Pierce Kavanaugh Director of Manufacturing Stoke.

Surfing Magazine editor and SDSU alum, Taylor Paul talking about engaging pro surfers in giving back.

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