Within popular culture, surfers have been portrayed as laid back idlers in search of the next big wave. What may be closer to the truth is that philanthropy is the next proverbial wave for the surfing community. According to nine-time world champion Kelly Slater, philanthropy may actually be genetic. The perpetual proximity to nature helps surfers develop a unique community and an altruistic connection to humanity.
“[…] there’s something there genetically with us—somehow engineered into the way we live our lives,” reflects Kelly Slater. Slater has become a reputable presence in the philanthropic and surfing world as the founder of the Kelly Slater Foundation, the co-founder of Surfing for Peace (which promotes constructive dialogue in the Middle East) and an active contributor to Surfers Healing, an organization which teaches autistic children how to surf. Kelly Slater’s humanitarian drive isn’t particularly unique; instead, it seems par for the course among his surfing colleagues.
Laird Hamilton, best known for his successful August 2000 drop into one of the most treacherous shallow water reef breaks called Tahiti’s Teahupoʻo break, does surfing events to raise money for causes like cystic fibrosis, ALS and autism. Three-time U.S. Open of Surfing champion Rob Machado — and founder of the Rob Machado Foundation — works to expand ocean awareness in San Diego schools. Jesse Billauer, paralyzed after a surfing accident, founded both the Life Rolls On Foundation (to aid those with spinal cord injuries) and Operation Amped, which uses surfing as a therapy for wounded veterans.
Says 1977 World Champion Shaun Tomson, “[…] we have a different philosophical view of how our sport or lifestyle or art form fits into the world. I think it’s a fundamental law of surfing that we all must give back.”
Many more world famous surfers can be added to this list of active philanthropists. Many of them trace their actions back to the power of the meditative oneness that comes from surfing. With a daily routine that provides a different perspective on the immense power of nature and human connection, these unfairly described ‘laid back’ people understand what is truly important — perhaps even better than those who stay on dry land.