And Not Turn Away: Why the industry should support Surf Aid International

Dr. Dave Jenkins got off the boat, and his life was altered forever.

“Never get out of the boat,” warned Chef in Apocalypse Now, and it seems like far too many surfers have heeded this warning. Cocooned in the pampered luxury of chartered yachts, they don’t see that behind the idyllic backdrop of a surfer’s paradise — in the fetid, malaria-ridden jungles of the Mentawai Islands of Indonesia — lurk the tigers of conscience.

In October of 1999, Jenkins ventured into village called Katiet — a stone’s throw from Lance’s Right, a spot made world famous by the surf industry. It was a revelation he hardly expected. This M.D. from New Zealand had a cush job in Singapore. He was pulling down six figures. All he wanted were a few waves, a slice of the Mentawai dream that’s been served up in heaping, prepackaged, and sanitized portions by the surf industry for years. He found something quite different instead.

[IMAGE 1]”I always pack my medical bag when traveling and like to run impromptu clinics in the areas I visit,” says Jenkins, “but when I sought out the chief of Katiet, I didn’t think it would change my life — I can’t claim to have been that generous. But I was affected. We ran a clinic in this really grubby hot room. We were all sweating, and there was so much stuff going down that these burly surfers were turning green and had to leave. My girlfriend was crying. There was a person brought to me in a wheelbarrow who was semiconscious and dying. There were kids with malaria. There were people dying of tuberculosis who looked like cancer patients in their final stages of the disease. And it was just four or five steamy hours of despair.”

Jenkins returned to the boat shaken and with questions like “Why?” “What’s going on?” “Why aren’t there any nurses?” “Who’s trying to help?” running continuously through his mind. The real world collided with the dream in a big way. The tiger had confronted Jenkins, and he couldn’t turn away.

[IMAGE 2]It would have been easy to flinch. After all, problems are everywhere. The world is a mess. What can one person do in the face of such wide-scale misery? Against diseases like malaria, which affect 300- to 500-million people a year? Forget it and go for a surf.

Except Jenkins couldn’t. Instead, he quit his job, sold his house in New Zealand, and used the proceeds to launch Surf Aid International (SAI), a grassroots nongovernmental aid organization free from political, religious, or racial agendas. Its mission is to significantly improve the health of the Mentawai people — and encourage and coordinate support from the global surfing community.

Now, like some prophet from the wilderness, Jenkins has brought the tiger to us, to the doorstep of the surf industry. Each of us must decide to act or turn away — and be content with that decision.

In the Mentawais, a quarter of all children born will die before their twelfth birthday — from maladies that can be easily prevented. “The childhood mortality figures are shocking,” says Jenkins. “They’re up there with the worst in the world. The Mentawai Health Department gets 180,000 dollars to care for 64,000 of the worst-off people in the world — who are in some of the most isolated villages in the world — but it’s clearly not enough.”

[IMAGE 3]However, SAI’s aim isn’t to offer handouts to the Mentawai villagers. “We’ve adopted a philosophy that the Mentawai people can look after themselves, and that’s our primary aim,” says Managing Director Andrew Griffiths, an accountant who heard about SAI during an extended surfing trip and decided to join the cause, heading up SAI’s first malaria project. “Our secondary aim is to build the bonds and partnerships between the local communities and the Mentawai Health Department. We do have some good people in there.”

Jenkins picks up the thought: “We know the Mentawai people can do this. They’re hungry for it and are keen to look after their children. Our track records clear. We’ve had a 75-percent reduction of malaria {in our trial villages} during the past two years. We’re focused on the grassroots stuff, right down to talking to the children, teaching them malaria {education} songs in kindergarten, and getting the teachers and the mums involved. We’re teaching mums how to look after their babies and protect them from malaria, so this lasts for generations.”

[IMAGE 4]

While the reduction of malaria rates is SAI’s focus, it’s reached some other important milestones over the past eighteen months. The group established an outreach health service to 28 villages in the southern half of Siberut Island, provided 7,961 immunizations, and monitored 93 percent of the children of south Siberut.

Everything is in place, except for one thing: cash. More than goodwill or free product, more than news stories in trade magazines or pats on the back, SAI needs cash. But so far the industry has been slow to respond. The irony is that the cash needed to adequately fund the organization is relatively modest: 400,000 dollars a year over five years — or a total of two-million.

To be sure, there have been supporters. Reef’s Santiago Aguerre and Quiksilver’s Harry Hodge have both recently stepped up to the plate in a substantial way. Steve Baralotti’s excellent article in the Volume 45 Number 12 issue of Surfer also brought some needed attention to the issue.

SAI is grateful for any support. “We have a very consistent strategy when it comes to surf-industry support,” says Jenkins. “It’s simply this, we’re doing this because we want to do it. It’s one of the best things that I’ve ever done in my life. It’s a warm, open partnership we’re offering to the surf industry. They will never hear us wingeing.

“Closing deals is difficult for us,” admits Jenkins. “We need cash at the end of the day, and we need to get our partners to help us. But we’re here to represent our partners extremely positively in the very best way we can do.”

According to Gary Sirota, who heads up SAI’s efforts in the U.S., “The surf industry has reached a point of maturity where you have global multinational companies. It’s mature enough for the idea of social responsibility to be a topic of conversation.

“When an industry starts to talk about social responsibility, then it’s worthwhile for them to start to look at areas greater than themselves and choose something,” he continues. “The fact is, Surf Aid International makes a lot of sense. The surf industry didn’t bring malaria on and it’s not exacerbating the problem, but it sure makes sense for them to get involved. What a great partnership.”

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Indeed, in an era where the surf industry is grappling with ways to accentuate its authenticity against a wave of encroaching poseurs, supporting the children of a region that’s helped us so directly — and a culture we’ve directly affected — seems to make good business sense.

“As travelers with our eyes and hearts open, we can’t fully take pride or pleasure in our exploration unless we acknowledge the total reality of our discoveries,” says Jenkins. “The Mentawais represent a challenge and an opportunity. So much has been done with relatively little. And, with the support of the surf industry, a real, significant, and lasting change can be made without changing the culture, religion, or ethnicity of the islands. We can be discoverers of common bonds, explorers in good will.”

For more information on Surf Aid International, log on to: www.surfaidinternational.org, or contact Gary Sirota at: (760) 943-1157.

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Surf-Aid International Golf Benefit

On Thursday, November 20th, The Board Retailers Association and ZJ Boarding House, in conjunction with the Surf Aid Intenational USA Chapter are presenting a major fundraising golf event to benefit Surf Aid International. The Surf Aid International Golf Benefit will take place at the Maibu Country Club in Malibu, California.

The event features a two-man scramble, putting contest, longest drive and closest to the pin compeitions. Foursomes cost 1,000 dollars with the proceeds benefitting Surf Aid International.

We urge you to come participate in this important fundraising event. You’ll have an opportunity to actually save and enrich lives, meet Dr. Dave Jenkins (the founder and Chairman of Surf-Aid International), and have a fun day with other people that truly care about making a difference.

For more information on what SAI is doing, please go to www.surfaidinternational.org.

For more information on the fundraising event, click here.or call Vic Calandra at 310-985-9896.

There are limited spots available for the event, so please fill out and return the tournament sign-up sheet now and we’ll see you on Thursday, November 20th!

rnational. The Surf Aid International Golf Benefit will take place at the Maibu Country Club in Malibu, California.

The event features a two-man scramble, putting contest, longest drive and closest to the pin compeitions. Foursomes cost 1,000 dollars with the proceeds benefitting Surf Aid International.

We urge you to come participate in this important fundraising event. You’ll have an opportunity to actually save and enrich lives, meet Dr. Dave Jenkins (the founder and Chairman of Surf-Aid International), and have a fun day with other people that truly care about making a difference.

For more information on what SAI is doing, please go to www.surfaidinternational.org.

For more information on the fundraising event, click here.or call Vic Calandra at 310-985-9896.

There are limited spots available for the event, so please fill out and return the tournament sign-up sheet now and we’ll see you on Thursday, November 20th!