Writer/Surfer
Baja is a rite of passage for the Southern California surfer. But it's more than empty pointbreaks and beers and tacos. Many still lack basic healthcare and nutrition. That's what propelled SurfAid to expand operations in Baja next year. Photo: Jacopo Cosmelli

SurfAid will support two existing programs in southern Baja – one that gives children access to healthcare and another that operates community gardens and nutrition education programs. Photo: Jacopo Cosmelli


The Inertia

When Dr. Dave Jenkins conceived of the idea to start a non-profit in the Mentawai Islands in 1999, it was out of a strange dichotomy he couldn’t ignore. At a 2014 TEDx event in Manly, Australia, Jenkins explained he came to “the Disneyland of surfing” to chase picture-perfect surf and ventured behind the palms to find communities struggling with preventable and treatable infectious diseases and given his commitment to public health couldn’t help but intervene. SurfAid was later born and has been focused on mother/child health programs, malaria prevention, and disaster relief in rural Indonesia ever since.

Indonesia, especially to Australian surfers, represents a place where the water is warm, and if you work hard enough there’s still the promise of finding a perfect peak to yourself. It’s that same promise that leads many a California-based surfer to venture down the dusty roads of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. And like Dr. Dave’s early observations in Indonesia, pockets of rural Baja are inhabited by residents who lack access to basic healthcare, often suffer from treatable ailments, and lack the means to provide quality nutritious food for their families.

It’s in the spirit of Dr. Dave’s first trip to the Mentawais that SurfAid recently expanded into Baja – a place that, when it’s firing on all cylinders, some might argue gives the Ments a run for its money for the “Disneyland of surfing” claim.

“SurfAid USA is pleased to introduce our newest community partners – Raíz de Fondo and Amigos de los Niños,” the non-profit explained in a Wednesday post to their blog. “With the help of the International Community Foundation (ICF), SurfAid’s goal is to strengthen the capacity of their existing health services and continue our efforts in support of improving maternal and child health in our favorite surf communities.”

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SurfAid teased their expansion plans back in December of last year, explaining they’d be working closely with ICF, a non-profit that connects potential donors to local organizations in Baja, to identify and vet a group to partner with and support in the region.

“With ICF, SurfAid will partner with a carefully vetted project that will help strengthen the capacity of existing health services in the region,” explained Dr. Dave in a piece he wrote for The Inertia last December. “Coupled with our continued success in Indonesia, the collective giving of the SurfAid Tribe will be doing more than ever before. It’s been close to two decades since my life-changing trip to the Mentawai, yet surfers like you continue to work together to ensure our communities have clean water and sanitation, basic healthcare, and improved nutrition.”

Ultimately, SurfAid landed on two projects: Amigos de los Niños, which provides quality healthcare to children in the Los Cabos region with special emphasis on the severely ill and disabled, and Raíz de Fondo, which runs two community gardens, educates the community about nutrition, and provides food assistance for government-run feeding kitchens and other non-profits in La Paz.

Notably, SurfAid has always turned those looking to volunteer directly with their organization in rural Indonesia to other organizations with well-structured volunteer programs. “The places where SurfAid works are isolated and challenging to get to and work in,” their website explains. “There is very limited accommodation, often limited food available, and most people only speak the local dialects… We strongly believe our limited resources are better directed towards employing Indonesian staff and supporting village volunteers with local strategies and solutions.”

For those based in the United States anxious to volunteer with SurfAid, though, the non-profit’s expansion into Baja may now open up new opportunities. To learn more about SurfAid’s expansion and how to get involved, head to their website here.

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