I managed to meet up with Kelly Kingston recently, founder of Share The Stoke Foundation, at the downtown Lake Worth Starbucks. She had just returned from Costa Rica, another successful global hop as part of her mission to elevate the lives of children in need through the sport of surfing.
While I claimed the last empty table in the busy coffee shop to chat with her, Kelly was jostling for a place on the crowded, community bulletin board to post her latest flyer. As I observed from a distance, Kelly’s back to me, her body language reflected both confidence and the ability to acquiesce in light of the situation. I’m not accustomed to the rules of the community board and might have been inclined to reposition or simply eliminate outdated flyers to make space for mine; but Kelly seemed to take it all in stride and accept the last little sliver of space, leaving the majority of her latest initiative outside of the box. I admit, that last line was a premeditated metaphor, an attempt to demonstrate that great concepts must coexist within, yet evolve beyond the standard logistics of our imperfect world.
The inception of the Share The Stoke Foundation began with thinking outside of the box and has since adapted and grown into something much larger and more profound than just giving away surfboards.
Joe Pregadio: How long have you been surfing?
Kelly Kingston: I started out body surfing in Hawaii ten years ago and progressed to riding surfboards when I moved to Florida, which was 8 years ago.
Tell me, what does it means to be a South Florida surfer?
It’s devastating. You can quote me on that. It’s really tough because we are starved for waves. So when there are waves, we throw everything to the side and go surf. Sometimes, we get lucky and there’s a week straight of waves and our whole life and everything other than surfing falls to the wayside so when the waves stop we are super busy catching up.
When did it click you were onto something bigger than just giving away a surfboard?
I think it was when we gave away our first couple of boards, around Christmas time of 2007. We gave out about four surfboards that year and one board we gave to a kid on Christmas day, that first year. That kid came to our house and he was crying and he was so stoked. I knew at that moment we had changed his life, based on how he was reacting to it. We did something for his family that they couldn’t do for him. We felt we changed his life.
How did you come up with “Share the Stoke”?
I came up with the name, Share the Stoke Foundation…actually, I was just throwing around some ideas, just trying to figure out what made the most sense. And when I thought about what we were actually doing, I realized that we were sharing the stoke. And I thought, that’s cool…and that was it.
In your own words, what does it mean to be stoked?
To be stoked to me means to be so excited, so pumped on life… just oozing love for life.
Who has been you biggest supporter over these years?
Firewire took a chance on us and donated us a bunch of boards. In those years, they stepped up those contributions each year, more and more. Just watching them, how giving they are, has been amazing for us because it’s really them that has kept us going by giving surfboards….they’ve been inspiring.
What is your biggest challenge?
Our biggest challenge is funding. We do fundraisers all the time. We have a couple of supporters that have stayed with us over the years, but we haven’t landed that big or small corporate sponsor we can count on for financial donations.
The word “share” and “surfers” are not synonymous. In the water, the ideal situation is “my wave.” What makes you think surfers can be good sharers?
If you look at all the surfing non-profits out there – and there’s actually a bunch – they are all run by surfers. I think there’s a change that’s happening where surfers are so environmentally conscious about our planet that they want to make a difference, and so there’s a growing consensus where it’s all about sharing. There’s always going to be surfers out there that are takers. That’s just life. I think it’s moving closer to the side of sharing though.
Your mission has arched over the years from personally giving to teaching others how to give. Can you explain how this and surfing are related?
Well, you know, surfing offers up so many cool things, and so do a lot of other sports, but for surfing in particular we’ve been talking about four related key principles: responsibility, discipline, community and leadership. If you think about surfers and getting good at surfing, you can’t really go out and party all night. You eat right, you go to bed early. You exercise. You wake up at the crack of dawn and go and practice your sport and hone your skills and get good. When we talk about leadership, a lot of kids volunteering for our organization are surfers and they are really excited to give back and make other kids’ lives better. In regard to responsibility, we are out in the world and out in the ocean and we want to protect it like keeping our beaches clean…to keep our oceans clean. And with community, it’s not just the kids we have, but all the parents come down when we have big community barbecues. You know, this sport can bring people together to create something that’s magical for everyone.
What is your reward?…What are you getting out of this?
What I get out of this is…just knowing that I’m giving back something positive that brings me so much love.