A miracle exists where the desert sand ends and the sea begins in Puerto Malabrigo, Peru. Rusty sand mountains fill the horizon under a cloudy grey sky while the dust dances in wild tornadoes energized by howling winds. Finally, the expanse of amber sand meets the sea, and a legend in surfing, Chicama, the longest left in the world, mechanically delivers dreamy eternal lefts. Somehow, the wave is just a small piece of the miracle – I miss the smiles and laughter from the local kids more than I miss the surf.
My journey started with an invitation to join the Share the Stoke Foundation (STSF) on a mission to Peru with the objective of sharing that magical wave with the local children. The STSF is a non-profit organization that donates surfboards to underprivileged children worldwide with the aim of keeping them off the street and in the water chasing waves. This year, STSF is in the midst of the 100 Board Project, and Peru marked mission five. Firewire generously provided surfboards for the project allowing the foundation to impact ten kids in ten countries.
Joan Bergmans of the Mono Loco Surf School traveled from Panama to meet me, the Florida girls, Kelly Kingston (the president of STSF), on a layover in Colombia. We were united by a passion to not just surf, but to use surfing to make the world a better place by impacting the lives of children, and in turn, impacting the future.
Upon our arrival, we squeezed into wetsuits with enough time left to discover a wave that reeled and peeled. We rode the longest rides of our lives next to a sinking sun. I noticed while waiting in the line-up that there were no local rippers or girls. I met surfers from Brazil, Canada, Australia, and a guy from California, but no locals.
“In Peru the ocean is not seen as a playground, but more as a resource for life. One can work there to find food or also use it to dump waste,” a Peruvian said.
I agreed that the sea was a valuable natural resource, especially in the fishing village of Puerto Malabrigo. Because of its strong current, I read that Chicama could happily host 100 surfers, and after my time there I understood how. As vast and spacious as the desert was, so was the sea. Although waves break as a reflection of what is under them, here it seemed the waves mirrored the desert next to them. All the space made me feel so small. The point break worked freakishly well. So well, in fact, that I could catch a wave and when my legs gave out and I fell, another wave would break right where I had been dropped off, ready to taxi me on. The wave was playful, easy to surf, and perfect for the local children who lived on the chilly, overcast street that led to the sea.
Since surfboards are necessary but nearly impossible for the most of the kids to get, this project proved valuable in such an environment. By donating surfboards, the foundation could unlock a new playground and hobby for the kids. In learning to surf and then learning about it, opportunities for a future income based on this natural resource are possible. Serious surfers from all over the globe make the pilgrimage to Chicama, opening up a market based on surf tourism.
The Peru crew consisted of locals from the Chicama Surf Resort, Zorro’s Surf School, and volunteers with the Peace Corps who fused together to provide all of the essentials for the project. Fliers decorated the village and created a buzz about a day of surfing for the kids. We planned to start the day with a beach clean-up, have a barbecue, and then surf lessons before awarding the selected kids with boards. This turned out to be the biggest STSF event to date, with more than a hundred children in attendance.
“Don’t expect to start right at noon,” said Carlhey Bolz, the Peace Corps volunteer who coordinated the event. “In this culture people often turn up late.” But when I got out of the water at 10:30 that morning, I saw kids already milling around on the beach waiting.
After a brief impromptu football game, we began sifting in the sand, looking for garbage. During the clean-up, I talked with my group about why it is important to throw trash away responsibly instead of into the ocean. A girl named Claudia gravitated toward me as we collected rubbish in black plastic bags. Her long dark hair flowed and framed almond shaped eyes, yet her bold beauty was contrasted by a self-conscious timidity. She looked down and only spoke when I asked her questions. I noticed that many of the girls carried themselves in this way, while the boys were similar to the rambunctious sort I was accustomed to; picking up sticks, provoking sword fights and chattering away.
After lunch, the surf lessons began. Each child traced a surfboard in the sand and practiced jumping to their feet with the correct stance. Claudia sprang to her feet serious and focused.
While we brought some wetsuits to donate, we didn’t have nearly enough for everyone, so I didn’t expect even half the kids to participate in the surf lessons due to the water temperature. Once again, they trumped my expectations when every one of them were not only ready, but enthusiastic to brave the frigid ocean for an opportunity to surf. Claudia charged through the foam and spray with determination, and when she was pushed into the wave a fit of uncontrollable laughter over took her. A wild grin spread across her face. Although she didn’t stand up during that session, she never gave up and never stopped smiling.
The kids crowded around Carlhey as she explained the criteria for the kids who would be awarded with the new Firewire surfboards. When I heard Carlhey announce Claudia’s name, I felt more joy than if I was awarded one of the boards myself. Claudia jumped up and down, still wearing that same wild grin. As I picked out a board for her, I witnessed something shift in Claudia that day. There was a new sparkle in her eye, a fresh hope, and she stood taller as she held her very own surfboard.
We set aside two of the Firewires to start a small revolution: a girl’s surf club. As in many cultures, we noticed that the women here had less opportunity. Carlhey was willing to lead the club and would schedule meetings for the girls. They could surf with her or check out boards from her. I knew the next time I saw Claudia, she would be different. Perhaps we would meet out in the line-up where I would see her riding the flawless left. Perhaps she would no longer be sullen and shy, but joyful and confident.
The STSF depends on outside support as a non-profit, so spread the word. The more people who know about the foundation and the more supporters it gains, the more kids can be impacted.