Professional Surfer

In the Nicaraguan version of "the Projects," the children lined up for hours to get clothing and food. Photo: Infamous Management

The Inertia

I met Monique Evans last summer at an event where I was celebrating my double-page spread in Surfer Magazine. She was there promoting her non-profit organization, SYRV. Over a couple of beers, Monique explained that it helps the people of Nicaragua through volunteer work, and I wanted to get involved. I thought it was an incredible idea to have a surf trip that involved volunteering, and I decided right then to see what SYRV was all about.

After a long trek from Hawaii, I arrived in Nicaragua to find some of the other volunteers waiting outside the arrivals hall. We made our introductions, and it was evident that everyone was excited about the trip. A little while later, we all piled into a van and set off towards our destination: the village of Jiquilillo, where we would spend the next few days at Monty’s surf camp working on volunteer projects.

Keala prepares Los Zorros' new ceramic water filter. Photo: Infamous Management.

The next morning, we woke up with a full day planned. We started off by testing the water for contaminants at various locations around the village, including two elementary schools. We ended up distributing over 100 water filtration systems from a newly built community center that SYRV had erected. Many of the Nicaraguan people rely on well water, which is almost always contaminated. It blew me away to realize that in poor third world countries like Nicaragua, people have no choice but to drink contaminated water. I’m so grateful to be able to live in a country where clean water comes right out of a tap, and happy to be part of the effort to provide clean water to these families.

After leaving the community center, we went back to Monty’s and put on a surf school for the kids of Jiquilillo. My sponsor, Billabong, donated bikinis and boardshorts for the children. As the other volunteers and I pushed kids into waves, they happily showed off their new gear.

On the second day, we did a presentation at another elementary school to educate the kids about the effects of trash and, especially, the dangers it poses to villages that rely on fishing. It was important to stress that when the fish eat the garbage, they get sick, making us sick in turn. Following the presentation, we did a beach clean up that showed the kids just how much garbage was on the beach right in front of the school. Later on that afternoon, we visited an orphanage and donated ukuleles, crayons, and coloring books. We sang songs, gave music lessons, and played with the kids.

That evening, I settled into a hammock. Then a few of the neighborhood kids showed up, desperately wanting another chance to surf, as it was our last night in town. I rented a board, took them out in the water, and watched the sunset while pushing them into waves, laughing, riding, and falling.

The following morning, we left Jiquilillo for Gigante. Along the way, we stopped at the Chinandega dump to feed some of the families that lived there and hand out donations of clothes and shoes. The dump was the most overwhelming experience of the entire trip. A whole village lives there, surviving off the trash. We served chicken stew that consisted mostly of necks and feet, but the people couldn’t be more grateful to get two generous spoonfuls. My heart broke when the stew ran out and there were still people lined up, hoping for something to eat. We continued on to Gigante with heavy hearts.

"When I'm having a bad day I have to remember that these people's 'best day' is being served chicken feet stew" - Keala Kennelly. Photo: Infamous Management

When the sun came up the next day, a Gigante local named Matteo picked up the volunteers that wanted to go for a surf. He took us up the coast to Colorados, a punchy beach break that barrels on the right tide. Gigante is still a small fishing village, but there are massive beachfront home developments in the surrounding areas. Although the need for clean water is so great that many of the villagers suffer from kidney problems, the new neighborhood has yet to help them. On a previous trip, Monique gave a water filtration system to a woman who had been enduring debilitating kidney problems for a long time. Only a few weeks after she began using the water filter, all of the woman’s symptoms had gone away.

We spent our last two days in San Juan del Sur, where we did yoga, surfed, fished, and relaxed. On our last night, we had a group dinner that was full of toasts, tears, stories and laughter as we recalled the amazing journey we’d just been on. A trip with SYRV is a great experience, and I highly recommend it to any surfer with an open mind and a big heart.


A quick surf at Colorados


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