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Ocean Access for ALL
The Surf Bus Foundation's mission is to empower people to have a healing connection to the sea. We do this by engaging in ocean sports like swimming, paddling, surfing, beach games, beach clean-ups, ocean swim safety, and ocean literacy principles. Our teaching and mentoring inspires joy and understanding that encourages a lifelong commitment to ocean stewardship, sharing and protecting our oceans for all to enjoy.
On June 19, 1999, a 12-year old girl from Los Angeles, Theresa Robertson, left school with two of her girlfriends and hopped a bus out to Manhattan Beach. They enjoyed a day of playing in the sand, sun, and surf, until ocean conditions changed and a series of rip currents formed on the north side of the Manhattan Beach Pier.
Theresa and her friends were moved several times by Los Angeles County lifeguards, but those preventative measures weren’t enough to get Theresa home that day. She was fully clothed in jeans and a t-shirt, and she drowned on that sunny Friday afternoon. Theresa was found a day later, floating face down in 14 ft. of water, just 25 feet off shore at the 14th Street Lifeguard Tower.
Mary Setterholm was teaching middle school-aged children how to surf on the south side of the Manhattan Pier when the commotion erupted on the north side. She was aware of the frantic search that was occurring and was overcome with rage and helplessness. “The Sea did NOT want to take this child’s life. The Sea is here to nurture and heal,” Mary said after the event.
Mary finished those lessons with a new resolve. She would go on to
found Surf Academy, a for-profit surf school dedicated to educating and
empowering those looking to create and deepen their connection with
nature. Today, Surf Academy is Southern California’s premiere surf
school, starting out with women-only surf lessons and a two-day contest,
Wild Woman Water Day, now going strong since Summer 1999!
After three years of amazing business success and growth, Surf Academy had enough capitol to create and support a registered non-profit, The Surf Bus Foundation. The same principles that are the bedrock of Surf Academy were now to be extended to all the youth across Los Angeles County--over 2,000,000 children we strive to bring to the ocean.
In Summer 2003, The Surf Bus made its debut, picking up anxiously waiting would-be surfers at Echo Park and MacArthur Park. We partnered with local churches and all a kid had to do was, “show up and GET ON IT!” The bus made twice-weekly trips to the beach, bringing children out to the water on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Surf Bus has seen expansion in all its years of existence, and the overwhelming response from Park and Church leaders has been, “it’s a program that works!” The Ocean does not care who you are or where you come from, it doesn’t care how much money you make, whom you know, or what color your skin is. The Waves will keep crashing no matter how READY a body is to absorb their shock. The Sea has been a medium to help bring children from different turfs together and the results have been magical, affecting them in mind, body, and spirit!
By Summer 2007 we saw Surf Bus hiss to a halt at all THREE of our beach sites: Huntington Beach, El Segundo/Dockweiler Beach, and Santa Monica, with three buses a day, five days a week, for eight weeks! We served over 3,000 children a week from economically challenged neighborhoods all over the City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County and we continue to surpass our own record growth, summer after summer! Now in 2023, we are serving 30% of the zip codes across LA County- that's over 100 communities in all five districts.
The Surf Bus Foundation: GET ON IT!
The ocean doesn't care who you are or where you come from.
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