Surf Bus Foundation History

In June 1998, a 12-year old girl from the inner city, Theresa Robertson, skipped 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 drowned on that sunny Friday afternoon, and 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 middleschool-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, going strong since Summer 2000!


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 the inner city youth of Los Angeles and beyond.


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!


Summer 2007 was the first season Surf Academy 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!


The Surf Bus Foundation: GET ON IT!

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 surfing, swimming and beach games while exploring the wonder and beauty of the sea. Our teaching and mentoring provides understanding that encourages a lifelong commitment to share and protect our oceans for all to enjoy.


The Research

​You can't stop the waves.....

But you can learn to surf:

A proposal to study youth surf programs and their impack on at-risk youth

By Marion Clark


DOWNLOAD the PDF by clicking the photo. 


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