top of page

Surf Bus Foundation History

In June 1999, a 12-year old girl from Los Angeles, Theresa Robertson, hopped on a bus with three of her girlfriends out to Manhattan Beach. They enjoyed a day of playing in the sand, sun, and surf, until ocean conditions shifted 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 safely home that day. She drowned on that sunny Friday afternoon. Rescuers found her body a day later, floating in 25 ft. of water, just 250 feet off shore at the 14th Street Lifeguard Tower. Her death is a tragic reminder of the power of the sea, even on calmer days.


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, 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 youth 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!


Today, Surf Bus serves youth from all over Los Angeles County--we currently reach over 30% of the zip codes in LA County and bring youth to the water from every Supervisorial District. Our curriculum of ocean safety, environmental awareness and action, ocean literacy, and exposure to swimming and surfing continues to have an inspiring impact on the youth of LA, reconnecting a generation of ocean stewards.

The Surf Bus Foundation: GET ON IT!

2017-06-30 10.51.56-2.jpg

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 and swimming, beach games, beach clean-ups, ocean swim safety, and ocean literacy principles. Our teaching and mentoring provide and inspire joy and understanding that encourages a lifelong commitment to ocean stewardship, sharing, and protecting 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. 


About us

Our Mission

bottom of page