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On making LA the best place to PLAY: A Surfer's Code for LA2050

It is the six-month mark for our LA2050: Make LA the best place to PLAY! grant project. We want to take a time out from our gnarlatiously awesome, salty, and sandy times at the beach to share with everyone how our journey is unfolding. We thought it appropriate to dress our lessons up in surfing legend Sean Thomson's A Surfer's Code. We picked six of the twelve tenets to highlight our tribulations and our triumphs. A project of this magnitude has taken no small amount of planning. We finished our second week out of eight weeks of camp today. We have taken photos, kept daily journals, conducted short interviews, and collected anonymous before/after surveys from all students and staff from each park. We have learned more efficient ways to move massive amounts of children quickly and we have passed on our tips and tricks to the parks that will be coming out for the next six weeks.


We started actively applying for various grants in 2008. Rejection hurts, but the take-aways from proposals that do not meet criteria of certain foundations and organizations have been invaluable. Every year, Surf Bus has refined its approach when asking for large sums of money, while still relying on the good will of a few private donors and the generosity of Surf Academy and the communities Surf Academy serves.

"NO" is not a deterrent. Getting a "NO" is like discovering there is an obstacle in the dark--it is nothing to be mad about, you simply find another way. Surfing teaches us this with every paddle stroke through consistent surf. We ALL know the struggle of pushing through waves that seem relentless, to finally discover an opening you were working toward the whole time. Because we have experienced this, we give it our all in everything we do--grant requests are no different. What we have learned paddling around, dodging waves, riding waves, and getting thrashed by waves informed our approach to applying for the LA2050 grant contest. We asked for $100,000 because why would we do anything other than go big? The relationship we cultivate with the sea is not just for us as individuals--it demands to be shared! We do our beloved sport and play ground an injustice if we do anything less than everything we can to help expand our ocean connections and our surfing family.

We asked for the maximal amount of funds for our Surf Bus Project: Therapeutic Ocean Engagement: Surfing ( in, on the nose).


Surf Bus was a jury selected winner of the LA2050 grant contest. It did not feel real! When the initial amazement subsided and the contract came in the mail, the reality of winning the grant was realized: The Goldhirsh Foundation is investing their money in us; We are charged with the responsibility of using this money wisely and helping it do an exponential amount of good. We were faced with accepting a new level of responsibility for being the change we want to see in the world. Our well thought out plans and budgets would not be enough to move a project--the people behind the paperwork breathe life into a theory--were we ready to say "YES" to next-level giving?

Giving from the heart is a two-way street. It is an offering from the vulnerable position of allowing oneself to be transformed by the act giving. Giving from the heart is no easy act—the flow of giving has no conditions or expectations; it is born out of a want to know oneself as ‘one who gives’ and the silent acceptance is ‘no matter what I get/don’t get in return.’ The returns on giving from the heart are not always tangible…much of the time what we get is a warming of the heart, a feeling of uplift, a sense of personal growth, and a ‘pay it forward’ attitude from those involved. This is how we see the sea, this is the kind of giving done by the sea—we play, we hunt and fish, seek shelter, transportation, expansion of scientific knowledge; and the ocean abides at all costs. The beauty of working with the ocean is that our lessons come without anyone to blame for failed attempts. We learn to work with the behavior of the sea or we miss opportunities. We learn and adapt to her timing or we do not. She is a truly objective and equal opportunity teacher.

Yes, we were ready for the challenge of bringing TOES to life. We were ready for our own transformation--personally and professionally--at the shores of our beloved Los Angeles, with thousands of her children. We signed the contract.


The first surfers were Hawaiian royalty. We ask our students what it means to act like a king or a queen and their answer is universally the same: It means you respect the ocean and you take care of people.

Our original proposal was to bring four LA City park and recreation departments out to the beach for two weeks of surf camp. I reached out to two park coordinators, Wesley King from Green Meadows and Evan Nakamura from Valley Plaza, and asked them a direct question: Who can we rely on to keep their word? To do the children justice, to honor the project the transformation offered by ocean play, we needed the parks to fully commit as partners in this ocean social experiment. Follow through in the ocean and respect for the power of the sea will get you to the next level of your sport, and the same is true for any kind of project on land. The process is not always easy, but we can prepare for the bumps if we lay out our expectations and go over historical hiccups that are typical of summer camp.

In March, Surf Bus met at Green Meadows with coordinators and directors from three other LA parks: Algin Sutton, Trinity, and Cypress. We had a frank discussion about research goals and weekly expectations. The biggest question mark was about the time commitment. We asked, "Can you get the SAME 65 children to commit to summer camp for two weeks in a row?" The honesty in the room was refreshing: "We don't know. As important as this trip out to the beach is, we aren't sure if we will get the consistency you are looking for to collect the data you want."

The second big decision of our year had to be made: Do we deviate from the original proposal, even though we KNOW that 10 days of immersion in a surfing project will garner measurable positive results in the children we serve? Or do we break up the summer into one-week blocks and invite eight parks out to the beach? We called our supporters at Goldhirsh and put it to them: What is more important: stick to the plan or cover more ground? Their answer was like the moment you and your friend spy the same set wave and your friend says: You go. Our partners at Goldhirsh said they trusted us to make the best decision that would have the largest impact. We chose to offer a week of camp to three other parks, rounding out our eight to cover all areas of Los Angeles: North Hollywood, East LA, Downtown, and South Central LA. We opened the door for our partners at Algin Sutton, Cypress, and Green Meadows to reach out to other reliable coordinators at Denker, Yucca, and Hazard Parks.

We had a committed eight parks for our summer calendar by the end of April.

Our next step was to pitch our project to The City of Santa Monica. We needed special permission to execute our surf camp at Tower 27 in Ocean Park. We offered our surf instruction services to all contracted summer camps in the local community: Santa Monica Sports Experience, Camp Santa Monica, Rosie's Girls, Virginia Park, PAL. The City gladly gave us their blessing to host our project at one of the best beaches for learning in Southern California. Also, too, Santa Monica is the "end of the line" for multiple forms of public transportation. We do honor to our sport when we give our students a way to continue their relationship with the ocean--it is easy to get on the metro or take a bus out to the beach!


Surf Bus committed to dressing and feeding all our students, park staff, and volunteers with healthy lunches for the duration of our summer calendar. Surfing and spending time at the beach exposed to the elements requires serious physical fortitude. Physical, mental, and emotional endurance is learned. We have learned that staying well hydrated with water and choosing whole foods like simple proteins, fruits, and vegetables creates maximal returns at the beach. We can set up our students to build their resiliency if we set them up for success: give them the right nutrients for their bodies to operate at the highest level, dress them in a uniform that is designed for play in the ocean.

We reached out to Whole Foods and they agreed to give us healthy snacks and fruit for 65 people EVERY DAY for the week of July 17-21. Score!

At our pre-summer meeting with Algin Sutton, we learned about Everytable and their mission to feed Los Angeles at rates various communities can afford. We reached out to them to feed our soon-to-be-groms and it turned out they opened a location in Santa Monica the week before we started camp. Everytable prepares healthy fresh salads and grain bowls for us three days a week and volunteer parents pick up the food at the Santa Monica promenade and bring it out to our surf camp location at Ocean Park.

On the day we field trip to AltaSea and the Cabrillo Aquarium, we have The Beach House, a sober living establishment, make and deliver lunch for all our budding marine scientists. We are so happy to partner up with and support other non-profits looking to make a difference in their communities.

Coolies Surf made us special rashguard sets of shorts and tops to give to all the children who do not have suitable bathing suits of their own. Every Monday, we find out from the park coordinators who needs a bathing suit and we suit them up with their very own pair of Surf Academy board shorts or a Coolies tankini.


This section is about traffic in Los Angeles. THERE IS NO WAY AROUND IT. Already we have paid the bus company overtime fees because we misjudged how long it would take to get back to Hazard park from Santa Monica.

We committed to visiting all the park and recreation departments to get a feel for the community and to spend time on the grounds, seeing how kids play in Los Angeles. This may sound naive, but we never realized how large and sprawling Los Angeles really is. Here in Santa Monica, it feels like the center of the world--that is how Santa Monica presents itself as a popular tourist destination. It is embarrassing to admit getting stuck in the thinking, "this is where everyone wants to be, so why should we leave?" Taking on the experiment of driving to each park at heavy traffic times so we might get a sense of what a person might go through just to get to the beach has been a game changer.

Here are a few things we discovered: There is a huge difference in the design of North Hollywood and South Los Angeles. South LA is so dence. All of LA is dense, really, but for some reason, things feel so smushed together in the heart of Los Angeles. Waze app says it takes 34 minutes to get to DTLA, but that is a lie--it takes two hours no matter how you try to get there. There is no real green space at Yucca Park. The kids sit in plastic kiddie pools on a concrete patio when it gets too hot; but they also have access to ballet and karate, two sports not offered at any of the other parks. Every coordinator had stories to share about gang activity in their area and how the gangs and the park (community) co-exsist. For some students-turned-counselors their choice is either: Join a gang or play sports. In surfing we are taught to paddle around the impact--to study the wave patterns and look for the opening so you save yourself an ocean beating. If you want to get to the beach from deep within Los Angeles, you are going to fight traffic one way or another. Prime surf times are dawn patrol (traffic) or sunset glass off (traffic) and the shore line is "black balled" (i.e. NO SURFING) from Noon to 6pm every day between Memorial and Labor Day.

Our drives around and through Los Angeles had us going, "No wonder the kids are missing from these shores. Getting here is a bit of a nightmare." We are happy to have a school bus bringing so many children all at once. After six months of traffic recon, we are satisfied it is the path of least resistance to the sea for our young students. We partnered with Four Winds, Inc. a bus company out of Lennox that has been in operation for 45 years, to get our project moving.


There was a big push for volunteers to round out our surf instruction and beach support for TOES. Emails went out to 100 unique email addresses offering information and time lines regarding our Surf Bus summer adventures. 100% of our volunteers are students who surf on Surf Academy-run middle and high school surf teams in and around the westside. Our volunteens are so taken with the work—they show up early (even the chronically late to surf practice kids), they stay late and ask for ways to help, they ask if they may work days they did not originally schedule…it makes our hearts swell to watch kids teaching kids; excited to have their surfing family grow. Truly, the project epitomizes Ohana Nalu (family wave) and the Spirit of Aloha. This week, we worked with Valley Plaza. By day five, we had all forty-five groms calling their instructors "aunty" and "uncle," just like on the Hawaiian islands.

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