Meet Mitchell Guapo. A fresh-faced, 18 year old native of the High Desert of California. After graduating high school, Mitchell came to Oahu and interned with Surfing The Nations. Seeing that Surfing The Nations was a great place from which to impact the world around him, he joined STN’s full time staff as the coordinator of Ulu Pono Teens program for at-risk youth. A life in Hawaii was already far beyond his wildest dreams, but little did he know the ride was about to get that much crazier!
A few months ago, the founders of Zhou Enlai Peace Institute from China came by to check out STN’s vintage shop, The Vintage. After receiving a tour of STN, they were inspired and asked if a representative from STN could come and speak at a conference they were putting on for Chinese youth. They were looking specifically for a teenager from STN to represent the youth of America. Mitchell’s young age made him the perfect candidate for this opportunity!
It was my first time leaving the country so I was stoked!’ explains Mitchell. He was given the task of preparing a 20 minute speech about how to achieve world peace, and deliver it to a large audience. ‘That was definitely one of the biggest challenges: getting mentally prepared to talk to over 1,000 people!’ Few of us can feel prepared to talk about achieving world peace at any age, much less at 18! Mitchell’s main points boiled down to this message: We can only achieve peace in our homes, communities and the world after we have found peace within ourselves.
He arrived in Shanghai after flying for over 11 hours. Mildly jet-lagged and extremely excited, Mitchell made his way to speak at the event in Tong Li. In the ballroom of a hotel, he looked at the place where he would be speaking from. “It was a massive stage, with a large LED screen behind me, a runway before me, and an audience made up of people from all over the world.” The whole set up was mind blowing. Nerves aside, Mitchell delivered his talk with the help of a translator, and received roaring applause.
Mitchell ended up staying in China for a total of ten days, spoke a few more times and made plenty of new friendships. When asked for his favorite memory of the trip, he was at a loss for words. “The entire experience was great; from the people to the city to the food, it’s hard to choose just one highlight. One the coolest things was hearing from the both the youth and adults about how inspired they were to see a counter-cultural lifestyle. They were surprised to find out that I was a full time volunteer, and moved by the fact that people believe in what I’m doing at STN enough to sponsor me to be on staff there. I’m glad I got to inspire them to live selflessly and out of the box in their own communities.”
Mitchell is back in action here at Surfing the Nations, continuing to mentor the youth in Wahiawa. At only eighteen years old, Mitchell has already been able to express just a few of his “out-of-the-box” passions and dreams at Surfing the Nations.
Although a free T-Shirt for someone in need may seem like a small act, we believe that it can lead to greater and bigger acts of kindness ,progression, and togetherness. We would also like to raise an awareness of selflessness and the spirit of giving. For who ever wears “BLSD” apparel, we want them not to just look good but to feel good as well.”
For every shirt that BLSD sells, they will give one to a child in the Ulu Pono Kids program. It is a very special and often rare thing for the kids to be able to get brand new clothing items. It will be an amazing way to invest in a child and show them they are worth it!
Today’s blog comes from Katie Connor, the director of STN’s Ulu Pono program. To see more photos and read more about her life working with the kids of Wahiawa, visit her blog.
Do you remember your first piano recital or football game? The weeks of practice and the butterflies in your stomach? Do you remember looking up into the bleachers or squinting from the bright stage into the dark crowd? And there they were: the people who had pushed (maybe slightly forced) you to be there. They looked at you with love and pride, trying to mask their own anxiety for you. They belonged to you; they were your parents.
I remember many moments like this growing up and I long for those moments now when I’m living thousands of miles away. But the kids I work with don’t ever get moments like that. Maybe mom and dad are too busy, or gone completely, or just uninterested. Many of the kids have never been to a soccer practice or a ballet class. The street is where they spend their afternoons. The street and the Ulu Pono Kids Program. They may never hear their parents tell them how proud they were or that it was okay that they dropped the final pass. Often times it just isn’t a part of their culture. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t tell them we are proud of them! So this weekend, that is exactly what we did!
The Ohai Family Festival was a dream that we had cultivated for over a year before it came to pass. Many hours of dreaming, hoping, wishing and planning came to life in a beautiful afternoon. For four hours last Saturda,y everything was about the kids. The games, the prizes, the music, the shave ice. All because we were proud of them and we loved them.
Half way through the afternoon, we awarded each child from the program a “Character Award” they were called up on stage in front of everyone and amazingly there were even some parents in the crowd. They got a hug, a certificate, encouragement and an affirmation by different staff members. Most of them got really shy about it, red cheeked and squirming they got on stage and while they acted like they wanted to run off the stage, I know them better than that. They love, love. Don’t we all?
It’s hard to gauge success when working with kids. How do you measure “getting into less trouble” or “headed on a better path”? Three days after the festival, I went to pick up a 5 year old boy from his home. I know his parents well and his mom had come to the festival. I walked through the living room that consists of several mattresses and barely enough room to walk and picked up his baby sister out of the crib. That’s when I spotted it. His purple certificate pinned amongst the mess up on the wall. My heart swelled with pride and I choked up as the reality that his parents had taken the time to make sure his award was hung really sunk in. That is the kind of “success” I want to see. The kind that transforms an entire family from the inside out. -KC
This Spring, Surfing The Nations embarks on their 10th annual Bangladesh Surfing Adventure, from April 9th until May 3rd. The team will be venturing to the outer island of St. Martin, as well as surfing Cox’s Bazar, and holding the annual Freedom Surf Contest, the only surf contest in the country.
In keeping with their mission of giving back, the team is collecting surf gear and clothing for the surf club in Cox’s Bazar, and also bringing clothing and supplies to the Burmese refugee population.
It is incredible to see how the sport has grown since STN first started to go to Bangladesh in 2004, and even more fascinating to see how surfing has impacted Bengali girls. Nasima is one of those girls whom STN has had the privilege to introduce surfing to.
Filmmaker Heather Kessinger was inspired to capture the story of Nasima and give a glimpse into the life of the young women in Bangladesh. The final leg of the film entitled ‘The Most Fearless’ will include footage from the Freedom Surf Contest.
Check out the trailer for ‘The Most Fearless’ below and watch this space for more updates on the trip!
(Don’t forget to follow us on instagram @surfingthenations and watch the hashtag #stngo for photo updates!)
In the end of 2013, STN went on their first ‘pioneer’ trip to Turkey. Today, staff member Gisele Pitot shares a little about the trip:
“When I think of a pioneer I picture a David Livingstone-esque character: grizzly and sweaty, hacking through the jungle with a machete while mosquitos feast on him. I picture safari hats and lot of khaki. But on an STN pioneer trip, things look a little different (although we still had some grizzly men!). Skateboards, stickers, cameras, GPS signals and the odd map were our tools in our very first trip to the Eurasian country of Turkey.
We left the American turkeys behind us as we flew out of Hawaii on Thanksgiving Day last year, setting off on a 25-day adventure to this foreign land. Our crew of 11 came from as far as Australia, South Africa, Sweden, Hawaii, North Carolina and Canada but we all had the same question in common – is Turkey a place where the message of “Surfers Giving Back” can thrive? And besides the lack of waves (this is where the skating came in) the answer was a resounding ‘yes’!
There are only 25 surfers in the entire country of Turkey. The surf community is slowly growing and their enthusiasm for surfing cannot be matched. In places where the surf industry is already booming, there are also negative habits and lifestyles that often follow. Yet, Turkey remians untouched by the dark sides of surf culture. The surfing lifestyle there is healthy and positive. When the waves weren’t good, we grabbed skateboards and spent time hanging out with locals, skating any ramp or street we could. The friends we made were not only passionate about board riding but also about using their passion of surfing to bring unity and positive change in their communities.
From the epic history of Istanbul and Ephesus, the beautiful relationships built with the surfers of the Black Sea and the Danube Surf Academy, all the way down to the sunny southern Mediterranean city of Alanya, this was a trip to remember. We are stoked to return to Turkey and give back through surfing in 2014!” -GP
Here are a few photos from the trip. View the entire set on our Flickr!
In the recent film ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’, Walter lives a life of daydreams amidst his grey cubicle. Finally, in dramatic fashion, Walter breaks out of the routine and jumps into a new life of travel and adventure in the unknown.
The Christmas Day release of The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty was timely, serving as an inspiration for people to follow their dreams in 2014. We’ve all made resolutions, set goals and entered into a new year, a seemingly emboldened people. This year, we invite you to break out of your comfort zone of what you know, and even further, to break out of the cycle of living for yourself, and give your time to help others.
Join us on one of our 2014 international trips, incorporating surfing and giving back. You’ll get the local experience in amazing places! Surf unlikely spots Bangladesh and famous breaks in Indonesia, give back to communities in need in the Philippines, go on a jungle safari in Sri Lanka, or explore ancient wonders in the Middle East.
This could be your year to see your daydreams take shape in reality!
Check out the International page for all the details on each trip. See you soon!
Photo: 20th Century Fox
Exactly a month ago, we told you about STN Staffer Brendon Johnson and his relief trip to the Philippines. Brendon, who was raised in the Philippines, embarked on December 8th on a four month trip to help those in the country he called home. Most media has quieted down regarding what was called the biggest storm in history. Today on the blog, we have a few stories straight from Brendon that are both reports of brighter days for the Filipinos, and reminders of the hard realities they’re still facing. -EJ
“Since we arrived in the town of Hernani on the coast of Eastern Samar, a pastor named Sam has been taking us around the town to introduce us to the locals here. Walking among all the washed out concrete houses and freshly assembled tents, it is very evident to see the effects the storm surge had on this place. Yet, all the people we meet are smiling, upbeat, and carrying on with the day’s chores or activities. It is really amazing to see how the people here make do with what they have, regardless of what has been evidently been taken away from them.
One local we met is Fredrick, a young married man and father to a six-month old. Fredrick is a part-time fisherman who is now devoting most of his time to collecting scrap metal left scattered around what used to be his house. He and his family now have a shanty style shelter setup next to a relief tent. They only use the tent during the night, since it is too hot under the heat of daylight. Fredrick and his family have a lot to be thankful for in spite of their current living conditions. Fredrick explained to us that during the peak intensity of the storm, he and his family took shelter in the school across the street from their house. Moments later, a 30 foot storm surge came up the beach and swept their house away. As the waves made their way to the somewhat protected concrete school rooms, Fredrick and the other townspeople were caught swirling around in the turbulent water. With quick thinking, Fredrick then fled with his family across a courtyard to a more protected church, where they waited out the rest of the storm. Fredrick said that not everyone was so lucky, since he knows of at least one baby that died during the whole devastating ordeal.
For this family, there is a lot to think about with such a traumatizing experience still fresh in their minds. Even when the wind picks up from time to time here, Fredrick says that he still gets nervous and can have trouble sleeping.But Fredrick and his wife say that they are blessed just to be together and that they can still make a living. The Global Crisis Response Team I’m working with was able to make a small provision by lending Fredrick some tools to help his recycling work. Fredrick used these to make quick work on some buried metal. Life goes on for this special family, and they know that they are not alone in this relief effort.”
“Below is a photo of from the town of Santa Fe. Santa Fe’s school (and basically all the other schools on the island) was heavily damaged. While repairs are being done by foreign aid, you can see the tents where classes are being held. This really good to see, as families return to a somewhat normal routine of daily life. ”
When you spot Brendon Johnson in the lineup, one of the first things you’ll notice is the 8-rayed Filipino sun tattoo on his upper back.The second thing you might notice is how strange it is that this patriot of the Philippines looks nothing like a Filipino. With blonde hair, blue eyes and standing at over 6 feet tall,you have to wonder what the link is between this american caucasian and a cluster of islands on the other side of the world.
Brendon grew up in Cebu, Philippines as a child of missionary parents. His family provided a learning center to provide educational material, books and tutoring for children in need. After moving to the mainland for school and spending some time in the US Coast Guard, Brendon ended up in Hawaii at Surfing The Nations. Brendon’s love for the country he was raised in never weakened, and he, along with a few others, started to organize trips to the Philippines through STN. The vision of Surfing The Nations, to be surfers that give back that bring good to communities, was a perfect fit for meeting needs in the islands of the Philippines.
Just a few weeks ago, the storm of all storms hit the Philippines and the destruction was unveiled to the world. Help has been sent through several avenues to the places devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, and now, Brendon is committing the next few months to join in the effort to help the country he has called home for so many years.
Brendon is joining forces with a team called Reach Global that will be working in the southeastern side of Samar. One of his roles will include being a cultural mediator in the Filipino communities. As well as organizing communication, he’ll be helping out with whatever clean-up, rebuilding and anything else that is needed.
It doesn’t take much to love the Philippines/The natural beauty of the islands are outstanding, and eclipsing that is the warmth and kinndess of the Filipino people. But it does take sacrifice to go: to give money, energy, and time to get in the rubble and help rebuild. It takes willing people like Brendon to go, and behind him there must be a team of willing people to give.
The generosity of many has helped provide the funding for Brendon to fly to the Philippines and start work there. At the moment, he is still in need of $3,900 to be able to stay until March and invest time in more long-term projects.
We are sending him off from Hawaii on December 8th! If you’d like to be a part of the relief work in the Philippines, we can think of no better way than to help an outstanding guy like Brendon. We know he is going to be a great ambassador of hope, comfort and relief in this time.
If you’d like to donate to Brendon’s trip, simply go to the following link and donate securely through Surfers Church donately:
Most of my parents’ friends were working in foreign countries while I was growing up. When they’d make their occasional visits back to the USA, they would come over and have dinner with us. After dinner, the coffee would be made, the photos would come out, and the stories from far off lands would flow. I’d sit there wide-eyed as they described the adventures of making a foreign place home, learning the culture and loving the people.I remember seeing the photos of families living a very different life than I was. It was in those moments that I was exposed to the reality that there were so many kids my age living in harsh conditions, without any hope of things ever changing.
The brokenness of the world was laid before my eyes. But I was looking at it, and they were living it.
What could someone my age do about the plight of children in nations all over the world? An answer came when I started to see posters of something called Operation Christmas Child (OCC). OCC is a program run by humanitarian relief group called Samaritan’s Purse. To participate in Operation Christmas Child, you can pick an age category for either a boy or a girl and fill a shoebox with gifts. You could put a letter and a photo to your specific child if you wanted to, and after that, you just added your fee of $7.00 to cover shipping. It would then be sent to children in need all across the globe for Christmas.
Operation Christmas Child became one of the most exciting things about the holidays for me. It was a thrill to pick basic things like toothbrushes, toothpaste, school supplies, and adding the fun stuff like candy, toys, and books. As I followed my Mom through the store, I’d pick something up and imagine the certain girl I was shopping for holding that item. Long before I ever stepped onto third world country soil, I had gone there, in the aisles of a supermarket, through the visions of the shoebox and the child that would hold it.
For years I participated in Operation Christmas Child, even taking a few trips to the processing center in Charlotte, North Carolina, where thousands of boxes were being inspected and made ready for shipment.
In the Western world, we consider Christmas as a time to get the ‘goodies’ or ‘treats’; the extra stuff we won’r allow ourselves the indulgence of during the rest of the year. As I opened each shoe box, I saw that some of them were packed with socks, pencils, and other basic things that we might not be thrilled to find under our tree. But the longer I worked with OCC, the more stories I began to hear of kids that received a box with shoes that were just their size, or a child who had prayed for socks, and received a box with several pairs.
Now, Operation Christmas Child is in their 20th year. They’ve given gifts to millions of children, and I know that OCC was one of the reasons that my dreams grew to help people worldwide, as I saw the practical ways I could meet needs. Now, my full time career consists of doing work in that same realm.
This is national collection week for the shoeboxes. Now, through November 25th, you can find a drop-off location nearest to you and if you pay online, you can print out a barcode for your individual box and track it as it goes to your child!
All shoeboxes collected from Hawaii will be going to children in Nepal. Come visit us at Surfers Coffee Bar this week, drop your shoebox off and grab a great coffee at the same time!
Receiving hours for Surfers Coffee Bar:
Thursday- Saturday 7 AM- 7 PM
Sunday and Monday 7 AM- 12 PM
The Philippines is famous for its world-class break ‘Cloud 9′ on Siargao Island, secret surf spots and breathtaking nature. As amazing as the memories and the photos are, when the time comes for you to board that plane back to reality, you’ll want to bring back some things to remember your epic surf trip by (and maybe some stuff for those back home that couldn’t join in the adventure). Here, I’ll show you some non-cheesy souvenirs you can pick up in this amazing country:
1. Sarong- If you travel a lot, you know how valuable it is to have both a versatile item with you that also doesn’t take much space in a suitcase! Sarongs are perfect for beach days when you don’t want to carry a bulky towel and can serve as a towel, pillow, scarf, or super flimsy blanket when you’re traveling. One night I missed my flight and had to crash at the Rome airport. I was in the midst of traveling for a few days, so my sarong served as both a towel AND a blanket. Needless to say, it’s my new best friend.
2. Goggles- The Philippines is country made up of 7,000 islands, so the Filipino people have been watermen for centuries and made the gear to go along with their lifestyle. These goggles are about as simple as they can get, with a plastic coil, wooden frames, plastic lenses and thread. Yet they are unique and represent an innovative people. Grab some of these to bring back, as well as the handmade wooden fins they use to swim with!
3. Hammock- Not so much a traditional lazing hammock as it is a swinging hammock, these are everywhere on the trees on Siargao Island. The kids pile on them and swing as high as they can, and even though they don’t look so comfortable, you can definitely still find a sweet spot and get a good nap in. Don’t try to fit more than one adult in them though- one of the funniest memories we’ve had of our trip was of a hammock snapping from that very thing!
4. Cloud 9 candy bar- The surf break itself is named after this favorite candy bar, so you know it’s got to be good! Most people compare it to the taste of a Snickers bar. These are great gifts for your family and friends back home.
5. Shells (and things made out of shells)- The shells on the beaches of the Philippines are unreal! They are perfectly formed and covering the beach wherever you look. It’s easy to find some colorful, fun jewelry to have as a memory and for gifts.
6. Hand carved slingshots- I wouldn’t go into battle with one of these, but the simplicity of these slingshots are what makes them special. I have many memories of walking down the sandy roads of the village and seeing the kids playing with them. They represent both the playfulness and resourcefulness the Filipino people.
7 and 8) Shirt and bag from ARTWORK- On the way to our remote destination of Siargao, we had to wait a long time for our boat, and most of that waiting was done in shopping malls in Cebu. If you’ve ever been to a shopping mall in Asia, you know how overwhelming it can be, so we were fortunate enough to happen upon this rad store. ARTWORK is an 18 year old company that started out as a manufacturer that specialized in silk screen t-shirts but has now become a popular T-shirt retailer with complete clothing lines. We had no problem killing time as we looked at the many graphic designs influenced by art, music and pop culture.Some of my favorites were graphics that were made with masterpiece paintings morphed with different shapes and colors. From their bags down to their dressing rooms, ARTWORK is full of fresh, unique design. Their website definitely doesn’t do them justice, but check it out at artwork.ph
Cover photo credit: brommel.net