A number of years ago my friend's Matt List, Daniel Looman, and I ventured to El Salvador together for a humanitarian aid trip. We also found some waves. Looman and I did an article for Surfline about the trip which you can read below.
On A Mission (Published on Surfline.com circa 2007)
It was January, and I was on the North Shore driving through Haleiwa when my phone rang. It was my friend Buck Waters. Buck lives in Florida and I in California, but we’ve spent a lot of time together over the years in various places. Buck was responsible for getting me to El Salvador for my first time a few years ago on a trip he’d coordinated. When he rang me in Hawaii this time, it was to tell me about another trip he was planning to take back to El Salvador.
Buck has a huge heart. He started an organization called “Surfers On Mission” in an effort to get surfers to give back to the places we frequent in our surf travels. So it didn’t surprise me at all when he told me what he wanted to do this time around in El Salvador. On our first trip there, we’d become good friends with the Castellanos family. Salvador Castellanos works for CNN; he has a lovely wife and three great kids. He’s also an avid surfer. His son Marcelo is one of the best pro juniors in Central America, and quite a chef. Like Buck, the Castellanos are some of the warmest and most generous people I’ve come across. Salvador is the national coordinator for Convoy of Hope, an aid-supplying ministry based in the states. He and Buck came up with a plan to raise enough funds to provide Convoy of Hope with the finances to deliver a load of food to a small community in a needy area of El Salvador. Buck would arrange the man-power to distribute all the food and supplies, while the Castellanos’ took care of the logistics.
I enlisted the help of my two good friends Matt List and Daniel Looman. Both were keen on the trip, so the three of us rendezvoused in El Salvador. Buck had put together a crew from Florida and we met them a few days before the shipment of food arrived to get acquainted. Kenny Griffin, Mike Burns, and Mark Anderson headed them up. So with everyone together, we set out for our destination town. On our way, it had been arranged for us to stop by a couple of orphanages. We had some toys and other items to give away. The Florida guys had brought dozens of toy binoculars that the kids absolutely loved. Most of the kids literally only possessed the clothes on their backs, so to get a toy to call their own was an exciting event. One of the things I noticed about these children was how much they looked out for their siblings; growing up without parents had bonded these kids in a deeper way than the average pair of siblings’ experience. It was a sad and sobering occasion to see such beautiful children who for one reason or another found themselves without families to take care of them. Yet they still had the most amazing smiles you can imagine. Getting to meet those beautiful children was easily one of the highlights of the trip. As we drove away, I couldn’t help but feel sorry that we weren’t able to spend more time with them.
The food arrived the night before we were scheduled to distribute it. Part of our job was to divide the food into individual family portions. We did the same with the household supplies. So the next day we loaded up our vehicles with all the goods and Salvador Castellanos guided us into a little village out in the countryside. We separated into a couple of different groups and began approaching homes. Most houses were nothing more than a tin roof and some logs acting as walls. With the help of our translators, we’d explain that the food was for them. Everyone was grateful for the gifts, even if it was only a day or two of food for some of the families. One man was especially thankful, as he explained to us how he and his family were going through a hard time. He told us, on the verge of tears, how they hardly had food and the gift came at the perfect time. It was one of the most humbling experiences in my life to shake this man’s hand knowing that there was no difference between us. I’ve never known the kind of poverty he has simply because of the land I was born in. His circumstances could just as easily have been mine. Yet I did not see any resentment in this man’s eyes, only gratefulness.
Later that night we made our way back to the main town, where we were able to set up and distribute supplies in the town’s soccer field. We had passed out flyers earlier in the week to let the locals know what we were up to. It seemed like the whole town turned out for the event. After passing out the rest of our supplies, we set up some piñatas for the kids to play with. Luckily no one got hurt in the mayhem of trying to score some candy. Afterwards we cleaned up and headed back to our lodging. It was an amazing day to say the least.
The Florida guys left two days later while Matt, Daniel, and I stayed a little longer in order to hang out with the Castellanos family. We surfed some fun waves and met some great people. But all too soon our trip was over. Every trip is special in its own way, but this trip was amazing in every aspect. I’m grateful to Buck and the rest of the crew for including me in the trip and showing me how surfing doesn’t have to be a selfish pursuit. As I think back on the trip and all we experienced, I can’t help but be a little more thankful for the grace I’ve been shown in life.