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Surfing The Nations

If there is one person who takes the maxim “think globally, act locally” literally, it is Tom Bauer, founder member of the NGO Surfing The Nations (STN). Based in Hawaii and founded in 1997, STN allowed Tom to combine his two passions: surfing and humanitarian work.

The aim is to counteract the idea that surfing is something done by egomaniacs obsessed with personal fulfilment. But also to motivate practitioners to go out of their comfort zone and provide hope and change for local people who are in need of both of these things. But exactly how can surfing contribute to this?

STN serves as a base for local surfers to create clubs in underdeveloped areas like Bangladesh or Indonesia. These surfing clubs can provide them with financial stability from lessons and board rentals. But it can also stimulate the economies of local communities by attracting visitors to go surfing in places that are practically untouched, as was the case in Hawaii in the 1960s.

 Being the change

The work started off locally, recruiting young people from Kalihi (Honolulu), where the organisation was based to start with. The first campaign that was set up, and which is still running, was the programme “Feed the Hungry” in Bali, Indonesia. From then on they applied the same approach in 30 countries, basically in “any surfable place with a coast”, in Tom’s words. At present, food is distributed to over 2,000 people per week. Teams have been established in ten different countries through an internship programme; Sweden is the first European country to have a branch of STN. For the same thing to happen in Portugal, all that is needed is the will.

STN also operates by providing a music studio and organising concerts and performing arts workshops as a way of promoting the talent of young, local communities, as well as organising leadership training and swimming lessons.

 A resource to be put to good use

Also on an international scale, STN has already worked in countries as varied as Egypt, Jordan, Sri Lanka, China, Qatar, Iran and Israel. Like the work they do locally, the scope of their campaigns is not limited to things to do with surfing. They also include the distribution of goods that are much needed by different communities, such as food and clothing, the installation of water filtration systems and teaching local people how to fish with spears. “We concluded that surfers are a resource to be put to good use in helping needy communities all over the world,” says Tom.

If surfing is a lifestyle and not just a sport, then Surfing The Nations is without doubt the best embodiment of its spirit.


“Surfing The Nations provides much needed goods and training in different areas as a way of ensuring financial stability.”

“If surfing is a lifestyle and not just a sport, then Surfing The Nations is without doubt the best embodiment of its spirit.”




Entrevista | Gisele Pitot, Branding Director Surfing The Nations

Gisele Pitot Surfing the nationsECO123:I know that since last year there is a STN branch in Sweden. Will they act locally, like the STN headquarters? How will it work exactly?

Gisele Pitot:The STN Sweden branch is still in its very early fledgling stages – they are still setting up networks for former STN Hawaii interns and staff to get involved with local outreaches and take part in summer events. It does not have a formalized structure or plan as yet, but we have several staff members who are pioneering something there – watch this space!

ECO123: Are there any plans to expand to the rest of Europe?

Gisele Pitot:There are no plans to expand into the rest of Europe yet. But it looks like the STN Sweden guys will be targeting their international outreaches to France, since Biarritz has great surf, and Ireland which also has cool surf, and anywhere else the waves call!

ECO123: Has there ever been any contact with someone in Portugal? If someone would like to become part of STN, and start a branch, how should they proceed?

Gisele Pitot:There has been no contact with Portugal that I know of. If we were to expand to a location, the people wanting to start something there would have to come and do a mandatory Internship at the Hawaii base, possibly serve at least a one year term as staff in Hawaii – and then we could talk! I am not in the position to call STN a franchise, we are not opening bases as we please, but rather only when we feel like a long-term opportunity opens up in a country (as per Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Sweden).

ECO123:Do you usually follow up on the people that you help around the world? And if so, do you have any stories of success that you could share?

Gisele Pitot:We have ongoing relationships with our friends in the Middle East (Egypt and Israel), Bangladesh, as seen in the Gum for my Boat documentary (2009), Indonesia and Sri Lanka. We have been visiting some of these countries annually for up to 17 years! We are committed to returning to those places and have recently added the Philippines to that list. We believe in building long-term relationships and bringing a new way of being a surfer to these communities.

One story i heard recently was from our Sri Lankan outreach in Arugam Bay. One of our local long-term staff members has been teaching Siam, a teenager, how to repair surfboard dings. The story goes that ever since Siam was a young kid, he was hanging out with the local surf crew, but always on the outside. He often tried to get them to teach him some ding repair skills but he was never “in” enough. So our guy, Andy, took him under his wing and taught him some serious ding repair skills. Siam is now able to be financially self-sufficient. But more than that, Andy has been teaching Siam great business practices too: not to rip people off, how to keep repeat customers by treating people well, how to take care of his merchandise, how to manage his money. So not only does Siam now have a great way to support himself and his family within the sport he loves, but he is becoming a man of upstanding character and leadership in the community!

Contact Surfing The Nations
P.O. Box 860366 Wahiawa, Hawaii 96786 USA
Tel: 808 622 6234 Fax: 808 622 6236
Email: info@surfingthenations.com
Web: http://surfingthenations.com

About the author

Hugo Filipe Lopes:Has a degree in sociology and a post-graduate qualification in clinical nutrition from the Egas Moniz Faculty. Collaborates with a number of online publications, a trainer and nutritional therapist. Honourable mentions in the Casa da Imprensa and Lisboa à Letra competitions..

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