An interview with Eddie and Tim of MeWater foundation.
Happiness! Whether you volunteer with MeWater foundation (which by the way please do), or merely just glance at the pictures and video of the people involved below, you can't help but take in the pure happiness that transpires at MeWater events!
This smile says it all. Junior legend Anthony. Miramar Beach, 7/2016
No matter what is going on in our lives or in the world, when we are in the ocean we are suddenly free from all that worries us on land. This is because as land-based creatures, being out of our element kicks in a deep instinctual response that makes us focus on immediate well-being as a primitive survival instinct. We can use this powerful state to give us momentary freedom from trauma, heartbreak, abuse, stress, all the things that hold us back in life. Being in the ocean gives us a chance to revel in the moment- to drop all the negatives and worries of life, cultural constructs and constraints that burden us- which allows us to connect easily with other humans from all walks of life. We may not be fearing for our immediate survival in a real sense, but our focus on the "now" is just as intense as if we were, and sharing that intensity with others is a powerful connection that the ocean can provide.
This is such a beautiful and powerful place of existence, accessible to all for almost nothing, but entirely too rare for most people or children who could benefit most from it. MeWater is focusing on tapping that power by making it accessible.
First time surfers from Malcom X Academy feeling the stoke!!! MeWater Foundation and BigDog Surf Camp collaborated for a day that took nearly their entire school for a surf day at Muir Beach. 5/2016
A long time ago, I gave surf lessons to help pay my bills. Out in the water I was constantly amazed at how people so easily opened up about their private lives to me. I have never been in an environment where people revealed their innermost thoughts so freely. The sea quickly allows us to feel our own mortality. I have had a great white shark swim directly under me- a total dinosaur moment! Then there is the power of the waves and currents to navigate. In the wildness of the sea, we are quick to note where we are holding back, hurt, or on the wrong path, and we desire to reconcile, and do better! To be in such as space where you feel truly alive is addictive, Eddie and Tim whom I will introduce shortly are doing the right thing by sharing this. They are sharing this with people that do not get the opportunity to step in the sea so easily due to all kinds of challenges.
*Why The ocean is wilderness! Liquid wild that borders the city. You simply put your foot in and realize you are in a completely different world, and your mindset corresponds with that realization. The ocean demands your attention. Breathe and notice how the minerals in salt water and oxygen combine, churned by waves all together in the purest air your lungs have ever experienced. With the children coming out to participate in surf lessons, momentarily they get the space to simply celebrate life; to get a break from severe trauma of their home life and environments. To participate and connect with others on an equal and positive level. This is the why!
Jaylin and Micah, both youth from Edgewood Center for Children and Families, and regular MeWater participants since day one, take off on a “party wave” during a recent event at Muir Beach, 9/2016
*Who: Eddie Donnellan and Tim Gras are awesome people from our Sunset SF community. Both are very experienced, talented surfers who I see out at Ocean Beach in all kinds of conditions, from those rare fun rippable head high days we occasionally get in the Fall, to the massive North West swell days in December, where my heart is in my throat and I am wondering why I am even out. More importantly, how the hell am I going to get back to shore? On these big days, I’ll often see Tim and Eddie paddle by me hooting and smiling reminding me exactly why I am out there when it's a bit scary. Tim also happens to be a very talented surfboard shaper making performance boards for the local crew of rippers. So the first part of the who question is that Eddie and Tim are both surfers, the second integral part is that both have worked with children that are suffering through severe behavioral issues. Eddie and Tim have worked at Edgewood Center for children and families for decades. Edgewood is a local facility on Vicente street, founded in 1851 as an orphanage that helped provide for children that were abandoned due to the gold rush fever. Edgewood is the oldest children care charity in the West. Their current mission is to help promote positive behavior and health with children that have suffered severe mental, physical, and environmental trauma, and to try and help them have the best chance at a positive transition to adulthood. From these work experiences Eddie and Tim have wanted to go beyond, and on their own time have been taking kids all through the Bay Area that are in need of some happiness, surfing! With the goals being simply to give them a moment of peace and clarity, and hopefully the image that their life ahead could be different, that good things are possible!
I had the nice time of sitting down with Eddie and Tim, in my living room and listening to them discuss their current project The MeWater foundation.
Eddie: The idea for MeWater originally came out of the Summer camps we used to run through Edgewood up in Marin. Where we ran these camps was originally the territory of the Miwok indians, and we set up these camps with teachings inspired by them and other Native American traditions. The goal was to give these inner city kids a connection to nature. It was bare bones, but very effective activities aiming to get the kids to connect with the earth.
Anthony, pictured here, has been charging all summer long. He lives with his grandma in the Bayview/Hunter’s Point district, has a smile that could cut glass, and a stoke about surfing that has him skipping football games to come join our events, A truly amazing story. Miramar Beach, 8/2016
Tim: That is where it all started! Eddie and I working together at these camps. We got the idea that we wanted to take these kids out surfing and shortly thereafter we heard of Ride a Wave, a foundation that takes kids with disabilities out surfing. Forging a relationship with them we were able to ride under their liability insurance and started to take the children out under our care. The effects were really obvious to see, these kids suffering through all manners of behavioral issues were smiling, and genuinely having fun! Having experiences they could take home and share!
Trevon all smiles on Day 1 of a 3 day surf camp where we take the kids to Chrissy Field to practice paddling, test some water safety awareness skills and also test our participant’s comfort in the water. These days we assess comfort levels, and set them free when they are ready!!!
Eddie: The Challenges… liability that is a huge one! Secondly is organizational difficulties, as we are constantly pulling kids from one and another's programs, which is really hard. All these programs have logistical problems of their own, so it is really tough for everything to align! There is constant back and forth. Tim and I simply put it out there, and it happens. Like the other day, we kind of “hodge poged" a bunch of groups together and the day turned out insane, tons of stoked kids!
Tim: We partner with all these folks, all the people we work with in our community, and through our resource centers such as Edgewood and schools. We put everything together. Transport is always the hardest part, well of course also the liability- people are scared of the ocean, we take people to the beach and out into the sea- that is potentially dangerous, people can drown, people are scared of sharks, but in the end it is all ok. Talking groups into saying it is ok to come take their kids and then actually getting them there, that is the challenge! For example it costs $800 to rent a charter bus, and we do that sometimes, we'll get funding and rent two charter buses, but generally we'll just get an agency's help like the Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, the Hunter's Point Foundation, and hopefully they have a bus and get the kids to the beach.
Group photo of a recent event with MeWater Foundation and City Surf Project, supported by Triple Point Expeditions, in honor of Arne Backstrom Foundation. Muir Beach, 9/2016
Eddie: Or they'll fund the transportation- look, I'd like to be doing this much more, but it always boils down to resources and what is available. I think the way things have happened best for us is all organically, all at its own speed! Its been like 10 years coming, in that sense because we don’t have all the money to do what we'd like to do, we just let it come to us! Our whole thing is community, so we collaborate with so many different people and friends, our community comes out to volunteer, and even their kids are coming out and helping.
Tim: Yea, that is the best!
Eddie: Youth helping youth! That is the best connection. For example we have had Lance Harriman’s kids coming out. Sophie, Lance's daughter whom started out a little shy, took another girl out surfing and they had such a good time, such an important connection for both of them- they both were just glowing afterword, it is such a positive thing on so many levels!
Tim: The first time Finn, Sophie's brother came out, we had a group from Sunnyvale. Finn was helping out this boy who two years earlier had watched his father be shot and killed. Finn partnered with this kid and they quickly become close. Finn is already a very talented surfer, and this kid, can't surf yet, but is an extremely talented athlete- so they just get along right away, instant best friends! They are out back going for it, catching waves together the whole time! At the end Finn tells me, “That was so great! My friend was killing it!” Connection, naturally drawn to the same thing and these two just shared a rad, happy moment in an otherwise tough life. It would be so rad if we had vans and could just go into these neighborhoods and just load people up, share the joy of being in the ocean.
Nick, one of MeWater Foundation’s “youth supporting youth” volunteers, and actually our very first youth to participate in this unique program. Nick is a great kid, an avid surfer, with a big heart, from a local Sunset Community family that is very active in trying to make this world a better place. Muir Beach, 9/2016
Eddie: I have been working on applying for grants. That is kind of the next step for us, but then again, the second that I put all this energy into it… I never started a non profit, there was a point where I was under a mountain of stress, but the second I was able to say fuck it, let it come to us, that is when all these things started to happen organically. We are lucky that it worked, eventually it will be bigger. I would one day just love to be doing this, but I have two kids and a family living in SF.
Tim: It is really hard to try and organize this so we can pay our bills solely from it! It started so simple and we are fortunate enough to pull it off! It does not have to be a money maker as no matter what we are going to do it, because we know it is right. We are lucky with surfing our whole life, it helps you understand true priorities, work/money are just one of those. As kids, we are all taught to share- so what happened? We can choose to help, to inspire!
MeWater Foundation volunteer Jamie Williams helps guide a student from Malcom X Academy into a wave on her very first day ever stepping foot into the ocean. Muir Beach, 2016
Eddie: I tried to get the funding we would need to run this program full time. I’m just gonna go out there and talk to Levi Strauss, and you know- I've tried! I used network connections to get to highest positions within Gap, and there are a million people trying to get at this type of money! You have to be extremely organized, highly experienced in the grant writing processes- there are millions of dollars that have to be given by the city/state, but it is really hard to access! They don't make it easy, which overall I think is good. So we will continue to hone our skills in that aspect. In the meantime we are going to continue growing the foundation by taking these kids out for these positive experiences just as we have been doing.
Tim: It is going to keep growing, it does not have to be a money maker- it is not about that. It can be frustrating, you see other foundations getting funding and nothing happens with it, we’ll do more in one day than another agency might do in a month.
Eddie: We are a non profit, we accept donations, but at this small scale what I do with each donation is try to tell people exactly where it goes. You have paid for these days out with the kids. The money is going directly into programming.
Tim: We have not received that much in donations. Marty Murphy likes to donate a sum every year from the Murphy family trust, we will use that amount to go to Johnny of City Surf Project, whom is always helping us by providing equipment, insurance, and he is such a big help. I mean without insurance we could not even do it with the support of Johnny or Ian of Big Dog Surf Camp.
MeWater Foundation volunteer and Aqua Team Rider Peter Campbell stokes out a young first time surfer from Malcom X Academy. Muir Beach, 5/2016
Eddie: I am working on the insurance part right now, I just submitted two applications for non profit insurance. If something is to really go wrong in any of these camps even with the best insurance, it would be a total shutdown! I cannot worry about that, compared to the positives it brings- regardless this is happening! Again, sure we would like to be doing this 10 times more than we already are, but the cool thing is we are going out every chance we currently have, and having a great time. NOTE: Since the interview MeWater is now insured.
Tim: WE ARE GOING TO TAKE THESE KIDS SURFING! Bottom line! We are doing these days, and taking the kids that we know need this out. On another funny note, people often ask me, “are you trying to create more surfers?” But it’s not about surfing really-
Eddie: It’s about human connection and expansion, getting outside of your own world. Who doesn’t need to step out of their their box once in awhile! It allows inner city kids to get a glimpse of new perspectives, new opportunities.
Tim: There is also the therapeutic piece. These kids have been really challenged, they have been through some really hard things in their life. From our background we just naturally gravitated to utilizing the things that make us happy- surfing! If it makes me smile and it makes that child smile, they are not feeling that pain for that moment, and my heart is glowing.
MeWater Foundation legend Anthony snags another one. Miramar Beach, 7/2016
Eddie: Yeah, if you look at the therapeutical data, this ocean experience is all evidence based. I am working on building a little bit of a clinical team within our organization, our friend Brad Smallwood whom has a lot of experience with this, is going to step in as our clinical volunteer director. Brad will work to provide research based data- it’s a trauma based practice. Our work aims to create a calm space, to chips away at the scars of trauma- to create a moment of happiness. A.C.E.S are Adverse Childhood Experiences, big traumatic events,and that is what a lifetime of therapy is for. Our aim is to create a moment of relief, to chip away at the scars of trauma. So maybe the kids can get the idea that their life can be different!
Tim: These days for us to find an exciting experience in surfing, it takes a lot of things to line up (laughter), the waves have been sucking. I think most committed surfers came to it as some sort of a coping mechanism. Surfing is so special, so naturally we need to share it! It is temporally unplugging these kids from the concrete of the sidewalk and connecting them to nature, getting them away from the stress in their life. When you are in the water, hopefully you are not thinking of anything else- you are in a zen moment.
No caption needed!! A youth from Sunnydale Park and Rec having the time of his life. Miramar Beach, 7/2016
Eddie: You have to put that famous Miki Dora quote right here: "My whole life is this escape; my whole life is this wave I drop into, set the whole thing up, pull off a bottom turn, pull up into it, and shoot for my life, going for broke man. And behind me all this shit goes over my back: the screaming parents, teachers, the police, priests, politicians, kneeboarders, windsurfers. They're all going over the falls into the reef; headfirst into the motherfucking reef, and 'bwah'! And I'm shooting for my life. And when it starts to close out I pull out and go down the back, and catch another wave, and do the same goddamned thing again."
Tim: Now a days, generally I am getting way more stoke taking these kids... pushing kids into waves, then surfing myself, unless of course it is one of those special days!
Eddie: In summary no matter what we are taking these kids surfing! MeWater can go in so may directions, but ultimately it is about taking these kids surfing any chance we can. Like Tim I look more forward to that now than my own surfing. You get to help foster moments of stoke. Last Wednesday I had this kid hanging on to my back while we bodysurfed, and he was just so genuinely happy, he had such a great experience! Seeing him so happy just made my week!
Tim: From all of our experience at Edgewood, this program has naturally grown out of it. We are trying to reach kids that the system may be failing, that need some additional support. But also MeWater is for those in need within our own community. We all go through struggles, through the ups and downs, we all have all skittered around the depths. So this program is for all of those in need of a little stress relief. Don’t be shy, come on out!
“Next generation” bodysurfer from Sunnydale Park and Rec all geared up and about to have his first ever bodysurf experience. Miramar Beach, 7/2016
Eddie: The results- many of these kids are coming out multiple times, and we never have any behavioral issues with these kids, they are stoked! Their progression is utterly amazing! Look- many cannot even swim at first, they are not comfortable in the water, yet they focus and soon they even start catching waves all on their own. Imagine that! The goal is to allow them to see that they can apply this same energy to their own lives, that they can get past the traumas. That they can learn to swim, learn to surf through the heavy currents of their past and future lives!
Santiago, who has been participating in MeWater surf camp days all summer gets some “open water” training at Chrissy Field, on Day 1 of a 3 day surf camp this summer. Chrissy Field, San Francisco, 6/2016
Please help, it is one of the most fulfilling things you will ever do. There are all kinds of things you can do to help. Volunteer, help network to solve some problems with transportation, supplies, food, or donate funds- which you can do through the website. Help get other volunteers for the program by spreading the news and this article.