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Love of surfing brings together more than 450 Rotary
members from 20 countries
Arnold R. Grahl
Renata Valente is trying to keep her
marshmallow from falling into the fire. The Brazilian-born Rotaractor, who
spent a year in Indiana as a Rotary Youth Exchange student and now attends San
Diego State University, is at the beachside Crown Point Park for an event
organized by Surfers Unite Rotarian Fellowship (SURF), one of Rotary’s newest
The sun has set, but the faces
of more than 30 attendees — Rotarians, Rotaractors, Interactors, and guests —
glow in the light of the bonfire as they make s’mores and enjoy some music.
“It’s Friday night, and this is
exactly what my friends and I wanted to do,” says Valente. “It’s exciting
knowing you are going to be able to have fun and be with your friends, but also
do something that impacts your community.”
Valente learned about SURF in
October 2017, when volunteers from her Rotaract club traveled to Ensenada,
Mexico, to help fix up an orphanage. One morning, SURF founder
Brett Morey and other members of the fellowship took the volunteers and orphans
surfing. Valente has been an active member ever since.
Morey, a member of the Rotary
Club of La Jolla Golden Triangle, California, grew up bodyboarding and surfing
on beaches from Huntington Beach to Del Mar. Last year, he decided Rotary
needed a fellowship centered on surfing. He assembled a prospective leadership
team, and at the 2017 Rotary International Convention in Atlanta, he collected
the necessary signatures — on his surfboard — to petition the RI Board.
The fellowship has already
grown to more than 450 members in over 20 countries. Its mission: introducing
people to surfing, attracting young people to Rotary, building connections, and
mentoring. SURF members span the globe from Argentina to New Zealand, including
countries that have no access to oceans, such as the Czech Republic and
Hungary. Members don’t have to be near oceans or seas to capture the spirit of
the fellowship, which is bringing together Interactors, Rotaractors, and
Rotarians for fun events.
“The thing I think about is
making Rotary relevant to this generation,” says Morey. “We talk all the time
about bringing youth into Rotary. This is the type of social event that allows
us to grow our Interact clubs and Rotary.” Rotarians can join SURF for $20 a
year; Interactors and Rotaractors join for free. Members host events that range
from surf outings to fundraisers.
“When I started to think about
a fellowship, my whole vision was to take some of the things I was already
doing in San Diego and bring that to a global scale,” Morey says. “Anybody who
is near water can hold a bonfire event or do a stand-up paddleboard event or a
learn-to-surf event. It’s all about building understanding between people. And
that is exactly what the purpose of Rotary is.”
In May, SURF members took part
in Standup for the Cure in nearby Newport Bay, taking to paddleboards to raise
money for breast cancer research. They’ve also volunteered at Life Rolls On
events, which give people with disabilities a chance to surf by means of
A Life Rolls On event in
September 2017 held special meaning for Morey; a childhood friend, Leo Berg,
was assisted into the water. A snowboarding accident in 1993 left Berg
paralyzed from a brain stem injury. Morey recalls it as “a difficult but
spiritually uplifting time” that cemented relationships with those he had grown
up with as they held a bedside vigil for their friend.
Now, he says, “taking Leo and
others surfing through Life Rolls On is very rewarding. It gives them an
opportunity to enjoy something we take for granted.”
At the Crown Point Park
bonfire, Morey works the crowd, introducing Interact members from different
schools, connecting Rotarians with Rotaractors, and otherwise playing emcee of
the beach party. A Rotaractor from San Diego State who is applying to medical
school and a Rotarian who is a retired orthopedic surgeon discover they have a
common bond in Romania, where the student’s family lives and where the
Rotarian’s grandfather came from. Before long, the Rotaractor is getting advice
about navigating the medical school application process.
Johnny Lee joined SURF after
moving to San Diego from Fremont, California, and attending the La Jolla Golden
Triangle club with Morey.
“I’ve done quite a few Rotary
events, but this is especially fun,” says Lee. Shortly after joining, he
learned to surf at one of the fellowship’s events.
“It was both harder and easier
than I expected,” he says. “Harder, because I didn’t realize I would be nearly
drowning a good bit of the time. But easier because, once you stay above the
water, it’s not hard to ride the wave.
“As a young Rotarian, I want to
do things both globally and locally. This is helping out our community, and it
is creating something exciting,” he says. “Surfing is a great activity for
bringing in young people.”
Arnold R. Grahl
From the November edition of The RotarianRequest a Makeup Confirmation