Riding to the Rescue

February 2, 2005

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    Surfer Jonathan Wyman shows how many waves he caught for the benefit - 10. Photo: Courtesy of Jonathan Wyman Photo:

When he heard how crushing tsunami waves had struck Southern Asia, Jonathan Wyman immediately wondered what he could do to help survivors.

It didn't take long for him to determine a course of action: he would harness the power of the ocean to bring relief to tsunami victims.

"Wave-Aid" was born.

Even before the disastrous morning of the tsunami, Wyman had planned to go surfing on New Year's Day. With thoughts of widespread devastation and enormous need fresh in his mind, the meaning of that trip changed.

"I decided that I wanted to do something to help. The idea of riding the same ocean energy for enjoyment that caused so much destruction struck me as ironic," Wyman said.

Gaining support

Over the next few days, Wyman set his idea in motion by emailing friends and families to ask them for pledges for every wave he caught. His appeal was successful in more than gaining support for the event: it also mobilized his friends and family behind a common cause.

"I wanted to quickly do something to help, and it turned out that the 'Wave-Aid' concept gave a lot of my family and friends an opportunity to be more personally connected to a relief effort rather than sending off a donation to some faceless organization," Wyman said.

His next step toward making "Wave Aid" a successful benefit for tsunami survivors was perhaps the most exhaustive of all: determining which humanitarian organization would use the event's proceeds most wisely and efficiently. After a lot of searching, Wyman made up his mind to donate to Mercy Corps.

"I did research on various charitable organizations, and decided that Mercy Corps was the best recipient for our donation. The fact that the organization has such a good record of fiscal responsibility was crucial in my decision process," he said. "Also, the fact that Mercy Corps has so much previous experience in the affected countries was important to me. And last, but not least, I was impressed with its approach to trying to implement sustainable solutions beyond just providing immediate aid."

"The surf gods smiled on us"

With pledges procured and supporters wishing him well, Wyman headed to Lindamar beach in Pacifica, California on Saturday, January 1. There he found sunny blue skies - a welcome sight since it had been raining non-stop for the previous week.

"When I got to the parking lot, I was thrilled to see that the waves were about head high and very clean and there was a nice, stiff offshore breeze - offshore wind holds the face of the waves up and makes them better," Wyman explained.

"Wave Aid" was on.

Within about five minutes of paddling out into the surf, Wyman spied a "promising looking peak that jacked up" and headed right for him. He caught it and rode for about 100 yards.

One wave down.

Over the next few hours, Wyman caught nine more waves. Some of those rides didn't go as smoothly as the first one: he was caught off guard, thrown from his surfboard and smacked by the waves a couple of times. Still stinging from those jolts, he got back in and persevered.

After catching his final wave and getting out of the water, Wyman saw something that indicated success and brighter days. "As I looked back to the ocean, a massive double rainbow appeared north of the beach, stretching from the ocean up to the sky over South San Francisco," he said.

The pot at the end of the rainbow: pledges totaling about $500 per wave, amounting to nearly $5000 for Mercy Corps' tsunami relief efforts in Southern Asia.

Wave Aid 2?

After making the donation to Mercy Corps on behalf of his friends and family, Wyman felt great that his efforts were going to help families half a world away. He wanted the contribution to go toward "rebuilding a community and helping people pick up and carry on in the wake of the tragedy."

The experience has been so positive and fulfilling that Wyman is thinking about staging a similar event in the future.

"I have authored and submitted a proposal to some surf-related organizations about turning Wave Aid in to a larger event. The idea of exponentially increasing the reach of this type of fund raiser seems very promising based on the feedback I received on it," he said. "The most rewarding part of this for me was how much people got behind it and supported it because, I think, at the base level it is a good and authentic idea. If I were to see another similar opportunity that I really believed in, then I would be eager to develop another event to help out those in need."

For now, Wyman's imagination and generosity are helping Mercy Corps bring lifesaving relief to vulnerable families in Southern Asia.