When former Hesperia resident, Chris Rehrer recalls some of his best surfing experiences, he's thinking beyond the adrenaline rush from riding the crest of a perfect wave.
For the Hesperia Christian School graduate, surfing conjures up memories of teaching at-risk youths how to swim and become leaders in impoverished communities.
He remembers watching Middle Eastern residents shed their religious prejudices with Hindus, Muslims and Christians bonding over a morning of great surf. And he thinks of helping grow a budding surf club in Bangladesh, as part of local Jafar Alam's effort to introduce surfing as a positive activity and tourism industry.
Rehrer, 28, has spent the past six years working for Surfing the Nations, a nonprofit humanitarian organization based in Wahiawa, Hawaii, that lives by the motto "surfers giving back." The nonprofit hosts leadership camps, surf contests and service projects in Hawaii and around the world, with regular visits to needy communities in the Middle East, Asia, Central America, the Caribbean and parts of Africa. It promotes an anti-drug, pro-abstinence message and aims to instill hope and character in youths.
"We have found that surfers are an untapped resource to give back to the communities of the world," said STN founder Tom Bauer, noting that roughly 183 nations have surfable beaches. "In all of these coastal areas, young people are finding out the taboo of the ocean now is one of their greatest assets."
Personally, Rehrer has traveled to nearly 30 nations, including Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, China, Indonesia, Bahrain, Qatar and Iran. He's led dozens of service projects, including visiting orphans in Egypt, installing water filtration systems in Indonesia and teaching locals to spear fish in Sri Lanka.
"The biggest point isn't, 'Hey let's teach you how to surf,' " Rehrer said. "It's, 'Hey, let's impact your life in a positive way.'"
Rehrer grew up in the Victor Valley and graduated from Hesperia Christian before earning his bachelor's degree in ministry at Azusa Pacific University. He loved sports as a child but hadn't touched a surfboard before college.
"I thought nothing would ever replace snowboarding — and then I found surfing," he said. "From the first wave I was hooked."
Combining surfing with service and travel seemed like an ideal adventure. He's grateful for the support of his parents, who place pins on a map in their garage of their Apple Valley home to track his travels.
"Here's a guy that came from the High Desert, had never surfed in his life and he's probably our picture-perfect kid. He had a passion and now he's surfing places that you wouldn't even believe," Bauer said. "He had the zeal and now he has the platform. He's speaking to hundreds and hundreds of kids, and because he isn't smoking pot or drinking he's a role model for others."
Several other young adults from the High Desert have also joined STN as either an intern or staffer.
Robert McDaniel, who grew up in Hesperia, said he was on a dangerous path before finding his faith and deciding to devote his life to service through STN about three and a half years ago. He left behind the drugs and his selfish ways, he said, to learn how to become a better person.
McDaniel found surfing to be a great avenue for effecting change because of the way it empowers others.
"When you watch their faces grasp it, it gives them confidence instantly," McDaniel said. "Confidence heals numbers of wounds in people's lives," by helping people to push aside all the times they've been told they weren't good enough.
On Thursday McDaniel will head to Bangladesh, where STN jump-started Amal's surf club by providing equipment and training. The club became the subject of the award-winning documentary "Gum For My Boat," and its president, Amal, is lauded for being the first surfer of Bangladesh. Amal hosted a beach cleanup last week and is running a surf contest next month.
The Bangladesh club is building a compassionate community that stretches beyond the beach, Rehrer said. The club is helping some girls leave behind their lives of prostitution, for instance, by providing them with better housing and a way to make a living through selling crafts.
"Surfing doesn't change these people's lives," Rehrer said. "People change people. The only thing that we do is give people a platform to give back to others."
Natasha Lindstrom may be reached at (760) 951-6232 or at NLindstrom@VVDailyPress.com.