Hurricane Sandy took the coastline of New York and New Jersey and turned it into hell. Uppity coastal towns morphed into nautical cemeteries overnight and cedar shake rotted into a polluted sea ridden with sentimental belongings. The local surf towns were broken. But just like every Disney sports flick has taught us, triumph follows closely behind despair. The surf world banded together to put forth the biggest effort since the collective ruining of Costa Rica. Almost half a year after the storm, Jon Rose, founder of Waves for Water and a man with a heart as big as a New York bagel, takes a break from restoring a Coney Island firehouse to discuss this initiative.
SURFING: Walk me through Waves for Water’s Hurricane Sandy relief effort.
JON ROSE: We implemented a system consisting of three programs to help provide relief to the affected people.
Restore and Rebuild: Restore and Rebuild is about getting people back in their homes and attending to their basic needs. Immediately after the storm, this meant getting people the supplies that they needed to survive. But lately, it has meant things like bringing in a contractor team to rebuild an affected family’s home. For Sandy, we were lucky to have partnered up with Home Depot. For some projects, we would take care of the plumbing, electrical and floors, and Home Depot would come in and take care of the walls, heating or whatever else they need. It was great to come together to get people what they need.
Operation Uplift: This is a grant program that we’re doing. It’s basically just monetary grants for people. They might use it toward their rebuilding process or they might buy a ton of ice cream with it. I don’t care. The people who are getting the grants are in dire need. They’re in a really bad way and they deserve it.
Local Relief Center Support: These are the relief centers that we have set up and have sort of become the fiscal sponsor of. These are not only great hubs for the people in those areas to come for resources, information, supplies or anything else they need, they are also our eyes and ears for those areas. The volunteers there are the people talking to all the families and working with the victims every day. They know who is in need and they’re sort of the vein right into that need.
Have you been able to surf while you’ve been over there?
I’ve been surfing almost every swell with Sam Hammer. We’ve been super on it. I missed a couple of good days, but I tried to surf whenever there were waves. Just trying to get my fix. It’s been tough though; you go 2-3 weeks without surfing and it’s freezing. It can be really hard, but I got my fair share of tubes.
The surfing stereotype is one of stupidity and ignorance. How did people respond when they saw such an overwhelming effort coming from surfers?
I think it just proved that surfers aren’t stupid. That Spicoli stereotype just isn’t real. We’re smart people and we have good resources. Sandy hit close to home for a lot of surfers because it happened in our backyard. It just makes sense that we’re in line and leading the charge. We’d be less likely to do that if this were in Pakistan. However, I wholeheartedly believe that even in Pakistan we’re more apt to help. Surfers have certain skill sets that we develop from traveling and surfing and we can apply that knowledge to help in some hectic situations. And I think Waves for Water is proving that.
What are some important things that still need to be done?
We’re still dealing with immediate needs, like helping people rebuild their homes and getting local businesses back on their feet. We try to really be cognoscente of local economies. A lot of these affected towns survive off of summer tourism. And when those summery businesses are affected, it creates a big ripple effect throughout the community. And you’ve also got the environmental concerns, which are huge. How they’re going to dredge the bays or if they’re going to replenish the beaches and put seawalls up — all of that is crucial. We try to get as involved as possible.
We’ve been doing a bit of outreach lately to get more funds because we already have all these programs in place and the hard work has already been done. We’re helping a lot of people so I feel inclined to get more funding to re-infuse those programs. But if we don’t get any more in, at some point we’ll run out of money and that’ll be it for our effort. That’s just the way these things go.
Waves For Water Hurricane Sandy Relief Effort Statistics
$1.1 Million in monetary donations
$3 Million worth of essential supplies
250,000 people helped
5250 Homes and businesses worked on
39 Grants given to families and businesses
18 Homes and businesses currently being restored
6 Relief centers still being supported by Waves For Water
Visit WavesforWater.org for more information on the relief effort’s impact and to donate to keep this effort alive.