California Surfers Fund Maui Board Drive

It all started with a conversation between friends back on the island of Maui, where wildfires recently stripped residents of their homes and possessions. Dave Nelson, Santa Cruz local, had spent long stretches of time surfing and photographing the beaches of Maui, so when he saw his friends and peers without anything, he chose to step in and help.

“There’s nothing more important to me than the ocean and surfing and nature. I’ve been surfing since I was 12 or 13 years old… I felt like I owed the community a lot and wanted to give back. We went through our own fires here, so we were the ones asking for help a few years ago,” explains Dave.

This led him to get in touch with surfboard shaper Jud Lau on the island, who had been shaping boards at a low cost for individuals who lost theirs in the fires, but it was still inaccessible to many. Locals on Maui who have surfed those waves for years often use longboards, but with an influx of donated shortboards from areas such as Oahu, there was still a gap in what was needed.

So Dave got to work collecting boards and raising money for relief efforts around his home in California. By the third day, the board drive collected twenty seven boards, then increased by the tens until there were over 160 boards total. Some of them weren’t in the right condition to send to Maui, so they set up a yard sale and sold off about sixty. That money then went to Jud to shape boards on the island. “Pretty soon my whole front yard and backyard and side yards were full of boards,” reports Dave on the first few weeks of the drive.

A lineup of boards for Maui board drive

Dave at his Santa Cruz residence with boards donated by the local community. Credit: Dave Nelson

The Maui Board Drive Was a Community Effort

Others connected with Dave with requests to help, and shortly there was a whole community donating various other items, including new skateboards, yoga mats, soccer balls, shoes and sandals for kids. Friends from the area came out to help, including the Bay Photo Lab. When Dave’s yard was overflowing with boards, they brought trucks and vans to transport them all to a warehouse to prepare for shipping.

Raising awareness and seeking support

Although the Maui wildfires were just a few months ago, Dave recalls how “there’s so much stuff going on in the world right now too, so it feels like Lahaina was just washed over. No one talks about it anymore.” With the news moving so quickly, it’s hard to continue to follow events when they don’t directly affect your community, but for Dave, he’s found something deeper.

“With surfing I’m seeing the sea level rise right in front of me at the beach. But a lot of people don’t get that opportunity and don’t see it.” Many in the surfing community see these effects first hand, which drives them to protect the environments where they recreate and work. “I’d tell everyone, with all that’s going on, everybody just do what you can, you don’t have to go overboard.”

Surfer looking out over waves

Santa Cruz resident watching the waves at their local break. Credit: Dave Nelson

Facing climate change without going overboard

Surfing can also help manage some of the overwhelm and stress that stems from these issues. Dave explains how even though it can feel overwhelming at times, getting out there can often be the best thing to do.

“Sometimes you have to force yourself to put your wetsuit on and then when you get into the water you can literally feel the stress washing off of you.”

Recalling the board drive, Dave describes it as “one of the proudest things I’ve ever done” which wouldn’t have been accomplished without the community around him, and all the volunteers that donated their time and boards. At times these great disasters can make us feel alone and powerless, but by joining with others around you, you can accomplish a greater goal.

“I’m so grateful for everyone that showed up for the board drive. It was really inspiring to see that people care a lot, and amazing to watch so many people come together in a selfless way,” Dave says of the dozens of people who’d drop boards off at his porch everyday, and who’d donate money that was then sent over to Maui.

Read more about Dave Nelson here.