Interview: REEF Co-Founder, and Liquid Nation Chairman, Santiago Aguerre

Last month, Liquid Nation held the Inaugural Liquid Nation Ball, a high powered fund raiser to benefit Surf Aid International. With the help of his co-chairs, his wife Cecilia Aguerre, and industry mover and shaker Louise Balma, Santiago Aguerre threw the party of the year in his brother Fernando’s swank cliff top home in La Jolla. The event, which was a spectacular success, brought major players from the surf industry together in ways no other gathering has done before. Surf talent representing half a century’s worth of icons and pros, came out to rub elbows with industry executives, the media, and other high minded individuals to contribute resources and lend their support to Liquid Nation and Surf Aid’s cause. caught up with Santiago a few weeks after the party to get his reactions on the event, to explore Liquid Nation’s ties to Surf Aid, and get the back story on where his quest to help Surf Aid in their battle to rid the Mentawais of malaria began. I was hoping that we could just start at the beginning and explore what your motivations were to create the Liquid Nation.

Santiago: Well, SURFER Magazine published an article called The Jungle is Looking Back, and I read the article, and like so many others who also read it, I was shocked. I had been there a few times, and to realize that this was going on so close to where we were…I mean, we all send the pro’s there, we all go and drink beers, and eat fish, and take pictures of fast surfing, and have a fun time. But nobody really realized that behind the tree lined beach, it was so tough in there. I mean this is a culture of people that is basically written off by the central government of Indonesia. And why is that?

Santiago: Cause outside of maybe some logging, there really are no resources there to be had. I suppose politicians are really just running a business, so they grab some logging licenses, and make some money, but otherwise, for them, there is no cash. They don’t send people there. The Padang government takes care of that area a little bit, but it’s very atypical that you’ll see any kind of health worker, or health aid activities on the those islands. But, getting back to your original question, I read about Dr. Dave Jenkins, who is a doctor from New Zealand and who was living in Singapore, and he took a trip [to the Mentawais] like everyone else, to go surfing. But he got off the boat, and walked around one of the villages, and ran in to an indigenous guy who asked him for help. So he followed the guy, and he found a kid, dying of malaria right there, right in front of him. Dehydrated, high fever, stuff like that. Just a horrible, horrible thing. And he realized this was a big problem, and that the Mentawai people didn’t really understand what was going on, that this was caused by a mosquito. At that point the Mentawai people really had no clue what caused this sickness at all?

Santiago: It’s not like they had seen a microscope, or knew it was from a parasite. I mean, a lot of these things they get sick from, really is just an issue of education. So after that, Dave went back to Singapore, sold his house, got some money together, quit his six figure practice, and moved to the islands. And since then, he has helped so many people to survive. So, I read about all this in The Jungle is Looking Back, and I said, “Wow, this is so close to us.” It really hit home, and I had tears in my eyes while I was reading this article. I thought of my kids, and I imagined what it would be like if half of my kids would die in the next few years because of something that could be cured for the cost of a six pack of beer. I finished reading, and I called my wife and said, “listen, there is something really big going on, and I’m going to see if I can do something about it, and will you help me, because some of the things that I would like to do I may need you to back me up? And she said, “I’ve already read the article, and I will do anything I can. I understand how you feel, I feel the same way, so just go for it.” So I got online, and I got a phone number for Dr. Dave, and I gave him a call and it was maybe two in the morning his time I think, but we spoke for more than an hour, and I said to him, “It sounds like you’re doing an amazing thing, but what about resources? Why haven’t you contacted some of the industry?” And he said “I have, but nobody really returns phone calls. I’ve said, ‘hey this is Dave from Surf Aid, a humanitarian organization,’ but I haven’t really gotten a response.” So I thought about it and I realized that it was a communication issue, a marketing issue actually. People didn’t really realize who they were, or what they were trying to do. There is so much soliciting in the industry now-a-days you can’t really get through to a guy who can make decisions without being introduced. So I thought about it some more, and then I went to Dave in January of 2002, and I said, “In May, there is a Surf Industry Manufacturers Association meeting [the SIMA Summit] in Cabo, and I feel like you guys can really present your case there. So I called Dick Backer, who was the president of SIMA then, and I said “Dick I need some time for these guys to do they’re thing,” and he said “Well, you know what, even though this has nothing to do with the surf manufacturing business, it’s the right thing to do. Let me try this, since everything has been scheduled at the summit for months, I’ll give you fifteen minutes of time from my lunch address on the second day.” So I went back to Dave and said “you got it,” but we were faced with a problem because it’s not so easy to come across to people in just fifteen minutes. So Andrew Griffiths, Surf Aid’s CEO, got on a plane and came to the States and we devised a plan. We decided to do a five minute DVD presentation, because there is nothing better than images, and we wanted them to be tough to look at, cause we wanted to it to be a thing where it sent a message of “hey, this is going on right in front of us, and what are we going to do about it?” And the DVD also had footage of Dave, and it told his story. So we let that run, and then Andrew spoke a little more about him, and then I got up, and said, “I would like to introduce someone very special, the real thing, in person, Dr. Dave Jenkins.” And I’ll tell you what, I’ve seen a lot of things in this industry, a lot of contest celebrations and stuff like that, but I have never seen an ovation lasting that long. I’ve never seen grown people, managers, CEOs, VPs of companies, just all those people with watery eyes. They were applauding with they’re arms up in the air, and when Dave tried to say, “OK that’s enough, thank you,” they really went nuts, stomping and clapping and (imitates a roaring crowd), and I said to myself, “Wow we really have something here! I like it, I like it!” So he spoke a little more about his own experience, and how important he felt it was to do this, and about how sometimes things come in front of you, and you have to make a choice if you are going to do something about it, and about how in this case he did. So when he was done, my closing statement to the industry was, “I look around and I see a lot of success here. I see a lot of smart people. I see a lot of rich people. I see a lot of people that made a career out of their lifestyles and something they love, which is a beautiful and powerful thing. But the real measure of success, is what you do with this wealth and power, what you do outside of your personal life. What are you going to use it for? I’m not asking you to quit your jobs, or sell your company, or say goodbye to your wife and move to the jungle. Luckily, we have already found a guy that will do that for us. The only thing I am asking you, is to back this guy financially and emotionally so he can get the job done.” After that everything started to move. Quiksilver, Billabong, Rip Curl, and some of the other companies all got involved. Fernando and I got involved with personal checks, and then more and more people came on board. Quiksilver adopted a village, and SURFER came in with the Wave of Compassion Event, and all these amazing things just started coming together.