It started with a stack of surfboards, dusty, dinged up, and retired, salvaged from the darkest depths of Oran Bendelstein's garage. Inspired by the crooked smiles of Billy Wilmot's underprivileged surf campers in A Brokedown Melody, Bendelstein collected more than a dozen of his old garage boards and donated them to the cause in Jamaica.
"If I had that many boards as just one surfer," Bendelstein thought, "Imagine how many other old boards are out there?"
It's from that question that ReSurf, a mentoring program that brings surfing to underprivileged children and teens around the world, was born. They connect with existing youth institutions, local schools, and community centers and provide them with boards and surf instruction programs.
It begins with the boards. Bendelstein and his partners, Steve Weinrib and Michael Urra, collect donated boards and fix them up. They provide supplies and bring in ding repairs specialists who gladly donate their time to patch holes and fill cracks, making the boards safe and surfable for the kids.
Up next, the street artists. For ReSurf's first program in 2013, they had street artists deck out each individual board, in turn creating personal works of art for each kid. Now, the artists come in to teach the kids how to paint their own designs. "The kids have this pride, a feeling of connection to this board that they would never get from a surf shop board," said Bendelstein. "It makes these old boards become totally new."
Once the boards get decked out in paint and dry, the four-week surf instruction program begins. They offer the participants standard surf instruction, but also teach them how to read and respect the water and repair boards. They lead field trips to different places around the communities, encouraging the kids to continue to pay it forward.
"We'll do a couple of classes on ding repair, then maybe fix boards for the next project that's coming. We'll let the kids know that these boards are going to kids in other programs and have them do a collection, to help them pay it forward," said Bendelstein. "Paying it forward, that's what it's all about for us."
They hope that the surf programs continue after ReSurf's initial involvement ends. "We give them the tools," said Bendelstein. "We sit with them and work with them, and then watch as they take it over."
ReSurf's first program was in April 2013 at the Hadassah Neurim Youth Village, right on the water in Israel. They've since set up programs in New York with Long Beach High School and the Rockaways, and have a program in the works for this December with the Jamaican Surfing Association and Billy Wilmot, the very guy from A Brokedown Melody who inspired the stoke. But still, the goal is greater. "We want to get a truck and travel around the East Coast, stopping at underprivileged spots in different areas and setting up programs in each of these communities," said Bendelstein. "Within our means, we want to do the most that we can."
ReSurf is entirely volunteer and donation supported.
If you'd like to help or donate an old board, head over to Resurfproject.com.