Yesterday, my first call with Tanner Gudauskas dropped because of faulty FaceTime Audio connection. We tried a second time. Leave it to one-third of the perpetually sunny Gudang brothers to pick up and praise the magic of the technology instead of riffing on its limits. "Have you ever noticed that FaceTime Audio is way more crisp and clear than a normal phone call?" He said. His optimism has a trademark ring that runs throughout the Gudauskas clan. It may be scientifically impossible for poor phone connections, or for any inconvenience, to bog the three down.
So when Tanner, Dane, and Pat took a trip to Jamaica's Jamnesia surf camp two years ago, they chose to see a shortage in the camp's equipment as a realized goal for their foundation, Positive Vibe Warriors – to help hundreds of already-stoked youth feel the joy of riding waves by collecting donated surfboards from the States. Once our audio picked up, Tanner talked more about the surf culture in Jamaica, this month's surfboard drive, and how you can help.
How’d the vision for the drive begin for you three?
It was a trip with myself, my brother Dane, Dylan Graves, and his brother Josie to Jamnesia Surf School, which was for a SURFER profile piece on the Wilmot family there, a humongous staple in the Jamaican surf world. We got to kind of absorb their energy when we stayed there, and it was so good. The level of surfing that they're at is so high, and when we were down there, they said that tariff taxes on incoming goods are so high, that they can't get new equipment, so we left a couple boards with them. We later thought about how we could possibly help the community thrive. It wasn't just the Wilmot family. There were little kids who always came to Jamnesia to hang out. Billy “Mystic” Wilmot had this eclectic library of surfboards that he was taking upon himself to fix up and lend to the kids as they came by. He has a super-deep passion to continue forward the surfing heritage of Jamaica. It was wild. There wasn't too much surf community there. There isn't a surf shop down there. There isn't anyone shaping boards down there. There are fewer parts of surfing that we totally take for granted, being from around here in Southern California. But it hasn't hindered at all their stoke for it and their forward progression with the sport. For the little kids growing up in Jamaica, it would be cool if they could get onto equipment and surf with each other and have enough boards so kids can start creating their own communities with each other. If the kids can stay together and keep pushing themselves, it won't be long before Jamaica becomes permanently on the radar from their own doing.
Was there a moment when you really understood the need for boards there?
Totally. The setup at Jamnesia is, like, a couple rooms, a jam area – it's an insane compound. People come to Jamnesia to get the vibe going on. Billy has this outdoor library of surfboards that he's collected since he started surfing. The surfboard equipment has been weathered, and he's doing the best he possibly can to keep it going. One of the kids would ding a board, and he'd bring them over and literally teach them how to fix dings, how to keep the equipment as good as they possibly can. There's so much love there. Billy has taken his own time and knowledge and is passing it forward to the kids. It was so inspiring. I was thinking, Holy moly, this is all for the pure love of surfing and for wanting to continue surfing. I'm sure those boards have been there for decades. But he's still got them, they're still surfable, and the kids are learning on the same equipment that he learned on. I was so stoked. It fully fired us up, and we thought if there was anything we could do to help with the situation down there, we were going to try our best to do it.
What's Billy like?
Holy moly, the guy is a legend. The whole family is so nice. He's fully a rockstar with The Mystic Revealers, which I didn't know until I went down there. We'd go surf in the morning with the crew, come back to Jamnesia, and they'd practice in the afternoon. The guy creatively oozes all this good JuJu. He was surfing amazingly, had good spirit, and was jamming. I was like, This guy is almost more than human.
How much do you think his creativity through the water and through his family’s generosity and through their music has added the community?
They're definitely pillars of surf for Jamaica. I think that they have the pride of Jamaica rather than pride of themselves. It's not a me or them mentality, but one of bettering everyone around you. And that was a cool thing. I noticed that Billy was taking in kids like he was taking in his own sons. Hey, this is what I know about this, this is how you save this. I think that it's fortunate the Wilmot family is there in Jamaica, because they help lead almost everything in Jamaica for surf. But it's a cool influence to have, to be positive role models for the kids to look up to, and to teach kids that surfing is a really fun thing and that it's a really healthy thing.
What do you think young kids here can learn from the stoke of the kids in Jamaica? What stuck with you?
It's a double-edged sword. We're a little spoiled with how much access we have for surfing. We can meet with the best shapers, and we have friends all up and down the coast who we can surf with. I think it's a healthy thing to think about how to be as thankful as you can. Their stoke is literally so pure. These guys and girls are excited to surf for such pure reasons, that it's a really cool thing to see. It's healthy and refreshing to see that at the root level of a surfer, you're just enjoying the ride and you're stoked on the feeling and the energy of other surfers around you. It's good for building community. So when we came back from the trip, it was awesome to feel that. For the kids over here, if there's any way to connect with things like that, like through the Jamaica Board Drive, hopefully it inspires other kids to know that you can help out somebody and connect with them.
How cool it is that these kids will grow older and pass on the heritage to their kids, and on and on down the line.
That would be the best-case scenario: Their kids and our kids are surfing together, and they're fired up, and then the world becomes a smaller place.
What are some ways that we can get involved?
Stoked to talk about that. For us in Southern California, there are seven Jack's Surfshops we've partnered up with. We've also joined with the guys from Proof Lab in Northern California. They hit us up on Instagram and set up a surfboard drop-off spot up there. At any moment this month, from March 1 through March 31, you take your surfboard in and leave your name and your email, and we'll later send you the receipt for the tax write-off on your donation. On our website, for the whole month, there's also a donation platform if you'd just like to donate money. If you're thinking, Ahh, I don't have a board, but I'd still be psyched to pitch in $20, or whatever it is, there's that opportunity. There are also t-shirts and hats and coffee mugs on the website, and proceeds from that will go straight to the Jamaica Surf Association as well. And I know it sounds dorky, but maybe there's nothing you can do other than just tell a friend about it. Honestly, word of mouth is so powerful. Just connecting by passing on the word is a huge help.
We'll also be heading down to Jamaica in April to deliver all the surfboards to Jamnesia and the Jamaican Surf Association. We'd like to have what we're calling 'A Day of Stoke.' Billy's been coordinating it and putting the word out for any kids in Jamaica who want to surf. He's tying to arrange bus tickets and to find routes to get kids onto the beach. We're going to totally start this thing grassroots-style and to get them onto their boards. In the afternoon, we'll probably try to do a lifeguard seminar, just to get them involved with water safety, too, and then they'll be on their way.
What do you want to tell readers who are on the fence about giving to the cause?
Think about how stoked you are when you're surfing, and think how about how you can pay it forward and pass on that feeling to a kid so that they can experience it, all on a board you're not using. It's recycling at its finest. With a board you've personally gotten all the joy from, and one that's kind of reached its expiration, you get to recycle it now, and a little kid is going to feel that same joy.
To find out more about the Positve Vibe Warriors Jamaica Surboard Drive, click here.