The first time Spain’s Aritz Aranburu stood up on a board, it was on a pink bodyboard in Zarautz, and he already felt like he had a leg up on older surfers who needed fins and equipment to spin not nearly as many 360s. But he’s brought back to the profundity of that motion — standing, unassisted, on a wave — every time he takes to the water for Kind Surf, a nonprofit group that seeks to bring disadvantaged kids in contact with the ocean and with each other. Started four years ago by Aranburu’s girlfriend, surfer and model Almudena Fernandez, Kind Surf hosts twice-yearly workshops in both France and Spain, where volunteers take local children on the rides of their lives. We caught up with Aritz after the organization’s kickoff event in Valencia.
So many of your Instagram followers celebrated your posts on the Valencia event. What kind of role has social media played in your campaign?
Nowadays, social media is such an important tool for nonprofit work. Every time we have a workshop somewhere, we post it on our website where volunteers can sign up. Everywhere we go, we try to reach a surf school and invite kids with physical disabilities, mental disabilities, and sometimes kids with no parents. Before anything, it's important for us to know that the surfing is potentially needed in that area. That’s where social media comes in.
How did the particular cause — surfing with disadvantaged children — call out to you?
Throughout my surfing career, I’ve always enjoyed traveling and sharing moments with locals wherever I go. Surfing is an amazing tool that can be used to socialize groups with each other. We at Kind Surf think that surfing can benefit anyone - it doesn't matter who you are or what you’ve been dealt. Our main idea is to reach all these people with different realities and take them surfing to show them an activity that can be shared by everyone. It's not only about giving back to the kids, though; it's about learning, as well. Surfing with those kids, I’ve had some of my greatest experiences in the water, ever. You know, when kids have mental or physical difficulties, we think that they're fragile. Then you see that they're among the strongest people in our society - they fight for something every day. It's inspiring how quickly they learn and create goals for themselves, both in and out of the water.
Was there a particular kid who made a difference for you this year?
In Valencia, I surfed with a little girl named Marta, who can’t walk or even speak. It’s one of those strange illnesses where the odds of contracting it are astronomically low. Her parents never heard much about surfing before the event and were skeptical about it being too intense for her. But we asked them to come to the beach with us, even if she didn't end up surfing, so they accompanied us. When they got here, Marta expressed to them herself through her smiles and her body language that she wanted to surf and keep surfing. It was an amazing experience. Her parents and her grandmother sent me messages through Facebook saying how happy and thankful they were. The most important thing was that Marta was super stoked that she surfed for the first time ever.
Has this experience with Kind Surf changed how you view competitive surfing?
Honestly, every time I go to events now, I'm legitimately happier. I have this constant mental state of knowing I’m in a place where I always dreamed of being, ever since I was a kid. Sometimes contests make you angry because of your standards to perform well. After so many workshops with Kind Surf, a lot of the bitterness I feel during competition has gone away. I still have a strong desire to surf better, but I’m much happier when I compete now.
Does your work with Kind Surf lend new perspective to the discouragement you felt in 2008 when you suffered a few injuries and had to sit out a few events?
Absolutely. At the time, it was crazy. During my first event on Tour, I got an injury before I even competed in the second-round heat. It was a bummer in that moment, because I had been chasing the dream of professional surfing for so long, only to get injured in the first round. But now, whenever I think back, I see it as just a small learning curve in my life, one that made me stronger. In every individualized sport, especially in surfing, athletes carry a kind of selfishness that’s needed if they want to be great. When injuries happen, you think it's the biggest problem in the whole world. But there's so much else going on in this world. These workshops give me an extremely positive outlook for the rest of what I choose to do in my life.