This is the philosophy of Jon Rose, pro-surfer and founder of Waves for Water. He’s devoted his life to living the ultimate surf lifestyle while bringing clean water to those in need across the globe. Intrigued by his great work, we had to know more.
Conscious Connection: It’s great to be with you, Jon. Tell me, what inspired you to start Waves For Water?
Jon Rose: I was aboard a boat off the coast of Sumatra during a surf trip in September 2009 when I felt a slight shake. I had no way of knowing at the time, but a 7.6 earthquake had destroyed the nearby city of Padang – with more than 1,000 lives lost and 100,000 homeless – until I came to shore and saw the devastated city. I happened to be en route to Bali to deliver 10 water filters for what would have been the first Waves For Water mission. But with tragedy striking Sumatra, I went into Padang to get water filters into the hands of rescue workers to help those who were most in need of clean water. That was really the start of Waves For Water.
What’s most meaningful to me at this point is doing my part. We all have the ability to do our part. If you stick to doing what you can do, you never lose, you’re always winning.
What can make a difference in what we do is scale. I can put 10 water filters in my bag and save, potentially, thousands of lives. But if I get other people involved, if companies join in, and private donors and sponsors, then I’m going through a lot of the same motions, but scaling up the results.
I’ve always been somewhat socially conscious, or tried to be, though as a pro-surfer I had a pretty self-indulgent lifestyle. When my dad got involved in the water cause, I supported him in his passion. I saw what he was doing with Rain Catcher, the organization he started, and thought it was great. He worked in Africa, focusing on developing simple ways to catch rainwater and teaching people how to do that themselves so they didn’t have to walk five miles to a pond.
About six years later, when I was looking for a way to transition out of my surfing career, I thought, I can do that, too. I’d seen the need for it in all the places I’d surfed. Waves for Water was born out of realizing I could go to all the places I know from surfing and help. If I stuck to that list I’d be busy until I’m dead. That felt like a simple plan. Then the project transformed into more of a special ops mindset of providing urgent relief – not always in direct response to a disaster, like an earthquake, but in places that are disastrous day after day. We call this guerilla humanitarianism.
Jon delivering clean water to those in need. #wavesforwater
Conscious Connection: What is the organization’s mission?
Jon Rose: To get clean water to every single person who needs it. Waves For Water works on the front-lines to provide clean water to communities in need around the world. In addition to our primary focuses around clean water, the organization has coordinated disaster relief efforts following earthquakes in Indonesia and Haiti, post-tsunami Japan, Pakistan, Brazil, and now Hurricane Sandy here in the US. We work with world leaders and strategic partners who take a “no-nonsense” attitude toward making global change.
Conscious Connection: Explain some of the clean water challenges people in the developing world face on a daily basis.
Jon Rose: People living in impoverished areas die every day from drinking dirty water. While having access to clean water is a luxury that many of us take for granted, there are millions living in nations with no filtration systems in place. Kids drink from the same streams where animals bathe. In addition, there’s no clean water available for surgery if someone is injured, putting the wounded at risk of deathly infections.
Conscious Connection: How does Waves for Water help to address these challenges?
Jon Rose: Our goal is to get clean water to every single person who needs it. Waves For Water works on the front-lines to provide clean water to communities in need around the world. In addition to our primary focuses around clean water, the organization has coordinated disaster relief efforts following earthquakes in Indonesia and Haiti, post-tsunami Japan, Pakistan, Brazil, and now Hurricane Sandy here in the US. We work with world leaders and strategic partners who take a “no-nonsense” attitude toward making global change.
Conscious Connection: Tell me more about how you leverage existing community leaders for help achieving your mission.
Jon Rose: Waves For Water does this in all of our projects – Brazil with the Sede de Vencer project; in Haiti… a great example of leveraging existing community leaders is our Hurricane Sandy Relief Initiative. Within a couple days of the storm, I knew we needed to be in the coastal communities in New York and New Jersey to provide support. Sandy struck such a personal chord with me because, as a surfer, I knew that most of the communities hit by Sandy were surf/beach lifestyle based; many of them I had spent time in personally over the years. In addition, I actually had personal friends that lost a business or home (or both). I would also never pretend that I am a local there, but, through guidance from the key people I already knew in those areas, I was able to quickly pinpoint what needed to be done and how to do it with integrity and heritage preserved. My Waves For Water team leaders on the ground are all locals and those who were leaders in these communities long before the storm hit. Now they are using their already established connections in these communities to be our eyes and ears on the ground in determining where the greatest needs for aid continue to be.
In my line of work I am used to seeing areas wiped out with a seemingly endless road to recovery. The region devastated by Sandy is no different. The sheer scope of destruction is mind boggling – roughly 220 miles long. Because of this wide range and all of the various challenges that go with that, it is definitely worse than Katrina in my opinion. But the simple fact that this catastrophe happened so close to NYC also means that there are more resources and great minds focused on it that wouldn’t be otherwise. I think this alone will help to speed up the recovery time. That said, we are looking at probably 5 years minimum to have everything in these areas feeling totally normal again. That’s not to say that some communities will bounce back quicker, but as a whole I think we will feel the after effects of this for 5-10 years…
I have unfortunately seen before other areas hit like NY/NJ were… We worked most of the major disasters of the last four years – Haiti earthquake, Pakistan floods, Japan Tsunami, Chile Tsunami, and Indonesia Tsunami. But Sandy is right up there with all of them in terms of damage and scale. Japan and Haiti are probably the worst destruction I’ve seen though…
Conscious Connection: Explain your philosophy of “Do what you love and help along the way”.
Jon Rose: Well I always like to bring everything back to center… to my driving force… my DNA – which is completely based around FUN. My dad used to ask me when I was a kid if I was having fun when I was doing something – if I said no, he’d say “then why are you doing it?” I’ve never lost sight of this… our entire mantra for W4W is – Go do what you love, and help along the way. So that’s exactly what we do, we go out into the world and follow our passion, and then we plug the purpose into that – not the other way around.
Jon Rose teaching about clean water in Brazil
Conscious Connection: Tell me more about your current project in Brazil.
Jon Rose: There has always been a big correlation between sport and W4W and there probably always will be…
Due to my personal background, I will always see things through some sort of a sport based lens – it’s how I relate and begin to problem solve. Because a game, a trick, or any athletic feat is just a series of problems/challenges that need to be solved or overcome…
That said, we recently developed a partnership here in Brazil, with Soccer phenom – Neymar Jr (and his institute – Instituto Projeto Neymar Jr.), which will result in 85,000 people getting access to clean water. We named the project “Sede de Vencer”, which means “Thirsty for Winning” in Portuguese… the whole project really is based around sport and water. Kicking off this month, following Neymar and the Brazilian National Team during the Confederations Cup, the program will address the clean water needs for those living in under-served areas of the 5 cities that will host the games of the Cup: Brasília (DF), Salvador (BA), Fortaleza (CE), Belo Horizonte (MG) and Rio de Janeiro (RJ).
The main philosophy behind W4W has always been – go do what you love and help along the way… well that’s exactly what this is! Neymar Jr is going out there and doing what he loves – soccer… and at the same time, through our program, he’s helping all the communities he passes through. It really is a great example of our model at work. Ultimately, we designed this model with hopes that it could be plugged into all walks of life – not just surfers, or adventurous travelers… but also soccer players, musicians, clothing manufacturers, chefs, and film makers to name a few… really anyone who is traversing the world for whatever reason.
The idea is that whoever you are and where ever you’re going, you can always do your part. Especially if the platform is simple and easy… and in this case it is. The need for clean water is EVERYWHERE… 1 in 6 people do not have access to potable water. So no matter a person’s background or current walk of life, their ability to bring something as simple as a portable water filter to the next place they work or visit, is right there in front of them… and the measurable impact they can have as a result is also waiting there, ready to be realized.
This project is symbolic… and truly a milestone for us as an organization and for me personally. It obviously speaks directly to the clean water needs here in Brazil, but in such a specific way – by coinciding with something everyone here loves — soccer. This is a concept that, I believe, can be replicated through almost every other genre of life. It’s exciting to think of the other ways we could apply this same model – musicians going on a world tour helping all the cities they pass through… or a clothier helping all the villages around the factories that manufacture their garments. It’s a plug and play model and this Sede de Vencer project is a shining example of that. I also want to say special thanks to Baruel, Hurley H2O, and Loducca for getting behind this project… without whom this never would have happened.
Conscious Connection: What else needs to happen to see the global water problem solved in our lifetime?
Jon Rose: It’s hard to say when we’ll be able to achieve this, but our organizational structure and work is built upon trying to get as many people as possible involved in this mission. The idea isn’t to get one person to drop off 100 clean water filters and call it a day. Let’s instead try to get 100,000 travelers to each pack 10 small filters, or team up with groups to implement projects with larger filters for an entire village. Then, the world will start to take notice and we’ll be that much closer to realizing the ultimate vision. But the biggest thing I like to highlight and remember is to always think about addressing this challenge in a decentralized way – a viral way… as a group, a movement, we can solve this problem… and in our lifetime no less.
Conscious Connection: What can our readers do on an individual level to get involved?
Jon Rose: We’re distributing filters almost every day. Waves For Water has programs in over 13 countries – Haiti, Indonesia, Liberia, Pakistan, Kenya, Brazil, Nicaragua, Afghanistan and Chile, to name a few. Each of these countries is being used as models of success that can be applied to other countries in need. Then through our Clean Water Courier program, travelers can purchase W4W filters and deliver them to destinations all over the world. They can travel with a purpose and do something truly remarkable. In fact, a few surfers just went off to Panama on a trip to surf and deliver some filters in an area that needs clean water.