Surfers to catch 100 waves for at-risk boys

Ten years ago, La Jolla resident Jason Bernardo attended a fundraising event for the San Diego non-profit Boys to Men (BTM). “They put up a video of boys talking about the program, and tears started coming down my cheeks. It just really grabbed me like no cause ever had. I went to Joe and Craig and said, ‘sign me up, how do I help?’ ” he said.

Bernardo has collaborated with BTM since then as a mentor and a fundraiser. “There’s a miraculous sort of thing that happens when these boys get together and we create a sense of community, listen to them, and allow them to talk about what they are going through,” he said.

The annual surf-a-thon 100 Wave Challenge to raise funds for BTM is set for Saturday, Sept. 17 in Mission Beach and surfers are needed join in by collecting pledges for every wave they ride that day.

BTM provides youth from challenging neighborhoods and dysfunctional families with a support system that helps them work out their problems and make life-changing decisions. Craig McClain started the organization in 1996 with two friends, Herb and Joe Sigurdson.

“We have a community of men and boys. We sit in circle and we talk about men stuff, boy stuff. We talk about lying, stealing, how to treat women, how to get along with teachers that we don’t like, how to shake a hand, how to admit when you are wrong ... and we tell the boys about the mistakes that we made when we were their age, and the ones that we are making now. We admit that we are not perfect men … and when they need help, we give it to them,” McClain said.

McClain said one of the biggest problems facing these teens is the lack of a masculine figure in their lives. “It’s not replacing a father, but it’s giving them a place for them to talk about the anger and sadness they have for not having one,” he said, reporting that 73 percent of the boys in the program are fatherless.

The organization incorporated the program in middle schools and high schools in 2009. Today, 600 boys from 20 schools in San Diego County benefit from the weekly meetings held in school facilities. BTM also offers weekend retreats where, McClain said, the boys turn into men. “It gives them a chance to tell us where they are, where they want to get, and what’s stopping them, and then we make a plan,” he said.

Afterward, the boys become “journeymen,” and then are able to help others in similar situations. O’Naje Jones is a journeyman who has attended more than 10 camps and continues being a part of the BTM community. He talks to younger boys about their problems. “I tell them what I felt like when I experienced the same kind of situation and I give them my best opinion and how I dealt with it, what I did that was good and what I did that was bad,” O’Naje said.

O’Naje will spend the summer working as an intern at Degree 33 surfboard store in Miramar. He said BTM helped him make the right decisions at significant moments in his life. “There’s always a decision like drugs, and it’s like, people are here to support you and they think you’re going to do one thing and then you do another, and that causes disappointment, and you don’t want to disappoint your family,” he said.

The 17-year-old learned how to surf in 2013 through the annual “100 Wave Challenge,” which brings the community together to surf and raise funds for the organization. In 2015 the event raised $353,000, and this year’s goal is to reach $500,000.

One of the top five fundraisers in 2015 was La Jolla resident Bernardo. He teamed up with friends and co-workers to secure pledges for every wave they caught at the program’s final event, a surf-a-thon that last year drew 168 surfers. “People walk, and run and do lots of things for charity, and we said, wouldn’t it be great if we surfed?” Bernardo said.

This year Bernardo has already started his fundraising accepting pledges through his website bit.ly/1XZK5SB

Leading up to the annual surf-a-thon Sept. 17, BTM holds bi-weekly surf nights to teach boys in the program how to surf. One of them will take place 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 18 at La Jolla Shores.

Non-surfers can raise funds through the program “Surf Angels.” Surfers who raise more than $1,000 will receive prizes, including wave-counting watches, wetsuits and surfboards. The top fundraising team will win a two-night surf weekend in Baja California.

Bernardo suggested that for first-timers it is better to launch a team with friends. “It is easier to have a few friends, you send some emails and make some phone calls. It helps to have accountability,” Bernardo said.

Want to help? To register or donate, visit 100wave.org

Contact BTM at (619) 665-7999 or jq@boystomen.org

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