What happens after reaching the pinnacle of financial success? What if that success came from an industry that also happened to be physically and emotionally sustaining?
For brothers Santiago and Fernando Aguerre, founders of Reef, the answer came at different moments, from different directions. What developed was an equally solid commitment to the same cause, a commitment not unlike what’s needed to catch the powerful Indian Ocean swells that were the catalyst for this project.
“Shortly after returning home from my second surfing trip to the Mentawai Islands in the summer of 2002,” says Santiago. “Steve Barilotti wrote an article for Surfer Magazine called ‘The Jungle’s Looking Back.’ He wrote how in the worst areas, only 50 percent of the children in the Mentawais live to age 5. Just as I was reading that line my two youngest children walked by, and it hit me, which one would survive?”
The majority of these children suffer from diseases easily preventable in our modern society, by use of mosquito netting or simple vaccinations.
Surfers have been visiting the Mentawai Islands, off the western coast of Sumatra, for over a decade. Covering over 100 miles, the archipelago is a surfers dream: hollow, glassy, perfect waves in water as warm and clear as a private bath. The dreamy notebook doodles of high school surfers come to life.
“The irony,” continues Fernando, “is that we surfers were going to this area, but for the most part never stepping foot on land or connecting with the indigenous people. The lack of a common language did not help. We knew it was probably bad for the locals, but we were ignorant as to how bad. Instead we were living offshore in the comfort of our tour boats.”
After reading the article, Santiago tracked down a man mentioned only in passing as someone striving to make a difference. Back then Dr. Dave Jenkins was just a rumor, someone risking his life and livelihood determined to provide at least some relief to their suffering. With minimal funding, Dr. Jenkins seemed like a modern day Don Quixote tilting at windmills. His charity, called SurfAid International, was on the verge of collapsing.
Soon after, Santiago imagined an opportunity to involve the surf industry, the primary tourists in the area, on a grand scale.
In early 1990, Fernando helped co-found SIMA; the surf industry manufactures association dedicated to promoting awareness of surfing and the surf industry through a variety of services, educational programs and research. It was during the annual SIMA conference in May of 2003 that Santiago realized this was his chance to present to the surfing elite the selfless cause of Dr. Jenkins and the plight of SurfAid International. In front of 350 very influential industry honchos, a video presentation was made. Santiago knew he had struck a nerve when Dr. Jenkins received a standing ovation lasting over 3 minutes.
“It was a no-brainer,” claims Santiago, “we had already found the guy willing to do all the work. He just needed a little boost in funding.” Checks were indeed written, but what concerned Santiago was how to create a continuous revenue stream to support the foundering SurfAid, so no one would forget about these children once the checks cleared.
The following year, with the blessing and assistance of his wife Cecilia, Santiago conceived the Liquid Nation Ball. In an effort to keep overhead low, he approached Fernando, who enthusiastically agreed to open his home, playing host and auctioneer at the inaugural event.
That first year, over 400 people attended the Liquid Nation Ball. It raised close to $120,000. Held the second weekend in September, the event is timed around the Action Sports Retailer (ASR) trade show in San Diego. “The timing around ASR is perfect. We have the unique blend of industry leaders, professional surfers, and the working professional who also happens to love surfing perfect waves,” says Fernando. “This is a way for everyone to give something back while at the same time enjoy a really fun party with good company, music, and vibes.” Since its premier, Liquid Nation has raised over $600,000.
The surf industry currently has 5 companies traded on the NYSE. A 10 billion dollar industry, the humanitarian side was clearly lacking in any organized fashion. Realizing that SIMA was the best vehicle by which to create this entity, in 2006, the brothers donated the Liquid Nation Ball to SIMA. The brothers thereby establishing the industry’s humanitarian arm by working as a fund-raising team. “It was a natural fit, " says Fernando. “SIMA already had an established and successful environmental fund, it was time to develop our humanitarian side.”
“By turning over the Liquid Nation Ball to SIMA”, continues Santiago, “we were able to reach a broader section of organizations in need.”
The SIMA Humanitarian Fund, of which Fernando is Vice President, benefits several areas such as health & education awareness, sponsoring “Keep a Breast” and “Boarding for Breast Cancer.” It aids in injury prevention and assistance through “Life Rolls On” and “Project Wipeout.” It sponsors urban youth outreach programs, funding the “Rabbit Kekai Foundation” and “Stoked Mentoring,” among others. They have not abandoned their original intent to assist with global relief efforts by continuing to fund “SurfAid International” and more recently adding, “The Sumba Foundation.”
In keeping with tradition, the event will be held once again at the ocean front home of Fernando and his wife, Vicky. Auction items featured will be an assortment of very special surfboards, a private surfing photo session with legendary photographer, Jeff Divine, a South Africa surf and safari vacation and a Hawaiian Professional Surfing Contest package. But perhaps the most sought after auction item this year will be something never before offered, a signed Laird Hamilton tow-in Brewer surfboard, complete with Jet Ski and tow-in lesson from Laird himself.
SIMA’s criteria for beneficiaries include a formal application process in which a business plan is submitted to the Board of Directors. The charity must be run by surfers, benefit surfers or be related to surfing. Approximately 75% of the gross funds raised make their way directly to the various charities.
“Fernando and I are proud of the success of Liquid Nation,” says Santiago. Adds Fernando, “Helping others is a must for successful individuals. Doing this while having a great time is our Latin way of saying ‘thank you’ to surfing.”
For more information on the Liquid Nation Ball or to make a donation, please refer to their Web site at www.sima.com.