Student confidence soars through free San Francisco surf program

If you need to clear your head sometimes some fresh air and a trip to the beach can change everything. 

That’s the premise behind the San Francisco-based non-profit City Surf Project.  

 "There is something that just connects us all to something bigger than what we are by just being in nature and in the ocean," said City Surf Project Operation Manager Meghan Hanebutt.   

City Surf Project started seven years ago when high school teacher Johnny Irwin took his class on a surfing field trip to Ocean Beach and discovered his students were more engaged and their confidence soared all thanks to a day on a surfboard.  

Since 2014, over 2,000 inner-city teens have hit San Francisco waves on 500 plus field trips.  

"If you can overcome the thrashing of learning how to surf constantly falling off the board getting back on you can apply that to a homework lesson that's tough or a job or college application," the project's co-founder, Hunter Chiles, said. 

Josue Martinez, 18, had never surfed and now, four years later he’s become an alumni instructor. 

"It’s an escape for those moments where you are catching a wave and paddling really hard and you're giving it your all," he said. "For those seconds it feels like nothing else matters except the wave and the joy when you hop on that wave.  It’s like an adrenaline rush."  

JoJo Luarte, 19, says her self-esteem skyrocketed after just one lesson.  

She’s now hoping to change the face of surfing. 

 "I wasn’t comfortable surfing because it was a male-dominated sport, and now I love instructing young women and young girls," she said.

The best part about the surfing project is that it is 100 percent free to city teens thanks to the generosity of the Bay Area community.  

Groups like The Olympic Club Foundation provide grants to keep the program afloat. 

 It’s part of the club's half-million-dollar yearly campaign to fund dozen of Bay Area youth sports programs in disadvantaged communities.   

Club President Stephen Wynne believes it's a win-win for all involved.  

"It helps build character and confidence," he said. "It gives them a sense of belonging and helps connect them to nature, the ocean and the water.  These are all things that these kids might not have access to otherwise."   

It’s been a huge hit with SF teenagers especially after a difficult year of at-home learning. 

Luarte said it’s the perfect stress reliever.  

"I get such a rush from surfing," she said. "I feel whole when I do it.  It makes me happy."