Waves For Water

by: Michael Shields

“The mission is simple: To get clean water to every person who needs it”…..

It was over plates of escabeche de pescado and sancocho and lechona, prepared with graceful competency by chefs including Daniel Talde (Talde), Nick Anderer (Maialino), and Gavin Kaysen (Cafe Boulud), where I first heard about Waves For Water. It’s funny how things works sometimes. As I gorged upon plate after decadent plate, paired with impossibly dry burgundy’s and delicate petit chablis’, I came face to face with a problem so rampant and distressing, yet so contradictory to the indulgent position I currently found myself in. Yet it was at this charity dinner, surrounded by chefs, food enthusiasts, writers and philanthropists, where I first learned about a man and an organization that was taking a practical approach to a daunting problem, the lack of clean drinking water for millions of people around the globe.

Water For Waves is the contrivance of Jon Rose, a retired World Championship Tour surfer who in his travels searching for that ultimate rush, found something else entirely. In September of 2009 while embarking on a surfing trip in Indonesia, Jon found himself sailing towards the island of Sumatra. With him he carried ten water filters that he planned to gift to the rural communities he happened upon. On route, his boat began to tremble, a slight inconvenience to him, but so much more to the communities along the shore. When Jon arrived on land, he realized quickly that the vibration he felt at sea was an echo of a 7.6 magnitude earthquake, which had spawned a massive tsunami that killed over 1,000 people and left more than 100,000 homeless in the city of Padang. As Jon traipsed through the wreckage and surveyed the destruction, he sought out people in need of the filters he had brought, many that they were. It was in these agonizing and highly affecting moments, that Jon came to realize what his life’s work was to be.

While clean drinking water is something that so many of us take for granted, thousands upon thousands of people around the globe die daily due to consuming foul and polluted water. In fact, according to Water.org, more than 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes. And 780 million people lack access to an improved water source; approximately one in nine people ((How’s this for a wake up call: An American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the average person in a developing country slum uses for an entire day. Here’s another: Every 21 seconds, a child dies from a water related illness.)). These are incredibly frightening statistics, ones that become even more troublesome to ignore when this doesn’t have to be the case. The technologies exist to assist those without access to water in the developing world, they just do not have the means to acquire it. Something Jon saw clear as day in his travels.

As it turns out, Jon’s inspiration wasn’t drawn from his world travels alone. Jon’s father, Jack Rose, is the founder of an organization called “Rain Catcher,” a nonprofit group which helps educate villages in Africa on how to catch and filter rainwater. Keeping this in mind, Jon reflected on all the regions he and his fellow surfers had traveled to, often impoverished lands where they would catch their thrills yet “leave the land no better than how we found it.” It was time to give back.

Although the idea was conceptualized with surfers in mind, those who will never find themselves crouched in the heart of a perfect tube can also aid in bringing this ambitious plan to fruition. Individuals, not handcuffed by the distribution complications many bureaucracies face in philanthropic aid programs, making a difference while doing something that brings them so much joy in the first place – this is the dream. This is guerilla humanitarians at its finest. This is Waves for Water.

As the meal commenced, and Jon’s charity raised over $20,000 dollars towards the implementation of technologies that will allow hundreds of thousands of people in impoverished nations access to clean water, I began to imagine myself preparing for a trip to some far away land. One with sandy white beaches as far as the eye can see that slowly roll into an ocean flickering with the glow of blue hues only Mother Nature, in all her glory, could compose. As I finish packing away the last few provisions into my carry-all, I resolutely reach for a handful of portable water filters. A fervent smile sweeps across my face as I envision the difference they would make to so many. This was the dream Jon Rose once had. And one that we can all share in.

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