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Group offering free surfing lessons to SF youth continue mission into second decade

Now into its second decade, a San Francisco nonprofit has been giving inner city kids free surfing lessons. For many, it’s their first time in the ocean.

Xavier Ochoa is zipping up in a wetsuit for a big moment.

“It’s my first time, but I’m also kind of scared at the same time, but I really want to try it,” he said.

The 11-year-old boy is among a dozen San Francisco kids who live miles from the coast but are wading into the ocean for the very first time.

“My feet as so cold. I can’t feel them,” Ochoa shivered.

The 6th through 8th graders from Booker T. Washington Community Center are taking free surfing lessons from City Surf Project, led by executive director Johnny Irwin.

“Getting into the ocean, you just see them lighten up and you see them get enlightened. And you see their whole world change,” Irwin said.

CBS News Bay Area first reported on to City Surf Project’s founders in 2017.

At the time, longtime friends Johnny Irwin, a teacher, and Hunter Chiles, a paramedic, heard comments from some students and patients that bothered them.

Members of City Surf Project offering surfing lessons to kids at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach.

CBS


“They’d be like, ‘Where do you surf?’ ‘Ocean Beach.’ They’d be like, ‘Where’s Ocean Beach?'” Chiles said back then.

So the pair started taking kids to the beach in their free time in 2014. Since then, their nonprofit, City Surf Project, has given free lessons to some 3,000 young people.

Students learn swimming, CPR, environmental stewardship and surfing. The nonprofit has grown from serving two public schools to a dozen in San Francisco.

Several schools are on a waiting list to partner with CIty Surf Project; the nonprofit needs more funding to bring them on board.

In the last few years, the project has added summer sessions and paid coaching and teaching leadership programs for alumni like Isaiah Bryen.

Bryen says City Surf Project’s lessons in high school taught him perseverance.

“As long as I can keep paddling, and keep going, keep that ambition, I’ll get out to the line up and the reward is surfing beautiful waves,” Bryen said.

Now a college graduate in fashion design, he works part-time for City Surf Project to teach kids like Ochoa how to surf, a sport he’d never imagined he’d ever try – until now.

What was his first experience like?

“It was amazing, but I did not like falling into the water,” Ochoa smiled.

Did he conquer his fear?

“Yes!” he nodded.

“At the end of the day, it’s always smiles,” Irwin affirmed. “No, it never gets old. The ocean, surfing and waves are a gift that keep on giving.”

And that keeps City Surf going giving inner city kids an ocean of opportunity and joy.

Chiles, the group’s co-founder, is no longer a paramedic in San Francisco but a firefighter in Contra Costa County and volunteers with the group when he can.

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