Jefferson Award Winners Founded City Surf ProjectBy Allen Martin

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5)  Many Californians take a day at the beach for granted. But others have never seen the ocean. This week’s Jefferson Award winners are working to make sure that city kids do experience the waves, while at the same time, learn some very valuable lessons.

Lifelong friends Johnny Irwin and Hunter Chiles were born to surf.

“Both our fathers grew up in San Francisco surfing,” Chiles recalled. “We naturally followed in their steps.”

As a San Francisco paramedic, Chiles found even his patients made comments.

“They’d be like, ‘Well where do you surf?’ Like ‘Ocean Beach’. And they’d be like, ‘Where’s Ocean Beach?'”

That bothered him. And it bothered Irwin, a San Francisco high school teacher, when he took his first class on a field trip to teach them how to surf and discovered many had never been to the beach before.

“At the end of the year, I had an epiphany; why don’t I turn this into an actual program where I can take these kids consistently surfing and really give them the gift of surfing?” he remembered asking himself.

So three years ago, the pair created the non-profit City Surf Project. In their free time, they take as many as 200 students a year to the beach, and teach them swimming, CPR, environmental responsibility, surfing, and something else.

“If you keep working at something, just like in surfing, you will ultimately be successful,” Irwin explained.

About 300 volunteers help students like Dia Heller-Contreras of Mission High School experience that change.

“I won’t give up, personally,” she said. “You have to keep trying.. you know, perseverance.”

Even though Chiles and Irwin have had to give up some of their own surf time, they say it’s all worth it.

“By the time I get here and see the kids faces, it’s the greatest joy ever,” Chiles said. “It is simply the greatest joy ever.”

“One student said that the whole experience changed his whole outlook on life,” Irwin added happily.

So for exposing city kids to the beauty of the ocean and the joy of surfing, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Hunter Chiles and Johnny Irwin.