For many in Fiji, the small cluster of islands 1,700 miles east of Australia and renowned for its bottled water, obtaining clean drinking water is a daily struggle. Last Wednesday, with the Volcom Fiji Pro on hold, awaiting the arrival of the swell that steamrolled through Cloudbreak later in the week, a group of pros and contest organizers joined Give Clean Water (GCW) on a day trip to distribute water filters to two nearby villages. This was GCW's first joint project with the surfing industry.
"All 67 homes in Momi and 73 homes in Nabila received clean drinking water filters," GCW founder Darrel Larson said in an email from the South Pacific. "Two schools also received filters for each of their classrooms. The local health worker offices also received filters." The villages lie on the west coast of Viti Levu, Fiji's main island -- a 15-minute boat ride from Tavarua, which hosted the World Tour contingent and is the site of Restaurants, the backup break where heats were held when conditions at Cloudbreak were uncontestable.
Volcom's Kris Lyman and Tavurua resort director Jon Roseman coordinated the efforts. "Once everyone arrived, we headed into the village for the traditional Fijian welcoming ceremony…we installed some filters and then headed over to the local school," Larson explained. A team of 18 volunteers joined GCW, including surfers Kelly Slater, CJ Hobgood, Dave Wassel, and Alex Gray, as well as Volcom CEO Richard Woolcott and Kai Garcia, the lead water patrolman for the contest. A traveling choir team from Santa Fe Christian high school in San Diego also accompanied Wednesday's group.
Slater and Hobgood are two of the many visiting pros who have created strong relationships with the locals in the region. "It's so cool to see their day to day lifestyle, so simple, and see the kids play," Hobgood told ESPN in between his contest heats. "We've helped out before with Kelly donating money to build a church, and I have friends just from coming to Tavi over the years."
Larson, a native of Southern California, established GCW in 2008, having a background in non-profits. Over four years, the group has paired with the Fijian Ministry of Health to provide a filter that allows villagers to remove nearly all harmful bacteria found in their water supply, like E.Coli, cholera and typhoid. The filters attach to a running faucet or a special bucket to be filled with river or well water, and can decontaminate a million gallons of water over their lifetime. GCW workers arrange follow-up returns with government officials to ensure usage and maintenance.
GCW wants to cover Fiji's entire populace in the next 10 years. "This is a tangibly solvable problem as Fiji only has a little over 800,000 people in the country," Larson explained. GCW says it has so far reached 40,000 of Fiji's 890,000 inhabitants. GCW is eyeing future expansion in Tonga, Samoa, and Indonesia. "I'd love to develop our partnership [with the World Tour] and really help make sustainable surf tourism a major factor around the world."