From next the generation of surf photographers to restoring wells in Africa, local surfers are making the world a better place

By Jake Howard

There’s always something happening in our little local sandbox. And this week, we have all kinds of goodness going down.

At the top of the list, on Thursday night, Sept. 10, the 2020 Follow the Light Awards will be livestreamed around the world.

Honoring the life and legacy of Dana Point lensman Larry “Flame” Moore, the awards celebrate the works of up-and-coming surf photographers from around the world. At stake are a sizable monetary grant and working opportunities with some of surfing’s biggest brands, including Vans and Billabong.

This year, there were more than 75 submissions from aspiring surf photographers between the ages of 16 and 25. A distinguished panel of judges eventually whittled down the list of nominees to the top five.

“It’s incredible to see how much talent and passion there is in all of these submissions. Surf photography is very much alive and in some very creative hands,” said Glenn Brumage, the executive director of the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center (SHACC), which will host the awards show. “The legacy of ‘Flame’ lives on. It’s really inspiring to see.”

The Follow the Light Awards will be livestreamed at 7 p.m. A one-hour program, it will be hosted by legendary surf scribe Nick Carroll. The show will be available via FUEL TV’s YouTube channel and the SHACC Facebook page.

“This is a photo from a session at Churches,” says Arenui Frapwell, a La Jolla-based photographer. “This photo is really special to me because of the crazy water formations that formed below his waist line. I feel that this is one of those shots that I could try and recreate for the rest of my career, but will never get close to getting something quite like this. Like a lot of things in life, you just get lucky.” Photo: Courtesy of Arenui Frapwell/Follow the Light/SHACC

Next, I’d like to shine some light on a group that was just brought to our attention called the Sandy Feet Initiative.

They have quietly been doing some amazing work on the beach at Linda Lane in San Clemente. Founded by Mo Langley and Tom Spry, the organization offers special-needs kids and their siblings the opportunity to get in the water and embrace the freedom of the ocean.

“The ocean is an incredible healing place, a place to be you; she has no judgment and no expectations, she forces you to be ‘in the moment.’ We teach the siblings how to harness the ‘in the moment-ness’ of the ocean for empowerment, peace, joy and freedom,” Langley wrote on the group’s website at sandyfeetoc.org.

They currently have events running every Saturday from now through Nov. 15 at Linda Lane Park. The events run from 10 a.m. to noon. More information is available on Sandy Feet’s Facebook page.

We look forward to sharing their stories in the weeks and months ahead, but for now, we wanted to let everyone in the special-needs community know that there’s a stoke-filled, grassroots group in the area that’s doing great work.

And, finally, turning dark days into something positive, the life of San Clemente surfer Matt Vecere is being remembered in a unique way.

One of eight Americans killed on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, which crashed on March 10, 2019, Vecere had been in Africa to attend the United Nations Environment Assembly and had plans to deliver air-quality monitors.

Vecere grew up in New Jersey before landing in San Clemente. His friends and family on both the East and West Coasts came together to raise funds for the restoration of a water well in Uganda in his name.

Partnering with Irvine-based Wells of Life, the well is in Uganda’s Mityana District and will ensure that more than 1,000 people will have access to a clean, sustainable drinking water source for the next 20 years.

“I am sure Matt would be honored to see this clean water project in his memory, and I send a thousand thanks to everyone at Wells of Life and my very best wishes to those who will draw water from this well,” said Vecere’s mother, Donna, in a statement to the media.

Wells of Life launched Project Restoration in 2019 to repair older, deteriorated wells. Vecere’s restored water well has been commemorated with a memorial plaque. Additionally, since 2008, Wells of Life has funded the construction of 527 water wells in Uganda.

There’s a lot going on in our hectic world right now, there’s no doubt about that, but as we move into the next season of the confounding year that is 2020, it’s important to take a breath and remember there’s still a lot of positive stuff happening out there.

From restoring wells in Africa, to sharing the stoke of surfing with a sister or brother, to giving an inspired photographer a shot at chasing his or her dreams, it’s all part of the goodness that makes our local surf community so great.

Jake Howard is local surfer and freelance writer who lives in San Clemente. A former editor at Surfer Magazine, The Surfer’s Journal and ESPN, today he writes for a number of publications, including the San Clemente Times, Dana Point Times, Surfline and the World Surf League. He also works with philanthropic organizations such as the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center and the Positive Vibe Warriors Foundation.

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