Skip to Content

Waves of Transformation

by University Relations

Helping to change the tide of social welfare in Hawaii, Zach ’07 and Charis (Bauer ’08) Ifland live and work in some of the islands’ less-than-idyllic neighborhoods that more closely resemble the plight of the inner city than a tropical paradise. They serve with Surfing The Nations (STN), a nonprofit organization that feeds the hungry and provides after-school programs for at-risk kids, surf school for the community, and international relief and surf programs.

“Our motto, ‘Surfers Giving Back,’ describes the passion behind all we do, including providing people with sustenance as the largest private food distributor in Hawaii,” said Zach, STN’s director of operations. STN started in 1997 and launched its food distribution arm, Feeding The Hungry, the following year in response to Hawaii’s significant poverty rate, which stands at 17 percent of residents (seventh largest in the nation according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Today, the organization feeds approximately 2,500 Hawaiians each week.

STN, headquartered on Oahu, operates out of Wahiawa, a city known for unregulated prostitution, drugs, and violence. But STN came to change that reputation. The transformation began with the purchase of a building on the city’s seedy main street in 2008, an apartment complex connected to Oahu’s oldest bar. Over the next three years, STN acquired three adjacent buildings, transforming a liquor store, strip club, and pornography shop into a community coffee shop, vintage clothing store, and family-friendly housing.

“When God opened the doors to establish these businesses, I realized it was the perfect fit for me,” said Charis, business manager of the coffee shop and clothing store. Charis, the youngest daughter of STN founders Tom and Cindy Bauer, knew from age 12 that she wanted to be involved long term.

Though not overtly a Christian organization, STN staffs 45 full-time volunteers, all passionate Christians. A shared love for surfing and an understanding of island life allows STN members to connect with Waianae kids and their families in ways that other groups cannot. That trust facilitates unifying activities such as surf clubs and after-school programs like Ulu Pono Kids, which offers homework help and fine arts instruction to elementary and middle school students.

STN also sends teams of surfer volunteers to Central America, Asia, and the Middle East to build relationships, host surf competitions, teach English, organize beach cleanups, and assist with property development. This summer, STN will host two one-week surf camps in North Korea by government invitation.

At heart, STN exists to empower those at the margins, harnessing the innovation and creativity of its staff to make waves of transformation throughout the world.

To learn more, visit surfingthenations.com.

Originally published in the Summer '14 issue of APU Life. Download the full issue (PDF).