Local group combines surfing and giving

Redefining stand-up

The fastest growing ocean sport is inspiring more than just a new style of surfing. For Del Mar resident John Perell and professional surfer Ekolu Kalama, stand-up paddling is the foundation of their humanitarian organization - A Standup World.

“If we as individuals can be stand-up people, and teach everyone else to be like that,” Kalama said, “then we can live in a stand-up world.”

The friends decided to combine their desire to help others with their favorite sport after hundreds competed in the first exclusively stand-up paddle boarding race, Battle of the Paddle, in Dana Point last October.

“We saw how big stand-up was getting, I thought, ‘It’s time for us to do something,’” said Perell, who moved from Hawaii to Del Mar four years ago.

While originating around the stand-up sport, A Standup World aims to become an umbrella organization bringing together communities in need with individuals and corporations willing to give. There’s no one cause, no one issue.

“We want to assist and inspire as many people as we can,” Perell said, “bring awareness that it’s really easy to go out and help people.”

Case in point: two months after founding A Standup World, and its formal nonprofit arm, The Ohana Project, Perell and Kalama headed to Honduras to build a well so a rural community could have running water seven days a week. A week later, Kalama, who is also a musician, performed a charity concert in El Salvador, which raised $3,000 to feed 50 malnourished children for the entire year.

“Surfers are often the first people in remote areas of the world, where doing very little can make a huge difference,” Perell said.

They documented their trip, which also included standup paddling a lake in a volcanic crater, and plan to pitch a television series featuring a different humanitarian project and stand-up surf spot in each episode.

Kalama and Perell both grew up in Hawaii, but on different islands. They met and became best friends at Pepperdine University. The 32-year-olds share a love of surfing and paddling, and so when standup came along, they both said it combined their two favorite sports into one.

While Perell wins local races, Kalama became the first professional surfer to be sponsored exclusively for standup. He and his cousin, big wave tow-in surfer Dave Kalama, hold the world record for the fastest team relay for stand-up paddling across the 32-mile Molokai Channel.

Perell recently sold his Internet marketing company to purse his dreams of philanthropy, surfing and traveling. He said he was inspired to redistribute his wealth after seeing the profound impact SurfAid had building community resources in Indonesia.

Similarly, Kalama left the fire service to pursue his dreams of surfing, music and helping others.

“Traveling surfers could do more than exploit the countries and take all the waves,” he said. “I want to spread the message you have to give back to those communities, even if it’s just taking some t-shirts or a hammer.”

But Perell and Kalama are not stopping with t-shirts and hammers; they are working on bringing A Standup World to the mainstream, as well as partnering with other nonprofits and corporations.

“We’re watering it and will find out what it’s turning into,” Perell said. “We want to get everybody involved.”

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