Jon Rose did not set out with a business plan for transforming his pro surfing career into a thriving nonprofit that has improved the lives of more than 7 million people in more than 27 countries around the world to date. The opportunity came on a surf trip when a 7.3 magnitude earthquake erupted in Padang, Sumatra.
“I became this first responder just by being there; it was not planned. I felt that I had a certain responsibility.”
Rose had packed 10 water filters with hopes of teaching locals how to clean their water and immediately began searching for an emergency relief center and water source to build a filtration system to aid the 500,000 people living in the community. “It was divine intervention,” Rose says. “I became this first responder just by being there; it was not planned. I felt that I had a certain responsibility.”
Born in Colorado, Rose moved with his father to Laguna Beach at age 10 after his parents divorced. He began surfing competitively at age 12 and turned pro at 17, signing a contract with Quiksilver.
Rose stayed with the brand for his entire 13-year professional career, as contracts meant pay through endorsements. However he was soon disappointed to learn that most contests were not solely based on individual performance. “You had to go out in bad waves and weather, and it was frustrating,” Rose remembers. “We were at the top of our game and wanted to show that, but how could we?”
As contracts dwindled, Rose realized that his entire identity at that point had become wrapped around surfing. Soul searching brought about many candid conversations with his father about the world, specifically the global water shortage, and Rose was inspired to find answers to his own questions.
Also living as roommates with surfer Pat O’Connell, who starred in Bruce Brown’s 1994 film, “The Endless Summer II,” kept Rose aware that there was still meaning left for him in the surfing community. “I later realized that I’m Jon Rose, and the things I do are only enhancements…on top of who I am,” Rose recalls.
Many Americans mistake their lifestyles as the norm, Rose says, while the truth is that most people around the globe don’t have safe access to water, much less electricity or infrastructure. So he set out to discover a viable way of providing access to clean water around the globe.
Installing Lasting Change
Rose began carrying portable water filters with him on surf trips and rallied his friends to do the same, with hopes that together they could improve the lives of inhabitants in various surf destinations. The faucet adapter and Renegade and MVP filters used by Waves for Water weigh as little as 3 ounces but also remove bacteria and parasites that can cause waterborne illness.
One month after his trip to Indonesia, Rose found himself in Haiti with a few hundred filters during the 2010 quake that reached 7.0 magnitude. Waves for Water became an emergency responder; however, filter supply could not meet demand. By empowering local community leaders to share their ideas, Rose overcame his greatest challenge and found a local pastor who suggested that he offer one filter to every pregnant woman and return with more.
Apart from all the variables of installing a filtration system, like capacity of filter and number of people you’re aiming to help, Rose also considers religion and both cultural and societal norms of a specific community. Over seven years, employing this strategy has allowed the nonprofit to help 3 million of Haiti’s 9 million residents.
“For a majority of organizations, to this day their biggest downfall is that they come in and dominate. The reality is, you don’t know the people…one size does not fit all.”
Today Waves for Water is fully operational, providing clean water to communities in need across the globe. From India, Brazil, and Indonesia to Nicaragua, Mexico, and Colombia, Rose remains connected to the surfing community by empowering its people in a deeper way.