When surfer Joe Sigurdson found himself with the responsibility of being a step-parent at the age of 19, he had to go from boy to man rather early on in his life. He worked two jobs to support his family. The stress wore on Sigurdson and at 28 he found himself at the doorsteps of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting looking to confront his out of control drinking and drug use problems head-on.
After a couple years Sigurdson managed to get sober, an accomplishment he credits to the acceptance he found in AA meetings. The lack of judgment for his past actions at the group meetings, combined with the concern expressed for his future, illustrated the lasting power that positive examples and support systems can have over those looking to change their lives. Along with working the AA’s 12 steps for the next 32 years of his life, Sigurdson found the power of mentorship contagious and realized that there was a contingent of society where it was heavily needed–mostly fatherless boys that were at risk to others and themselves.
Sigurdson ended up co-founding Boys to Men, a nonprofit organization that hosts after school group meetings for troubled teenage boys. The group meetings provide a non-judgmental atmosphere where the boys are able to speak truthfully with each other and facilitators about what’s going on in their lives and why they’re making the decisions they are.
Some of these boys are suicidal, members of gangs ranging from street to neo-nazi and come from, or have experienced, every ugly aspect that exists in society. The Boys to Men website is replete with testimonials of participants, one from a boy who was hell-bent on going to prison because he thought “it looked fun” after seeing a reality TV show documenting the violence that goes on inside the razorwire-topped walls. These boys are given male mentors in the meetings, something a majority of them are missing at home, who help them autonomously define the type of life they want and how to achieve it. What’s unique about Boys to Men is that it is almost completely funded by surfing.
In 2010, Sigurdson was inspired to start something called the 100 Wave Challenge to fund Boys to Men after having a magical surf session. Surfers ranging from average joes to legends like Shaun Tomson gather donations from friends and family to participate in a day of surfing in San Diego with a goal to ride 100 waves each. The event has become a huge success and pros such as Damien Hobgood have climbed on board to support. Each year the event raises hundreds of thousands of dollars that helps sustain and expand Boys to Men across the world.
SURFER called up Sigurdson to learn more about how he combined his two greatest passions, helping troubled young men and surfing, to make a positive difference in the world.