A San Francisco nonprofit has been offering free surfing lessons to inner-city children for two decades. For many, it's their first time in the ocean.

Xavier Ochoa slips into a wetsuit for a big moment.

“It's my first time, but at the same time I'm a little scared, but I really want to try it,” he said.

The 11-year-old boy is one of a dozen children in San Francisco who live miles from the coast but are wading into the ocean for the first time.

“My feet are so cold. I can’t feel them,” Ochoa shuddered.

Sixth- through eighth-grade students at the Booker T. Washington Community Center participate in free surfing lessons offered by the City Surf Project, led by Executive Director Johnny Irwin.

“When you go into the ocean, you see them relax and become enlightened. And you see their whole world change,” Irwin said.

CBS News Bay Area first reported to the founders of the City Surf Project in 2017.

At that time, longtime friends Johnny Irwin, a teacher, and Hunter Chiles, a paramedic, heard comments from some students and patients that bothered them.

Members of the City Surf Project offer surfing lessons to children at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.


“They said, 'Where do you surf?' 'Ocean Beach.' They said, 'Where is Ocean Beach?'” Chiles said at the time.

So in 2014, the couple started taking children to the beach in their free time. Since then, their nonprofit organization, the City Surf Project, has given free surfing lessons to around 3,000 young people.

The students learn swimming, CPR, environmental protection and surfing. The non-profit organization no longer supports just two public schools in San Francisco, but now a dozen.

Several schools are on a waiting list to partner with the City Surf Project; the nonprofit needs more funding to bring them on board.

In recent years, the project has added summer courses as well as paid coaching and teaching leadership programs for alumni like Isaiah Bryen.

Bryen says that taking classes at the City Surf Project in high school taught him perseverance.

“As long as I can keep paddling and keep going and keep that ambition, I will make it to the end and the reward will be surfing beautiful waves,” Bryen said.

A college graduate in fashion design, he works part-time for the City Surf Project to teach kids like Ochoa how to surf, a sport he never thought he'd try — until now.

What was his first experience?

“It was incredible, but I didn’t like falling into the water,” Ochoa smiled.

Has he overcome his fear?

“Yes!” he nodded.

“At the end of the day there is always a smile,” Irwin affirmed. “No, it never gets boring. The sea, surfing and the waves are a gift that keeps on giving.”

And so City Surf stays running, offering inner-city children a sea of ​​opportunity and joy.

Chiles, the group's co-founder, is no longer a paramedic in San Francisco but a firefighter in Contra Costa County and volunteers for the group when he can.

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