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Program for at-risk boys riding wave of success

Jorge Partida, 15, has only been surfing a handful of times. But he’s quickly getting the hang of it.

“I’m helping teach these guys how to surf,” Partida said after exiting the water at Seaside Reef, referring to friends who are also part of Boys to Men Mentoring Network.

Boys to Men connects at-risk boys with male role models to keep them out of trouble and improve access to higher education. Teen boys take part in special school programs, weekend camping trips and twilight surf hangouts, where they learn to surf and get to know each other better.

They hit the waves for the latest surf hangout Aug. 5 at Seaside Reef in Cardiff.

Organizers explained many of the boys in the program are from single parent, low-income households, so they rarely get the chance to surf, let alone hangout at the beach. Partida said the event is but one way Boys to Men has helped him.

When he was younger, he wasn’t sure how to talk about issues he was going through.

“I felt like counselors didn’t quite understand me,” Partida said. But those in Boys to Men did. He added the program “opened up a lot of options for me to become a better man.”

As part of the program, mentors and the boys meet in a group setting, and anyone in the room is welcome to share personal challenges and emotions with others free of judgment. One-on-one mentoring is also a big component.

“It’s all about doing right by your family and community, and being honest with yourself,” said Boys to Men co-founder Joe Sigurdson.

The Aug. 5 event also gave surfers the chance to practice for the 100 Wave Challenge, taking place 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sept. 19 at Mission Beach. Surfers — including pros, the public and several Boys to Men teens as well as mentors — will each try and catch 100 waves over the course of 12 hours to raise money for Boys to Men.

Returning participants include surfing world champion Shaun Tomson, World Championship Tour surfer Damien Hobgood and legendary surfboard-maker Duke Aipa. To learn more or register, visit www.100wavechallenge.dojiggy.com.

Sigurdson said he came up with the idea for the 100 Wave Challenge when surfing a consistent swell in 2009 at Mission Beach.

“The ocean was a machine, and I probably got 30 waves in 90 minutes,” he said. While walking back to his car that day, he realized people would probably donate to see surfers each catch 100 waves.

Boys to Men started 20 years ago, when Sigurdson and a few other adults noticed how many kids in their La Mesa neighborhood seemed without direction.

“Initially, it was just some guys from the neighborhood getting together and helping out these kids that were struggling,” Sigurdson said. “It was so effective these kids started bringing their friends around, and it just grew from there.”

Fairly early on, Boys to Men hired psychologists and counselors to help fine tune the program, Sigurdson said. That led to a program blueprint, which is posted on the Boys to Men website at www.boystomen.org, for others to follow.

“We offered it up to the planet,” Sigurdson said. He added by 2001, he was frequently flying to other cities to aid fledgling Boys to Men chapters.

It has been a resounding success: Boys to Men has provided support for more than 6,000 boys worldwide, including around 1,800 in San Diego, and now has chapters around the world.

Sigurdson said often teens start the program skeptical and holding on to pent-up emotions. With time, many transform into men with a new lease on life.

Dion Gaither, Ayden Naungayan and Garrett Ouquisin, teens in the program, said they appreciate being part of a community they know has their back.

“Everyone inside the circle accepts you,” Ouquisin said.

“When you’re going down the wrong path, or you don’t know what to do, or you’re stuck, you can always turn to anyone here,” Naungayan said.

Later, they paddled out with recently donated surfboards.

During the Aug. 5 event, Boys to Men received 25 Rusty surfboards from North Island Credit Union (the boards were fixed up thanks to the generosity of Joe Roper and FCS Fin Systems.)


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