Barilotti’s story showcased what was happening in the villages behind the perfect waves many companies sent their surfers to.
After reading the story, Santiago recruited his brother Fernando and they immediately got support from Dick Baker to present the cause to SIMA in 2003 at the Surf Summit in Cabo.
“Companies like Quiksilver and Billabong got on board right away,” said Santiago adding that today most companies in the surf industry are involved.
Dick Baker, second from right, was an early supporter of SurfAid.
In 2002, lawyers Gary Sirota, along with Robert Gerard, Santiago and a few like minded individuals founded Surf Aid’s U.S. chapter.
To raise money, Santiago decided to throw a party at his brother, Fernando’s house. He recruited his wife and Louise Balma from Transworld to help, and Fernando was deemed the auctioneer for the night.
The event, called the Liquid Nation Ball, was SurfAid’s first fundraiser and now is SIMA’s biggest annual humanitarian fundraiser and benefits several humanitarian organizations in addition to SurfAid.
SurfAid Founder and Medical Director Dr. Dave Jenkins said Santiago brought some important traits to the board that helped SurfAid succeed with its mission.
“Santiago joined our mission with commitment, compassion, and unique entrepreneurial flare - all critical success factors in the growth of SurfAid USA, enabling thousands of children to now live free of extreme suffering,” Jenkins said.
Santiago sounded bitter sweet about retiring from SurfAid’s board, but alluded to the fact that like a kid going off to college, the organization is in great hands and he’s excited to keep watching them thrive.
As for what’s next for him, Santiago said, “I’m not quite sure yet, but knowing me something good, fun and big…like I like my waves,” he added with a smile.
I asked Santiago after nine years, besides having helped raised million of dollars for the organization, what he’s most proud of.
“We’ve seen incredible malaria control, up to 70% improvement and reduction rates in some villages, helped with massive community development and hygiene efforts and have done a lot of efforts for tsunami relief,” he said.
“But I think the biggest legacy of SurfAid is that we introduced a major humanitarian cause to the surf world in the U.S.
“We created a humanitarian movement in the industry that didn’t exist before. We have helped a lot of people where we go play and take pictures and do what we do what we love to do.
“Surf Aid's actions in the Mentawais was the first time surfers went into a virgin area to help the suffering of its people on a large scale, and they turned it into a much better place than what they found.
“Companies like Quiksilver, Billabong, O’Neill and most of the competing surf companies, through donations, ideas, presence of its people and more, have helped SurfAid become the savior of many thousands lives over the last ten years. That’s a fact that should make all of us very proud to be surfers.
“Today we wouldn’t by products from companies without an environmental mind and in another few years you I don’t think people will buy products from companies that don’t have a humanitarian side. Humanitarianism will be as important environmentalism.”