It was a chance encounter of getting stuck in Indonesia during an earthquake that opened former professional surfer Jon Rose’s eyes to the need for clean water access around the world. The founder of Waves For Water, an organization that strives to provide clean water to those who need it, had traveled to the country on a surfing trip in 2009, bringing along 10 water filters that would prove crucial to helping thousands of people survive the disaster. Seeing the impact he was able to make inspired him to launch the nonprofit and play his part in solving the world’s water crisis.
Now, Dockers® is kicking off their evolving three year partnership with Waves For Water by matching Waves For Water’s filter donations (up to sums of $50,000). This new partnership will take Waves For Water’s mission even further — a mission which has now provided clean water access to more than 3 million people, in 44 countries and counting.
For the last 10 years, Dockers® and Waves For Water have been addressing the global water crisis in their own unique ways. Dockers® has been using a range of initiatives dedicated to water conservation known as Water<Less® techniques, which have collectively saved over 20 million liters of water just in the first half of 2020. Waves For Water, meanwhile, has been on the ground working to bring clean water access to communities in need around the world. Together, their partnership fights water scarcity from multiple sides
Ahead, Rose shares how a life-changing idea was born, his mission with Dockers® and why clean water access is critical, and how anyone can discover their passion and make an impact in the world.
You started your career as a pro surfer. What made you fall in love with surfing?
I see myself as eternally hungry for experience, exploration, discovery — I guess a kind of seeker. I like to explore my limits and constantly be tested.
When I was a kid, I had no idea who I was. Nobody does in my opinion. But there’s a connection I had with surfing where it became not only my best friend, but it filled me up. It tested me. When you start participating in a sport, specifically one that’s not a team sport, it’s all on your shoulders. It gave me a sense of who I was, the things that drove me, a sense of mastery. Then on the other side, it also taught me, ‘okay, I can lose and the world’s not going to end.’ And then you push through that, and get a little further.
Are surfing and self-confidence linked for you?
They definitely are. Dockers® talks about this unspoken, cool confidence. That kind of confidence comes from being good at something, because no matter how much you get teased, or something goes wrong or falls apart in your life, you still have this solid thing to stand on. Surfing gave me all of that early on.
When did you realize that water access was a huge need globally?
I was traveling around the world a lot with surfing. I was consciously-minded enough to see that there were very challenging living conditions that were very unlike my own back in the United States. I was in Indonesia and Brazil, and all through places in Asia and Africa surfing. My father was doing some work around water. He’s a carpenter by trade, but also an amazing problem solver, and had been saving his own money and going to Africa once or twice a year and helping villages build rain catchment systems. It was a combination of seeing needs with my own eyes and then him putting the water cause on my radar.
As you began Waves For Water, what specific initiatives did you decide to dive into?
I bought 10 water filters with my own money, went on a surf trip to Indonesia, and then while I was there, got caught in a 7.6 [magnitude] earthquake. It was like that divine intervention-type moment where when I look back, I had put the intention into the universe that I wanted to do something to help Indonesia, and specifically these islands called the Mentawai Islands [Regency]. Then I found myself in this disaster, and realized that those 10 filters I had could help thousands of people. Of course I donated them, and afterwards, I thought, ‘I barely tried. What impact could I make if I gave this my all with everything I have?’
Being able to do that in this very short period of time under such extreme circumstances taught me so much about the water crisis, taught me about disaster relief, taught me about myself, taught me about all these skills I didn’t know I had. So we went from one [relief center] to the next, donating filters to replicate what we did. When you start to look at water and other uses for it beyond drinking, it really is exponential.
What is the need globally to have access to clean water?
Every 15 seconds a child dies from dirty water. One in nine people around the world don’t have access to clean water. These are benchmark statistics for us, because if you think about that in human terms, that’s really a heavy human toll as a result of lack of clean water. It just seems right that we try to do something.
Is water sustainability something you think about when you’re shopping or choosing what brands to support?
It definitely is. It’s one way the Dockers® partnership came about — they felt committed and clear on the path they wanted to take as a brand genuinely committed to sustainability and water conservation. We have the same intentions and ultimately the same heart, so this partnership made sense.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to impact a cause that might feel huge, or unattainable?
I think we have to look at ourselves, and consider the impact we can have — I know Waves For Water has had a significant impact in the world, but I still look at this as just me doing my part. So for me, it helps to compartmentalize a bit, and rearrange a problem into singular roadblocks that are actually attainable.
So if you look at the overarching problem of, ‘One million people in this country don’t have access to clean water,’ then you’re just paralyzed. But if you look at the one house that’s in your peripheral and know that they don’t have clean water, you can solve that. You can go over there and help that family, or assist that community with a specific need. So it’s taking that approach to every single aspect of our work. That’s where we’ve been quite efficient, I think.
You’ve coined the phrase, “Do what you love and help along the way” — what does that mean to you?
It’s this combination of purpose and passion. Go out there into the world and first take care of yourself and you’re going to be that much more filled up and energized to go help others. Do the things you love and find a way to plug purpose into that. For us, it was the water crisis. I believe on a higher level that when you are operating from a place of authenticity and your own personal truth, the doors open for you and they continue to open for you. As my dad always says, ‘When you’re on the right path, you can’t make a wrong turn.’
What advice do you give to someone who’s looking to create a positive impact in the world?
Always go towards the thing that makes you uncomfortable. For me, the biggest growth comes when I seek out and go towards those challenges. The other barometer is, are people saying what I’m doing is crazy? When I said, ‘I want to ride my motorcycle from the top of Baja all the way to Cabo [San Lucas, over 600 miles away],’ every single person I told was like, ‘You’re crazy, dude.’ It made me feel uncomfortable — ‘Am I crazy? Am I going to die?’ And then I did it, and I didn’t die. So now if I have a plan and somebody around me says it’s crazy, then I know I’m on the right track. My advice is to push yourself outside of your comfort zone because that’s where the growth is, and stay crazy.