Beach boys: 100 Wave Challenge gives back to ‘life-changing’ program

The eighth annual Boys to Men 100 Wave Challenge will hit Mission Beach on Saturday, Sept. 23 from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Each surfer aims to raise $1,000 for Boys to Men Mentoring and attempt to catch 100 waves in 10 hours—it’s a personal challenge for the wave warriors that gives a life-changing opportunity for at-risk boys in San Diego, helping them become the men they want to be.

The roster of 200 surf ambassadors includes surf legends Shaun Tomson and Damien Hobgood as well as dedicated community ambassadors like Rancho Santa Fe’s Ernie Hahn, the general manager of the Valley View Casino Center.

Boys to Men believes that one of the most reliable predictors of a young man’s success is answering the question, “Does he have a man in his life to look up to?”

In San Diego County alone, there are 49,937 boys growing up in homes without fathers. A boy without a dad in his life is 20 times more likely to end up in prison, 10 times more likely to abuse drugs and nine times more likely to drop out of high school.

Boys to Men mentors go into San Diego schools and offer boys a community of male role models—the mentors tell the truth about their struggles as men, praise boys for their gifts, support them when they screw up and teach them about accountability and integrity. Co-founder Joe Sigurdson believes it is a proven model for real change as school records show boys who participated improved their GPA by an average of 27 percent and discipline incidents declined by 85 percent.

“A trust is established and it creates a safe place for the boys to start to open up and start talking about the choices they’re making right now,” Sigurdson said. “I love it. It’s so special to see these guys take risks and share their hearts and what they are willing to do to be the man they want to be. We never tell them what to do, they tell us what they are willing to do and our job is to hold them accountable and help.”

“This is a miracle. We’re not the solution but we certainly are a solution.”

Sigurdson said his life has been the “perfect storm” to lead him to where he is now, running Boys to Men with co-founder Craig McClain and a strong and passionate staff and team of volunteers.

He grew up in the 1960s in Inglewood and his progressive, “hippie” parents were activists and often brought him along to anti-war and civil rights rallies. His father, Herb, was a sociology professor at University of Southern California, a facilitator in management and team building and a former executive director of Father Flannigan’s Boys Town.

“I was raised to make a difference,” Sigurdson said. “It was very important that I took my privilege and abundance and shared it with the planet.”

At 18, Sigurdson went from boy to man extremely quickly as he fell in love and got married, instantly becoming a father to a two-year-old. He struggled making the transition and by age 28 he was a “full-blown” drug-addict and alcoholic, leading a double life selling and trafficking drugs.He entered Alcoholics Anonymous at 28 and after some relapses, became sober at 30. The experiences he had at AA and at mens’ groups and retreats with the ManKind Project were life-changing for him.

“Nobody cared about what I had done, they just needed to know what I was going to do to move my life forward,” Sigurdson said. “I had mentors at age 30 who were willing to meet me where I was, they weren’t judging me…I reclaimed my life and my family.”

Sigurdson, who recently celebrated 29 years of sobriety, realized that such a powerful experience of self-reflection and mentoring could be just as useful at age 13 as it was at 30. In 1996, he began forming the idea for a boys experiential weekend retreat with McClain and his father.His father passed away in 1997 and they held the first three-day Adventure Weekend event in June of 1998 at their 16-acre property on Mt. Palomar.

“My dad has been the spiritual warrior guiding us for the last 20 years,” Sigurdson said.

About eight years ago, Boys to Men expanded the programs into the public school system, beginning in Spring Valley.

“Those boys responded to the missing male nutrient in their diet,” Sigurdson said. “No boy ever dreams of joining a gang, getting hooked on drugs or going to prison. Behind the macho facade of even the toughest gang member is a good boy who just needs a man to care about him.”

Eight years later Boys to Men is in 31 schools, with 42 circles gathering every week, reaching 800 at-risk boys, 85 percent of whom are fatherless.

With a group facilitator and mentors in the circle, the boys are able to share anger, sadness and confusion they feel from growing up without a good man in their life. The mentors help create a roadmap to the men that the boys want to be.The men are honest in the circle, talking about the choices they made and consequences suffered.

“The boys are able to unburden themselves, lighten their load and feel better. And when they feel better they do better. It’s quite a phenomenon,” Sigurdson said. “The more at-risk the boys are, the hungrier they are for this program. They feel it and trust it.”

Sigurdson, who has loved to surf since learning on a family trip to Mazatlan in 1968, said he got the idea for the 100 Wave Challenge on Christmas Eve Day in 2009 while surfing with his son and law on three to four feet swells aided by the Santa Ana winds.

“The ocean was a wave machine and in an hour and a half I must have caught 35 waves,” Sigurdson said.He started to wonder: how long it would it take to catch 100 waves? And if he got a group of people to catch 100 waves, was that something people would pledge money toward?

Tapping a more diverse group than the fundraising galas and golf tournaments, the first 100 Wave Challenge was held in 2010 and his 50 surf buddies helped to raise $73,000.Last year, the event had grown to 168 surf ambassadors, bringing in $373,000. This year they are hoping to raise $425,000.

Sigurdson said without the 100 Wave Challenge as the leading fundraising tool, Boys to Men mentoring would not have been able to grow as it has—the challenge now accounts for 68 percent of Boys to Men’s annual budget.

This year is one of the largest groups of Surf Ambassadors yet, with 200 signed up. One the 100 Wave Challenge’s most enthusiastic surf ambassadors is Ernie Hahn. The Rancho Santa Fe resident got involved with Boys to Men after meeting Sigurdson surfing one day on Black’s Beach. Hahn was instantly moved by the important mission of Boys to Men.

“Ernie Hahn has been a game changer,” said Sigurdson, who can’t say enough about Hahn’s support.

Two years ago, Hahn was on the board of The Century Club and they were challenged to create events around the annual Farmers Insurance Open that tied to the local community. Hahn went to Sigurdson with the idea of partnering with the Century Club on a fundraiser for Boys to Men called the One Wave Challenge, an effort to set the record for the most surfers on one wave at the same time—the Guinness World Record is 113.

The first year they got 97 surfers up on one wave for five seconds, bringing in $20,000. The second year One Wave Challenge in 2016 was even bigger and better—they had 130 surfers in the water and got 102 people up on one wave, raising $100,000 for Boys to Men.

“The most important part was it exposed more people to what Boys to Men is and the incredible mentors they have that change young men’s lives and hold them accountable and help them to be who they want to be,” Hahn said. “It’s very, very powerful.”

Hahn has become committed to using his time, resources and contacts to give back to his community in a more impactful way through Boys to Men. The organization is now one of the beneficiaries of the Rolf Benirschke Legacy Golf Invitational, which Hahn is member of the executive board, and he transformed his 50th birthday celebration this year into the CaddyHack Golf Tournament at Morgan Run on Aug. 7, raising $113,000 for the cause.

A year ago Hahn did his first 100 Wave Challenge –raising $18,000. A surfer for 38 years who often hits the beach before work, Hahn was an overachiever and caught 101 waves in four and a half hours.

“Raising money is important but it’s just as important to introduce this charity to more and more people in San Diego that want to open up their hearts and help out,” said Hahn. “These are kids in toughest kinds of situations and this program changes their lives. I couldn’t be more proud to be involved. My personal goal is to keep working until I get it into every San Diego school that wants to have it.”

Currently 25 San Diego County schools are on the waiting list for a Boys to Men program. Knowing what an impact the program can have immediately makes the mens’ mission more imperative.

“We know that all it takes to change a boy’s life, is a few good men, who show up and care,” Sigurdson said. “Every boy deserves this.”

To learn more about Boys to Men and the 100 Wave Challenge, visit