By John O’Toole
About 15 years ago, when I was sitting in the office of my old hotel Cabinas Las Olas, I received a random phone call. It was from a one very confident Steve Sanchez, calling from my hometown of Phoenix.
Steve had been referred to me his orthopedic surgeon, the reputable Dr. David Zeman who saw an article about me in the Brophy College Prep alumni magazine, “Men For Others”.
Steve very bluntly stated, “My wife asked me what I wanted for my 50th birthday, and I said to hold a surfing event for orphaned children in Costa Rica. John, can you help me with this?” I quickly answered, “Yes!” It came from my gut.
In 1997, a group of local Playa Hermosa residents and I had organized a charity surf contest in front of the hotel for a local boy who had severe birth defects named Ricardo. We called it “La Ola de Esperanza” (Wave of Hope). It was a smashing success, the waves jacked up to 12 feet that day, competitors enjoyed surfing for a cause, and we raised enough funds to send Ricardo to a private institute in San José, where he received rehabilitation and education.
Giannina Coto Aviles was helping me manage the hotel at the time when Steve called, and it turns out her mother, Marta, was a teacher in San José who had done work with the Hospicio de Huérfanos de San José, an 125 year old orphanage serving up to 100 children.
Marta kindly connected me to the director Jorge, and he accepted our proposal to bring a group of the children to the beach in Playa Jacó for a day of surf instruction with a group of local surfers and visiting tourists. The first PVNP was held in 2002 at The Hotel Arenal Pacífico (it now is called Hotel South Beach Jacó).
The group of 40 children, overjoyed to get out of the city and see the beach, arrived in a big bus with staff from the Hospicio. Volunteers were paired up with kids, and in the morning there were surf lessons provided by local surfers, and fun activities for the kids such as potato sack race, an egg toss and a piñata. Lunch was served to all, then in the afternoon there was an informal surf contest for the volunteers which was a team format with members of each team consisting of a sponsored or pro surfer, an intermediate or amateur surfer, a body border, a long boarder and a female.
Winners competed for prizes donated by local surf shops and businesses in Jacó, plus sponsors from Phoenix and San Diego. The day ended with a Bar-B-Que and award ceremony where children were given gift bags, inspirational words were said, and the kids were then transported back to San José sun burnt and content.
Steve dubbed the event “The Pura Vida No Pro” – emphasizing the pura vida or “pure life” credo they live by in Costa Rica combined with the fact that it was not a pro surfing contest, but a day where surfers and non surfers can celebrate the joys of what Hawaiians call “The Sport of Kings (and Queens)” in an informal atmosphere. Steve’s 501 (c) 3 charity organization, Hearts of Stone, is the main sponsor of the event, and each year has generated additional funds that are donated to help with the basic needs of the orphanage.
The event is held annually and starting in 2005 moved to the beach of Playa Esterillos Este at the Hotel Pelicano, about 30 minutes south of Jacó. This charming hotel is a the perfect spot for the PVNP as it has a hard working and friendly staff, and is well located on an expansive beach with intermediate surf in front, ideal for all of the days surfing and non-surfing activities. The kids love the pool and inevitably end up frolicking in the pool for a good part of the day. Volunteers are paired up with children, and assigned to activity stations such as the Raffle Table, where you buy raffle tickets to win amazing services and products donated by local businesses such as meals at restaurants, tours, nights at hotels and swim suits or bikinis. The main raffle prize is a surf board made my one of the many talented local board shapers. All proceeds go to benefit the orphanage.
There has been numerous success stories due to our direct involvement with these kids, some have left the orphanage to become productive, responsible members of society, and a group of these adults return each year to volunteer for the event.
I can honestly say this has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, not only to see the happy faces of the children who look forward to this day all year long, but also the gratification the volunteers get out of helping put a smile on a child’s face.
This year the 16th annual Pura Vida No Pro takes place at the Hotel Pelicano on Saturday, November 19th. Event participation fee is $20 per person and includes breakfast, lunch and an event tee shirt.
To sign up send an email to: email@example.com
For more info and to donate go to: www.heartsofstone.org or to our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/174457234657/
John’s Picks is offering travel packages for all budgets to come to Costa Rica and be part of this very special day. Contact me for more information. firstname.lastname@example.org