CARLSBAD — Cuba has approximately 3,570 miles of exposed coastline, yet only a tiny fraction of its population surfs. There are no surf shops to buy wax or boards and even those interested in learning have limited access to surfing videos due to the island’s restricted internet.
Despite these hurdles, a small but devoted group of locals have put classic Cuban resourcefulness to work to craft homemade surfboards out of scavenged materials like foam from the inside of refrigerator doors, wire hangers, black-market resin and plywood from discarded school desks.
Sheldon Magner, an avid surfer and former lifeguard, is hoping to change that with the Cuba Surf Project. This September, Magner and a crew of five will travel to Cuba for a month to teach locals about surfing, donate surfing equipment and capture the process in a documentary film. In addition, the group will also teach water safety and donate rescue supplies in order to help Cubans learn to surf safely.
“When something like surfing impacts you in such a positive way, you want to share it,” Magner said.
Magner came up with the idea for the Cuba Surf Project in March while researching surfing spots off the beaten track. Once he learned about the lack of surf equipment on the island, his plan for an unusual surfing trip morphed into a humanitarian project to bring the love of surfing to Cuba. Since then, Magner has set out to collect donations and garner support for the project from family, friends and the local community.
He also reached out to Body Glove and Sticky Bumps, who have donated surfing supplies for the group to bring to Cuba. With this documentary, Magner hopes to tell the history of surfing in Cuba as well as the history of surfing humanitarianism.
“Surfers care about other people,” Magner said. “There’s a long history of surfers helping out in third-world countries like Indonesia and South America.”
Magner grew up surfing, swimming and lifeguarding in South Bay of Los Angeles but North County holds a special place in his heart. He currently splits his time between Nashville and Carlsbad.
“A lot of surfing spots in California have a familial feeling, but in L.A. it’s hectic and can feel dense,” Magner. “In North County, it’s the most laid-back environment I’ve experienced and I absolutely love it.”
The Cuba Surf Project recently launched an Indiegogo Campaign to raise funds for production of the film and travel expenses.
“It’s been really rewarding to see the vision come to life,” Magner said. “Everyone that we’ve told about the project has welcomed us with open arms.”