FOAM Visionaries: Emi Koch of Beyond the Surface

Whether they're game-changing entrepreneurs or inventing a new way to give back, the we got the chance to chat with eight people putting the rest of us to shame. Here, the FOAM Visionaries, as interviewed by their mentors and collaborators.

Role Model // Zinzi Edmundson // 05/23/12
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Emi Koch
Alessandra Olanow
Emi Koch

In high school, surfer Emi Koch came to some startling realizations about inequality—and revealed a humanitarian streak she didn't know she even had. Four years later, with a Georgetown degree under her belt and a flourishing nonprofit, Beyond the Surface, Kock looks to the future with fellow surfer-humanitarian Crystal Thorburg-Homcy.

How old are you, you seem so mature and you're doing all these wonderful things.
I'm 22 years old.

That's awesome. Where are you from and where are you right now?
I’m from San diego, California but I’m in school right now at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. I graduate in four weeks, which is really exciting.

How did you start surfing?
My dad was a lifeguard, so I’ve been in the water since the very start. He used to put me on his paddleboard. I got into surfing when I was 13 and have been hooked ever since.

Who inspires you?
People who are able to bridge their passion with social justice work. The sense of responsibility to empower those who may not have the opportunity to have their voices heard. Like what you did with Sliding Liberia, which was like the first surf film to incorporate a social justice component.

Thank you so much. How did you first discover your passion for human rights and activism?
I never lived a very socially aware life before high school. My friends joke that I lived in this yoga bliss bubble and that it was popped one day. I went on a service trip to Tijuana, Mexico which is literally just fifteen minutes from my house and there was a school there; people were living around the neighborhood in boxes, but it was also right on the coast with the most gorgeous view of the ocean. I looked and I could see downtown San Diego and I could actually see my neighborhood. It was unreal. That really solidified things for me. I think ever since then I’ve just been really socially conscience and have wanted to help people.

How hard was it to start your nonprofit? It seems kind of intimidating.
It was really intimidating. I traveled and lived in a monastery with Tibetan Buddhist monks and taught kids art. It was there that I heard of this nonprofit called Skateistan in Afghanistan. It’s a bunch of skateboarders who were volunteering there and realized that the kids took to skateboarding and became super involved in it. So they started a nonprofit called Skateistan. The moment I heard of that I thought, Oh my god, I could totally do that with surfing. So I went back to D.C. and bought How to Form a Nonprofit For Dummies.

What are some challenges that you faced?
A big challenge has been to not spread myself too thin. Our whole mission is to help those organizations that are working with kids on the ground. We use surfing as a tool for them to stay in school or just as a channel for them to find their own voices and their own passions.

What else do you have happening in the near future?
I’m graduating early by five weeks because I was awarded a fellowship with fifteen other people from around the world. It’s called Sports for Development in Peace. We’ll spend two months in Germany training with pro athletes, humanitarians, social workers and business leaders. They’ll help us start our own projects, using sports as a means for building peace.

How can people go about helping you to fulfill those dreams?
Donations are always welcome, but honestly just being aware of the programs that we help and the mission. Know that you can use your passion to do good in the world. It’s really empowering that you can do things for others just by doing what you love.

Visit BehindtheSurfaceInternational.org!




Originally published in June/July 2012


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