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Emi Koch

1.Where did you grow up and how did you start surfing?

I grew up inside an organic yoga vegan good karma Californian bliss bubble, born and raised in sunny San Diego. My dad was a local lifeguard. He used to take me to the beach just a couple blocks from where my grandparents lived and I'd sit on the board while he paddled behind me. But I didn't really get into surfing until I was about 13. I just knew after my first legit wave, riding it all the way to the beach, that I was hooked. Surfing was going to be a piece of me. I'd do it forever.

4.You're just graduating from Georgetown in Washington, D.C. What made you decide to go to school so far from home?

I actually wasn't planning to go to college. I wanted to be a professional surfer and was getting sponsored, competing in contests, and felt well on my way to the dream. But it was after that service trip that everything changed. I wanted to go to college because I felt I had the responsibility to do so. There is a statistic that if the world was comprised into a metaphorical village of 100 people, only one person would have the chance to go to college. So I thought basically that I had a responsibility to the 99 other people in my village to figure out a way they could have the same opportunities I did.

7.What have been some of the most powerful experiences you have had working with Beyond the Surface?

I don't see this as charitable work or community service. These young kids and teens are not powerless people in need of a privileged American to come in save them from the poverty cycle. They are my new friends who I'd like for society to meet and to recognize as empowered individuals. Specifically though, my biggest growing experience has been around my feet. I know it sounds funny but taking off my sandals and walking barefoot just like my peers has been incredibly humbling and grounding. The kids don't have a lot of shoes or sandals so in Durban they walk a couple city blocks with everything you can imagine littered on the sidewalks like glass and old needles, and in Lobitos you've got to walk through dry brush with tons of thorns like spikes in the sand. It was humbling for me because I felt like, 'okay, you guys walk barefoot but I have to decide which of the three different pairs of sandals I had brought with me to wear.' But then I thought to myself, why was I so entitled? So I took my sandals off and the kids would laugh and laugh because I just slowed everyone down being like, 'Ouch' and 'Oh my God.'

10.What do you think is the most important issue facing young people today?

Honestly, I think the most important issue facing young people today is this false idea that you've got to fit into the cookie cutter mold we've been prescribed by society. The idea of failure by trying something different is scary! I felt like a complete failure when I first took my year off college. Here I was having moved away with everyone thinking I was on to bigger and better things, and then I moved back home with zero plans. I failed. And that literally was the best thing that has ever happened in my life. I think young people have been told that failure is not an option, but I think not only is it an option, but it is a fantastic opportunity!

About A Girl:

2.What do you love most about surfing?

When you step into the ocean, you're stepping into another element. Just being out there, each surf session is like this transcendental spiritual experience. It's always been my escape. No matter what is happening on land, you have this wonderland you can escape to. There are schools of fish swimming beneath you, there are pelicans gliding above along the horizon. You can dive down and explore the ocean floor. Sometimes you can hear dolphins whistling or see them close enough to touch. And above all, it just is the idea, the fact more so, actually, that when you are riding a wave, you are riding pure energy. The energy in your body meets it and you're shredding, cross-stepping, hanging your toes off the end, standing on the edge flying across the surface of the water. And when that wave hits the shore, it's gone. It was a moment in time. And when you're surfing that moment is all that matters... so I can't really go to the gym; the idea of a treadmill makes me a little queasy.

5.Tell us about Beyond the Surface, the nonprofit you run.

Beyond the Surface International is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) tax-exempt public charity promoting and helping support nonprofit programs throughout the world that use surfing to assimilate underprivileged, homeless, and orphaned children into society, to strengthen local communities, and promote social justice and peace. It helps support three nonprofit NGOs with financial and material assistance: WAVES for Development operates surf voluntourism and educational surf programs helping kids in Lobitos, Peru; Umthombo Street Children uses surfing to empower street children in Durban, South Africa; and the Kovalam Surf Club in southern India uses surfing to motivate disadvantaged children to stay in school.

8.What do you plan to do after you graduate?

I am actually graduating a month early! In one week I'm leaving DC (Forever. Best experience I would never do again. When I see the ocean again, I'm apologizing for ever being gone so long.) I'm headed off to Germany to start a sport for youth empowerment and community development fellowship. My dream is to establish my own program for surfing for girl empowerment and community development in an impoverished coastal community. Then in November, I'm going to India for to be part of a film and/or web series with three amazing other female surfers and an incredible woman yoga instructor. We're planning to go visit the Kovalam Surf Club as well as an ashram and participate in an all-girls surf camp with girls from a local orphanage. So essentially I want to be a blissful nomad!

Emi Koch is a surfer and a humanitarian who's not scared
of a few thorns and a little
broken glass.

3.What was the first time you traveled outside of the US, and what was most memorable about it?

I went across the border, to Tijuana, Mexico, on a community service trip with my school. Our week was filled with social justice initiatives and service opportunities. We visited orphanages, homeless shelters, deportation stations, and jails. I was surprised with how comfortable I felt living outside my comfort zone. I was beginning to see the world outside my bliss bubble. But the needle that popped my bubble was our visit to a trash dump. People lived here in the rubbish. A cardboard box and old rubber tires made a poor excuse for a house, but it was a home to somebody. The dump overlooked the Pacific Ocean and the sun was just dipping below the horizon. I met a little girl who showed me her one-armed Barbie doll with a bizarre haircut. We played for a little before our bus was leaving. Just as I turned to leave, I remember my eyes caught the glimmering lights of downtown San Diego just off in the distance. And there I could pick out just about where my neighborhood could be. The last bit of sun highlighting all the houses, and somewhere in there one of them was mine, meaning

6.What made you decide to start it?

Beyond the Surface started when I took a year off from school in between my freshman and sophomore year. When I came to the East Coast, it was a complete culture shock. So after my first year in college, I decided to go home and reevaluate my whole life. Maybe I did want to become a professional surfer? Maybe I wasn't cut out for humanitarian work? My mindset was thinking in complete black and white terms; all or nothing. But I came home, lived with two roommates, and worked at a small coffee shop a few blocks from the beach. Then, that summer, I moved to Nepal and lived in a monastery with Tibetan Buddhist monks. I taught refugee children who had crossed the border into Nepal from Chinese occupied Tibet, and then later art classes to homeless youth in a Katmandu shelter.

It was here that I learned of Skateistan. Skateistan is an incredible NGO that started when two Australian skateboarders visited Afghanistan and kids kept taking their boards and got so stoked skating around, so they decided to found a nonprofit that was based on bringing kids from different communities around a common stoke for skating.

It was right then and there that literally a felt like this epic rush of inspiration. I remember thinking, 'Oh my God! This is exactly what I want to do with surfing! This is the soul searching I was hoping for.' So when I got home at the end of the summer, I bought the book, How to Form a Nonprofit for Dummies and a few weeks later Beyond the Surface was born! I headed back to D.C. with this boundless stoke that I wasn't discarding my love for surfing... it wasn't black or white.

9.Where do you think is the best place to go surfing?

I absolutely love Queens and Canoes in Waikiki, and Oahu, Hawaii. Warm water and an amazing break for longboarders. But my home break, Tourmaline in Pacific Beach, San Diego is where I grew up. There is such a community there. All the guys are like my uncles and the girls like my sisters. It's also where my dad and I have a really special connection with lots of father-daughter bonding.