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A Road Few Travel

Pro surfer turned humanitarian Jon Rose has helped millions of people around the world access clean water. Now he’s ready for his next big project.

Pro surfer turned humanitarian Jon Rose has helped millions of people around the world access clean water. Now he’s ready for his next big project.

In 2009, Jon Rose founded Waves for Water with a simple idea: to give back to the communities he’d visited as a pro surfer for the past 13 years. Distributing water filters seemed like a tangible and realistic way to start. That simple idea soon morphed into a full-fledged non-profit organization, which spearheads and supports extensive water projects across the globe.

It all started with his first trip to Bali. Rose was planning on delivering some water filters when a 7.6 magnitude earthquake hit Padang, Sumatra. He was able to use the filters he’d brought along to aid quake victims, and in the process he saw just how much need there was for that kind of work. The following year, when a devastating earthquake leveled parts of Haiti, Rose traveled there and spent the better part of two years working on water issues. Even more important, he learned the ins and outs of water filtration and sanitation from other aid workers and developed relationships in the NGO community.

Over time, Rose developed the major components of Waves for Water’s “guerrilla humanitarianism,” including the Clean Water Courier Program, in which individuals can crowdfund to set up their own do-it-yourself clean water projects, which have reached eight million people in 76 countries. Waves for Water has also become a sought-after project manager, putting together clean water projects in villages around the world for the U.S. military, BMW, Nike, PayPal, and other corporations.

But then a funny thing happened. A couple of years ago, Rose realized that Waves for Water was no longer his pet project. “At a certain point you realize you’re established,” he says. “One day I looked at my team and the caliber of people we have and I said, ‘God, this is a great team.’ They are enhancing and adding to the organization immensely.”

He also realized that his work had totally consumed him. “I was traveling 500,000 miles per year and was only in the U.S. ten days a month,” he says. “Doing that for seven years starts to take a toll. I was feeling less and less connected with anything but my work.” That’s why Rose’s most recent adventure has been to take a sabbatical from Waves for Water, reconnect with friends and family, and plot his next move.

What’s coming up? He hopes to help advise Waves for Water but focus more on new projects, like a housing program he has in mind, based on what he’s learned from working on water projects. Rose never thought his little idea of taking water filters abroad would become a world-changing humanitarian organization. But he says he’s not surprised—as in surfing and other adventure sports, he says, you can’t commit halfway—you have to be all-in. “I was just living in a tent in Haiti, doing the best work I could with the resources I had,” he says. “If you do good work and build your credibility, everything else will come.”


Jon Rose’s inspirational story is the first of four to be featured in our partnership series with Jeep. Come back soon for more stories about exceptional adventurers and their journeys to redefine freedom.

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