In June of 1998, Theresa Robertson was an inner-city adolescent. When she was 12 years old, she skipped school with two of her friends and went to Manhattan Beach. Robertson and her friends spent the day sunbathing, surfing, and playing in the sand. Then the ocean conditions changed drastically in the northern area of the Manhattan Beach Pier.
Los Angeles County lifeguards moved Theresa and her friends, but unfortunately, Theresa Robertson drowned. She was found the following day floating in 14 feet of water.
Mary Setterholm, a surfing instructor, was teaching children Theresa’s age on the south side of the Manhattan Pier on the day of Robertson’s accident. Setterholm felt angry and helpless after the event and stated that “the Sea is here to nurture and heal” and didn’t want to claim Theresa’s life.
This tragic incident inspired Mary to found Surf Academy, a surfing school committing to empowering and educating students who want a deeper connection with nature. The academy has been in business since the summer of 2000 and is the premier surf school in Southern California.
After three years in business, Surf Academy has the financial backing to support The Surf Bus Foundation, a registered nonprofit organization. Surf Bus gives inner-city youth in the Los Angeles area and beyond a chance to learn surfing and gain an appreciation for nature.
The Surf Bus debuted in 2003 and took several novice surfers from Echo Park and MacArthur Park to Manhattan Beach. Mary partnered with several churches in the area, so all children had to do was show up and learn to surf. Twice a week, the bus made trips to the beach to pick up young surfers.
In the years since its inception, Surf Bus has expanded and has received a favorable response from Park and Church leaders. The Ocean doesn’t discriminate, so the water is used as a tool to bring children from all walks of life together to improve themselves mentally, physically, and spiritually.
In summer 2007, Surf Bus was able to pick up young learners from Huntington Beach, El Segundo/Dockweiler Beach, and Santa Monica. There were three buses that ran five days a week for eight weeks, and more than 3,000 kids per week in inner-city neighborhoods in Los Angeles County were able to experience Surf Academy. Surf Academy and Surf Bus are continually growing each summer to provide even more children with a memorable surfing experience.