How a Community Experienced
Transformation by the
Hands and Hearts of a Faithful Few
My jaw dropped. I lost count of how many times it had happened as Celina recounted the history of Surfers Coffee Bar, where she is now the manager. Despite the 15 mile drive it takes to get here, I willingly make the trip almost once a week—their chai lattes taste like Christmas, and I wish I could drink them daily. Some would describe this place as “hipster”, with its wide open spaces decorated with a mixture of plush chairs and wooden ones, long tables and small rounded ones; surfboards, movie posters, old license plates, and quirky signage line every wall. “We just want it to be a place where everyone is welcome,” Celina tells me. Indeed, they must feel welcome, as customers from all walks of life frequent the shop—including the homeless.
Surfers Coffee Bar is no ordinary place, and there is more to its history than meets the eye. It is no doubt a God story, one that He is writing still to this day.
It was the year of 1997, and Surfing the Nations (STN) was in its “grassroots” stages as a humanitarian non-profit organization. Tom and Cindy Bauer, the founders of STN, had started the organization with a simple desire to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Their motto: Surfers Giving Back.
They started small by meeting the physical needs of seven families who were in need of food in Kalihi Valley, Honolulu. Week by week, they acquired the goods from a food bank and delivered them to their neighbors. Initially, Cindy said, “My heart was not broken for the poor, but as I did what the Lord wanted, He broke my heart for them”. It was in that faithfulness to do what God wanted, that a small local outreach became Feeding the Hungry—an organization where food is now supplied to over 2,500 people per week, making it the largest private food distributor on the island of Oahu.
Those first ten years of STN were “elementary”, Cindy says—“God was showing us what He wanted us to do.
During those elementary stages, STN was operating out of a property owned by Grace Bible Fellowship. However in 2007, the property was being sold and STN could not afford to purchase it. So they made the move to Foster Village, some four miles away where they remained for the next two years…until a housing foreclosure would force them out. They had received $1,500 from the bank to move out, eight weeks to find a new headquarters, and no prospects. Yet they were still at peace, excited for what God would do next.
“We weren’t houseless, but we were definitely homeless.”
Tom and Cindy were told to inquire about a particular property in the city of Wahiawa (pronounced wa-hee-wa)—an old bar in fact. The bar was situated at one end of a row of other business on Kamehameha Highway—a 24 hour porn shop, a liquor store, and a strip club. Not to mention there was also a brothel behind it all. Perhaps not the ideal prospect they had in mind—“Wahiawa was too broken,” Cindy says.
On December 22, 2008, they closed on the bar in Wahiawa. At the beginning of 2009, they began moving into the apartment complex behind what would become Surfers Coffee Bar. The renovations would take two years to complete, and until that time it was the base of operations for STN and Ulu Pono—meaning “to thrive on a righteous path”, their program for at- risk youth. During that time period, a team of interns had come from what is known as the “High Desert” in California—which is literally where I am from.
My jaw drops yet again.
They and other members of Surfing the Nations, laid their hands on the building of the porn shop and prayed over it. A mere three months later, the owner of the porn shop comes to tell them, “I think I am supposed to sell this place to you.”
After that, “it was like a
domino effect.” Celina says.
Surfing the Nations now owns every building in that little row of business. Today, a clothing store sits next to Surfers Coffee Bar, followed by a sandwich shop, a vintage store (run by STN), a lemonade store, and Surfers Church—which was established in 2012.
What was once a place where children were told to “look away” as they passed by this formerly seedy part of Wahiawa, has now become a place for the community to not only be welcomed, but loved. Friday nights are for open mic, and free community dinners are held at the coffee bar on Saturday before Surfers Church starts at 7pm. Students, friends, and Bible study groups gather here on a regular basis—I myself am included, and cannot recall a time where I did not run into someone I know there. Save for a few select staff members, the coffee bar is run entirely by the volunteers of Surfing the Nations.
To my surprise (and delight), the ability to surf is not required to be an intern here. Nor is there an abundant proclivity towards surfing among those who apply to the program—“more than anything, they come for a God experience.”
I love that.
I asked what their vision for the future is regarding Surfing the Nations, Surfers Coffee Bar, and Surfers Church—as this has become a threefold endeavor in their expansion (a non-profit, a business, and community). There are currently three new bases in the works—one in Sweden, one in Sri Lanka, and one in California. Locally, their desire is to acquire more property for living space, get families involved in missions, and add a third surf camp event to the yearly calendar.
Last, but certainly not least for their vision, Cindy tells me, “We want to close down all of the sex industry”.
Wow. It is not often that I find people of such grand vision and faith, and to say that it fuels my own is an understatement. How they intend to see these visions fulfilled is another story for another day, and I will be ready and waiting with a pen in one hand and a chai latte in the other.
If you would like to be a part of the amazing work that Surfing the Nations is doing within the Hawaiian islands, across the country and world the world, visit surfingthenations.com for more information.
Donations can be made to
the following outreaches:
Community and Outreach Training Center
Feeding the Hungry
Freedom Surf Camp
Legacy Brick Campaign
Leadership Training Program
Surfing the Nations Staff
Ulu Pono Kids
**Writers Note: I originally wrote this piece as a feature story for a school project. We were told to interview a subject and take photographs to accompany the piece, and then combine them using Adobe InDesign. I shared the link down below so y’all can see the final product. This was my first time creating a feature story and using InDesign, and I’m really proud of how it turned out.