For 16-year-old O’Naje, learning to surf was more than just gaining a new skill, it was a way to break stereotypes. The San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts student said by surfing, he breaks boundaries because not many black people are surfers. But getting on a surfboard isn’t the only boundary O’Naje has broken. He’s been breaking boundaries and gaining new milestones ever since he joined the Boys to Men Mentoring Network, a male mentorship program for young men who grow up without fathers.

Helping Boys Become Men

Founded in 1996 by Herb and Joe Sigurdson and Craig McClain, who wanted to help fatherless boys in their neighborhood, Boys to Men has grown into an extensive mentoring network for young men in San Diego and across the nation struggling without the guidance of a male role model.

Boys to Men mentors young men from 11 to 17 with before and after-school small discussion groups, as well as weekend camping trips and surf nights. Boys to Men has partnered with 20 middle and high schools throughout San Diego County. It has programs in 16 states across the United States, as well as nine others around the globe. In all, the organization has helped mentor more than 6,000 boys.

Some boys had never been fishing before until they became part of the Boys to Men, which takes them on regular weekend camping and fishing trips.

Boys to Men helps teen boys heal from painful experiences and to improve the trajectory of their lives by getting on a positive path. Middle school years are a critical time for boys with no positive male role models. With no man to guide them, these boys are forced to figure out manhood on their own. If no man shows up, far too many good boys become lost men.

Boys to Men provides these boys with men who show up and care. Not just one man, but a community of male role models who offer the hope, support and guidance boys need to stay on the path to their dreams. Learning that the mentors in the program actually cared about him was something O’Naje had to get used to when he joined Boys to Men two years ago. He was introduced to the program by his cousin after his family was experiencing trouble at home.

“I wasn’t used to friendly people,” he said. “It turns out they actually care about you. You can see it in their faces. I was listening to a friend.”

O’Naje said things really started looking up once he attended the Boys Adventure Weekend camping trip at Mt. Palomar.

“It taught me a lot about not keeping everything in and how much I had built up inside me,” O’Naje said. “It gave me a better outlook and made me more responsible and take initiative.”

For mentor coordinator John Fojtik, O’Naje’s experience mirrors what many of the other boys go through when they learn to trust their mentors.

“For the first time in their lives, they’re being listened to, cared for and respected,” he said. “Once they find out we’re there for them and we’re not kidding, they open their hearts.”

Surfing For a Cause

[call_to_action color=”” button_text=”Sign Up for the 100 Wave Challenge” button_url=”″]
Want to surf alongside legends like Shaun Tomson, Damien Hobgood and Duke Aipa? Sign up to surf the 100 Wave Challenge Saturday, Sept. 19 at Mission Beach.

On Sept. 19 hundreds of surfers, including legends Shaun Tomson, Damien Hobgood, and Duke Aipa, will hit the water to support the Boys to Men’s sixth annual 100 Wave Challenge to help raise money. Tapping into the local surfing community to help raise money for the nonprofit program turned out to be a unique way to support Boys to Men. The 100 Wave Challenge has grown to be the main funding source for Boys to Men, generating about 60 percent of its annual budget.

For surfers like Jason Schumacher, the surf-a-thon event is like a 10k race or marathon for surfers. Schumacher himself grew up without a father and said participating in his second challenge is a way to give back to kids like him.

“It’s not an easy sport,” he said. “But I think that’s what the 100 Wave Challenge represents: commitment.”

The goal of the event is for each surfer to raise $1,000 for Boys to Men and to catch 100 waves in 12 hours. The event caters to surfers with a shaded surfer’s lounge with massage therapists for the athletes to take a break. The 100 Wave Challenge is sponsored by Dr. Bronner’s who even has its own team of employees participating in the surf event.

Since the first 100 Wave Challenge, Boys to Men has doubled its budget, enabling the program to support more fatherless San Diego teens as a direct result. About 16 schools in San Diego County are waiting for Boys to Men after-school programs, and this fundraiser will help pay for some of those programs.

Many of the boys from the program learned to surf this summer with some of their mentors. Some of them – including O’Naje – will even participate in the surf-a-thon to help give back to the program that has helped them in countless ways.

“I stayed because I feel like the program works and can change your life,” O’Naje said.

Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.