Joe Sigurdson on how the 100 Wave Challenge saves lives

For the 10th year in a row, San Diego’s surfing community is financially powering Boys to Men, an amazing youth mentoring program hailed by schools across the county

In 2009 Joe Sigurdson ran the first-ever 100 Wave Challenge in San Diego. The waves were huge that day. There were broken boards, broken noses, and a few trips to the hospital. But when it was over Sigurdson and his 60 buddies had raised $70,000 for Joe’s San Diego based youth-mentoring program, Boys to Men. (

Boys to Men co-founder Joe Sigurdson (right) keeping the vibe alive during the 100 Wave Challenge.

Boys to Men provides kids the mentors they need to keep them off the streets, out of gangs, and away from destructive habits that destroy lives. Weeks before that first 2009 event, during the final months of the school year, Boys to Men launched their first after-school group mentoring sessions.

Before that, Sigurdson’s 501(c)(3) organization was largely based around special weekend retreats or bi-weekly get-togethers in Mission Bay. While progress was being made, those early efforts lacked the follow-up necessary to build on progress. The integration of their powerful group-mentoring sessions into after-school programs was a game-changer, and they knew it.

Hundreds turn out for the annual event in Mission Beach, San Diego. In 2018, they raised more than $300,000 for Boys to Men, enough to fund 15 schools with mentoring programs for an entire year (the cost to keep just one kid in juvenile hall for a year is $94,000). This year, for the 10th annual 100 Wave Challenge, their goal is $500,000.

Today, Boys to Men is rapidly approaching 50 schools. They offer safe spaces, sounding boards, vital insights, and accountability to hundreds of kids every week. School administrators, teachers, and counselors are their biggest fans and will be the first to tell you how the’ve already saved hundreds — if not thousands — of lives.

To this day, Joe and his team have San Diego’s surfing community to thank for it, too. The annual 100 Wave Challenge he created is by far the biggest fundraiser of the year for Boys to Men.

Where else can you get a free surf lesson from a world-class pro like Damien Hobgood and help save some lives at the same time?

“It costs us about $20,000 per year to run our program in each school we’re in,” Sigurdson explains. “And when you consider it costs $94,000 to keep one kid in juvenile hall for a year, that’s quite a bargain. Any time I get the chance to explain this to people they jump in to help, and when I say all you have to do is come down and ride a few waves, it’s a no-brainer.”

Last year, the event raised more than $300,000 thanks to hundreds who came out. This year, the 10th Annual celebration takes place on September 21, in Mission Beach, and the goal is to reach $500,000. The job of participants is pretty simple: sign up at, persuade friends and family to donate on your behalf by sending them a link to your donation page, and then go join hundreds of others trying to ride 100 waves in a single 10-hour stretch.

The entire San Diego surf community is there to support the cause. This year, they’re reaching beyond.

Even celebrated surfers will tell you that catching 100 waves in 10 hours is a fun challenge. This year that list includes former World Champions Shaun Tomson and CJ Hobgood, along Damien Hobgood, Matt Archbold, and many more. Fortunately for all involved, it’s a fun day at the beach. Participants are fed, massaged, and pampered between waves on the beach, where the vibe is incredible.

Dozens of kids benefiting from the program are on hand, like 22-year-old Joe Ross, who 12-years old when he first met Sigurdson. “I thought he was a probation officer at first,” Ross recalls. “I was getting in all kinds of trouble back then. My dad wasn’t in the picture and my mom was working two jobs trying to support four kids, and rarely around.”

Willy Abercrombe (left) was one of the youngest kids to enter the Boys to Men program two decades ago. After being severely abused by his stepfather, Sigurdson helped him get emancipated through the courts and took him in as his own. Today, the 32-year-old Will works for Delta Airlines in Utah, and he goes by the name Will Sigurdson.

Ross was no stranger to counseling, but something about Joe’s approach seemed promising. “He said, ‘We’ll never tell you what to do. We’re just here to listen to you guys, and tell you about the mistakes we made.’ As a 12-year-old kid, that resonated.”

When Ross’ mom collapsed at home a few weeks later, the only person he thought to reach out to was Sigurdson, who spent the entire night by Ross’ side in the hospital along with a couple other mentors. “That’s when I knew they were for real,” says Ross. “For them to stay there all night for some kid they just met? They didn’t even know? That’s when I knew they were legit. That’s when I learned what a good man looked like, and that I wanted to be one.”

Today, Ross is one of the most prolific mentors around. He’s a key member of the original San Diego Chapter of Boys to Men, and he’s working alongside Sigurdson and his team to expand their program to every school in the county over the next few years. 

Joe Sigurdson was a very young father when his own life started to crumble. The lessons he learned from mentors while getting his own act together are the same ones he’s using to help young kids. “I could have used a lot of those lessons at 14, instead of 40,” he says.

As is usual with heroic stories like these, there’s a colorful back story involved. Joe Sigurdson made some bad decisions himself back in the day, decisions that turned him into a nefarious criminal, drug addict, and thug.  

In this episode of People Who Surf, Joe shares the gritty details of his bad deeds and his long road to redemption. He talks openly about how hose experiences motivated him to create a program for kids in need. You’ll also hear from Joe Ross. 

By understanding the amazing work these guys are doing, you’ll also understand how easy it is to save some lives simply by catching a few waves or supporting somebody who plans to at this year’s 100 Wave Challenge. To find out how, please go to where you can also learn more about Joe, his partners, their programs, and even how to start a Boys to Men chapter in your hometown.  

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