West Plus East Equals Sandy Relief

Photo: Michael Jekogian
Photo: Michael Jekogian

In terms of summits, this one flew not just under the radar, but under the radar's foundation. There was no tense unfolding in the Oval Office, no accompanying street protests, bipartisan hair-pulling and, if Rush Limbaugh had sufficient hair to yank, nastier bickering among media pundits. The meeting took place in an Oxnard warehouse heavy with the smell of fiberglass and resin. It was attended by, in order of importance, three guys from New Jersey, one surfboard maker, and one member of the press. The following day the boys from New Jersey got back on a plane, the surfboard shaper went back to shaping, and I sat at my desk going over my chicken-scratch notes, feeling better and better about humanity with each word I deciphered.

You see, it's the people you never hear of who really make a difference. And the boys from New Jersey and the California surfboard shaper fit that bill.

The surfboard shaper is Russell Hoyte. Russell is a stocky, goateed fellow with the powerful handshake you'd expect from a man who works daily with his hands. Working beneath the warehouse roof of Hoyte Surfboards, Russell is hugely respected as a shaper and innovator in the surfboard industry.

On the evening of the Hoyte Surfboard Summit in Oxnard, the boys from New Jersey looked like you might expect; pale from a Jersey winter, mildly jet-lagged and wide-smiled, for, with all due respect to TV's "Jersey Shore" (which honestly deserves none), the Garden State is inhabited by some of the friendliest, most unpretentious, selfless, and giving people you'll ever meet. I write this without hesitation, not because I copied it out of a Hoboken Chamber of Commerce booklet, but because I lived in New Jersey for almost a decade, married a caring, selfless Jersey girl, and inherited an equally caring, giving set of in-laws who just might read this.

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Mike Digiacomo, Ryan Kurek, and Brian Begley are cut from this priceless Jersey cloth. A week ago they came to Oxnard for one day because one day was about all they could afford, being forehead deep in a grass-roots effort to raise money to help their neighbors on the real Jersey Shore.

"People need to realize how much work still needs to be done and how many people still aren't getting the help they need," Mike told me, the lot of us standing beneath florescent lights in Russell Hoyte's shaping bay.

On paper, Mike is founder and president of Shores United Relief Foundation. In real life he's a 29-year-old middle-class kid from West Milford, New Jersey who laid in the dark the night Sandy struck, a single thought echoing in his head.

"I'm just not the kind of person who can sit there and do nothing. I felt like I had to do something."

So as soon as the power came back on Mike founded Shores United Relief Foundation (then, and kind of still known as, Restore The Shore) on Facebook, reaching into cyberspace to simply ask people what they needed.

Exchanges went something like this.

Photo: Michael Jekogian
Photo: Michael Jekogian

Shores United Relief Foundation: Where can we volunteer and/or deliver food, supplies, etc. today? If you need something, please post your request and contact information.

One of any of the thousands of Jersey residents affected by Sandy: I am going to be moving into a temp apartment is there any help with furniture?

One stone at a time.

After Mike started up the Facebook page, Ryan Kurek, Brian Begley, and a few others came on board.

The boys from Jersey aren't fat with staff.

"We're basically a six person outfit," says Ryan, who serves as managing director. "And my mom helps out as well."

Don't mistake small for ineffective. To date they've raised about $200,000. It gets better. The boys from Jersey flew out to visit Russell Hoyte on their own dimes.

"Everything goes to relief," says Mike. "We made that statement from day one. No one takes a dime. Every dollar we raise goes to charity."

It gets better. According to Google Earth, Oxnard, California is a long way from the Jersey Shore. But Google Earth does not measure kinship or kindness. The Jersey Shore is home to as rabid a group of surfers as you'll find; Southern California is no different. Yes, Russell Hoyte is highly respected as a shaper and innovator in the surfboard industry, but what you really need to know about Russell Hoyte is provided by a friend.

Photo: Michael Jekogian
Photo: Michael Jekogian

"Russ is incredibly giving."

So Russell is giving seventy-two custom surfboards to the Shores United Relief Foundation. Every dime of the proceeds from these surfboards, which will be purchased or raffled off for whatever price they will fetch, will go to Sandy relief, dispensed by the Shores United Relief Foundation.

"Well, it does spell SURF," points out Ryan.

"It's a partnership between East and West coast," says Michael.

Russell shrugs.

"It just sounded like a really cool thing to do," he says. "I thought, 'Why not?'"

The boys from Jersey, they have faith.

"I'm thinking we'll raise $100,000 with the boards alone," says Ryan. "Easily. People will pay a lot more for a board just because it's a great cause."

The boys from Jersey have a sense of loyalty. They got off a plane at LAX on Wednesday afternoon. They flew back the next night. Maybe twelve hours of feet on the ground. They could have just picked up the phone and thanked Russell.

"We felt like we owed it to him to meet him," says Mike.

The boys from Jersey are honest, too.

"People in New Jersey are pretty tapped out," says Ryan. "They've pretty much given all they can. We need financial help from other shores." (for information on how to donate see www.shoresunited.org ; www.facebook.com/restoretheshorebenefit?ref=ts&fref=ts)

The boys from Jersey are running on what-I-don't-know. They arrive back in New Jersey on Friday morning. The next morning, at an event in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, they'll distribute the first of the money they've raised.

"Seventy-five thousand dollars is going directly to the families we hand-picked," says Mike with a soft smile. "When I started putting this together I had no idea what I was getting into. It was just me and an idea. Now it's just not an idea anymore."

The boys from Jersey are in it for the long haul.

"Until the last family is back in their home and the last small business is back on its feet, we'll keep raising money," says Mike. "We made the commitment."

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