Jon Rose, a world-class pro surfer who was nearing the end of his career, was in a personal tailspin—he didn’t have a plan for his post riding-the-waves chapter. With several bits of serendipity, and relying on the traits that brought him near the top of his sport, Rose executed a 180° pivot and become an eco-athlete/humanitarian of the first order by founding and leading “Waves for Water,” a nonprofit that has brought clean drinking water to millions. A documentary film of the same name is being released on Red Bull TV this Wednesday, March 22. Here is a review, GSB’s first ever!
What do Arthur Ashe, Bill Bradley, Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King and Jon Rose have in common?
They are among the greatest humanitarian athletes over the past half century or so. You likely know something about the first four: Ashe’s groundbreaking advocacy on South African apartheid and AIDS (in addition to this movie review, I’m going to double as a book reviewer: please, please read Ashe’s autobiography, Days of Grace: A Memoir); Bradley’s work on racial reconciliation and inner city decay while a member of the New York Knicks in the late 60s-early 70s (add A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton to your reading list, please); Ali’s world-changing and outspoken support of the civil rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War; and King’s efforts on behalf of equal rights for women, both in and out of sports, as well as gay rights.
“But who,” you rightly ask, “is Jon Rose and why are you putting him alongside the ‘Mount Rushmore’ of athlete activists?”
As to the “who” part of your question, Rose was a somewhat self-absorbed world class surfer who, as his athletic career was coming to an end, was in a dark place: He didn’t have a clue what to do next.
The simple answer to the “why” goes like this: Rose pivoted to become an eco-humanitarian by deploying a simple, inexpensive filter system that quickly turns dirty water into clean, drinkable water in areas where the latter is in woefully short supply.
But to really understand why Rose warrants inclusion in the athlete activist pantheon, you really must see Waves for Water, a new, fast-moving, 52-minute documentary film that can be viewed exclusively on Red Bull TV starting this Wednesday, March 22—which happens to be World Water Day, an international day coordinated by UN-Water to celebrate access to freshwater.
Jon Rose, in Waves for Water, with clean drinking water in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo credit: Rob Stauder, Red Bull Content Pool)
The film shows Rose to be a man who found himself floundering as his surfing career was winding down, then discovered his purpose without really looking for it on a trip to Sumatra, Indonesia. Using some of the same traits that served him well as a athlete (competitiveness, resourcefulness, persistence in the face of daunting obstacles), Rose turned that purpose into a global nonprofit organization, Waves for Water, that has provided a simple, inexpensive water filtration system, and thus, clean drinking water for millions in four short years. He and his indefatigable team find their way to remote, poverty stricken, water deprived corners of the world, among them Haiti, Indonesia, and Brazil. Often they show up after natural catastrophes such as 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
Jon Rose (l) and Waves for Water’s Carlos Delantar carry a container that will provide clean drinking water to people who desperately need it in the Philippines. (Photo credit: Photo credit: Rob Stauder, Red Bull Content Pool)
Waves for Water shows Rose’s metamorphosis to be life saving for millions around the world—and for him as well. Personal, emotional interviews with actors Rosario Dawson and Patricia Arquette, along with those in the international relief world, make Rose’s journey also seem like—and this is really important—something the viewer can envision joining in on, at least in part. More than a few viewers will, I predict, ask themselves, “Can I emulate Rose?”
Jon Rose with Rosario Dawson in Haiti. (Photo credit: Maximilian Haidbauer)
The answer, according to Rose, not surprisingly, is a resounding YES. His nonprofit’s mantra—“Do what you love and help out along the way”—makes his style of on-the-ground humanitarianism sound appealing rather than ascetic. Rose lives that ethos to the max by surfing, driving motorcycles, sailing and trekking around the world—all the while, leading a strategic, measurable quest to end the world water crisis. The film, in not so many words, invites the viewer to join Rose.
And, as more people ride the Waves for Water wave, Rose will cement his status as a humanitarian athlete Hall of Famer. Not that he much cares. Rose just wants to distribute more filters and clean drinking water to more of the millions of people who need it.
Directed by Maximilian Haidbauer, Waves For Water will stream On Demand on Red Bull TV, which is distributed digitally across mobile phones, tablets, consoles, OTT (Over The Top content) devices and Smart TVs. To view the trailer, please click HERE.
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