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  • Writer's pictureValpo Surf Project

Meet Gustavo

Meet Gustavo.

Gustavo was one of the very first students to join the Valpo Surf Project when the organization started in Cerro Mariposas in 2010. He has recently come back to the VSP as a volunteer and mentor. Gustavo is currently studying Business at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso. He spent this past Chilean summer with us as a development intern for school credit and continues to help expand the reach of the VSP by connecting with local businesses and community leaders. On top of his academic accomplishments, he is an incredible role model for our students and an active presence in VSP activities. We are so proud of the person he has become and his dedication to the younger members of his community. He recently wrote a letter for us speaking on his past and current experience with the VSP:

The Valpo Surf Project was founded where I grew up in Cerro Mariposas in Valparaíso, Chile, almost 10 years ago. I was in the first generation of students to graduate from the program, and it completely changed my teenage years.

In my neighborhood we spent our childhoods in the street. For us this was normal as nobody was home, our parents working late into the night. Growing up in the street forces you to learn right from wrong at a very young age. The street is where we discovered the world and ourselves as individuals.

When I was 14, I heard through my best friend Jesús that a group of gringos were beginning to teach surfing and English to kids in our neighborhood. I decided to give it a try because it sounded fun and I knew surfing would make me seem cooler at school. But after joining the Valpo Surf Project, I began to understand the true intention of the organization. It went far beyond teaching a new sport or language. It was about learning respect for ourselves, our families, our communities, and everything that surrounds us. VSP taught us to work as a team. They connected us with people from all over and opened an entirely new world to us.

Gustavo (center left) and Jesús at one of their first surf sessions.

The VSP became a fixture in our lives. Every week we looked forward to English class and surf sessions. No matter the weather or other things going on in our lives we always showed up and our teachers were there waiting for us. It was something we truly enjoyed.

Gustavo at 14 (center) in a VSP class.

Today, almost 10 years later, I have come back to VSP and to the home where I grew up. There is not much left of that immature kid who showed up to the program only wanting to party and hang out in the streets with his friends. As an adult I feel a responsibility to give back to the organization and the next generation of students. VSP gave me and my friends the tools and confidence to grow and develop as individuals. It showed us the world beyond our neighborhood. I want to make sure other children have that same opportunity.

Gustavo (left) taking a moment with current student Jostynn at the beach.

My goal is to make sure that we at the Valpo Surf Project can reach as many children as possible, especially those who are living in much worse situations than I was. Our program is such an important part of the families and communities we serve. We are not just here to make sure kids learn and have a good time; we are here to help them navigate the complex realities of their surroundings, which are so often filled with drugs, violence, and crime.

Gustavo (center) in between founders Henry and Wiley during a recent visit and surf session in Chile.

I want to personally thank you for the impact you have had on my life and the lives of my friends. Your belief and support has meant so much to me. Finally, I ask you to continue giving. Let’s work together to give as many kids as possible the same opportunity you gave me.


Gustavo Ortiz Cabeza

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Checks can be mailed to:

Valpo Surf Project

232 Main St.

Thomaston, ME 04861

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