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Doug Lees | Founder of SurfAid

We chatted to the SurfAid founder, Doug Lees, before our film screening of Waterman on the 22nd of May. 


SurfAid’s mission is to improve the health, wellbeing and resilience of families living in isolated regions connected to us through surfing. From surf film screenings, to a charity music gig with local band Loretta, we’ve been stoked to host these exciting events with SurfAid.


In the last year alone the SurfAid team achieved:


+47,860 people were reached through our programs.

+104 new and revitalized health centres were established.

+634 community health volunteers and midwives were trained.

+1211 clean water sources in our communities were established.

+1354 nutrition gardens were built.


Former publisher of Surfing World magazine, Doug has been involved in the surfing industry for decades before being appointed as the SurfAid CEO. Doug has travelled on many surfing trips in and surrounding Indonesia, which has inspired his charitable action. He is known for forming strong relationships with locals around the world during his travels and advocates for giving less fortunate communities a helping hand rather than a hand out. 


We can’t wait to see what else SurfAid and Doug will achieve. 



Give us the spiel – why should people be supporting SurfAid?

At SurfAid our core mission is to improve the health, well-being and resilience of remote communities connected to us through surfing. We work on a hand up not hand out approach to our program work, and represent the surfing community in giving back to people in need.

Proudest achievement at SurfAid?

SurfAid was awarded the “Greater Good” award at the 2022 Surfing Hall of Fame Awards.


Best post-surf meal?

Acai Bowls are the best, served with tropical fruit and granola on top.

Favourite album and why?

In the early 1980’s I was a drummer in several bands playing around the pubs in the inner suburbs of Sydney. During this time I saw so many great local bands perform, and the joy of spending hours flicking through album covers in record shops. This period of music seems to be the soundtrack of my life, and the crackle of Vinyl is still magic. I still remember first hearing The Cure play “A Forest” from the 17 Seconds album and this LP was on constant repeat in my house.

Best wave and where?

Sunset Beach – North Shore Hawaii. One of the most beautiful and terrifying waves in the world that can be ridden from 2ft to 20ft. The Ulladulla Bombi on the south coast of NSW has a very similar feel to it.

Climate change optimism: Amidst all the doom of what’s ahead, what is one thing that makes you optimistic for our future?

There has been a substantial shift in the public’s perception on climate change, and the willingness by most people to seriously address this monumental problem. No one really is in denial anymore, and the conversation is now about how rather than why? With so many renewable options now becoming available and affordable, why wouldn’t you be part of the solution?

Takeaway: Name one thing everyone can easily do now to make a change

Consume less and add more sustainable options into your everyday life.

Favourite Beach and why?

Freshwater Beach. It’s where I learnt to surf, and is still my surfing spiritual home. Even the Duke loved surfing there.


What board are you riding?

I’m riding a Simon Anderson shaped 6ft round-tail surfboard with a retro blue rail spray. It’s a beautiful board from a master craftsman.

When did you get into surfing and how?

Surfing Kiddies corner at the north end of Freshwater beach with my two brothers, and anyone else who was keen to paddle out with us. We all thought that surfing was such a special thing to do, and it has been a huge part of my life ever since.

Where do you want to surf that you haven’t been?

A surfing road trip up Western Australian coastline, especially camping in some of the remote surfing locations. The combination of camping and surfing still remains one of life’s great pleasures.

What do you think about when you’re sitting out there waiting for waves between sets?

I’ve tried to do meditation several times and always struggled with being in the moment. My mind wanders and it’s always too busy with thoughts of what I need to do or where I need to be. However, in the ocean waiting for waves is definitely a place where I can find myself in the present and drift off into a meditative state as I stare into the horizon. It’s one of the few places I can actually find myself thinking about nothing nothing much at all, which is a rare thing.

Which surfer inspires you the most and why?

Growing up in Manly all my heroes were all the best surfers in the area. So it was more a group of surfers from Manly rather than an individual who really inspired both myself and a whole generation of surfers from the Manly area. 
Barton Lynch was so dedicated to being a professional surfer from such an early age when there really wasn’t such a thing. Richie Lovett for his tremendous tenacity in overcoming so many obstacles in his life. Pam Burridge and Layne Beachley for leading women’s surfing into the 21st century. Robbie Bain and Paul Burnett for their time with QBC and leading the club to multiple tag team victories.

Is there one wave/surf spot that you can’t get out of your head?

Indonesia to me is still such a magical place for a surfer. Jumping on a surf charter boat with a group of friends sailing along coconut lined islands in search of perfect waves in tropical waters. Then throw in the beautiful food, people and culture and it still remains the ultimate surf trip. My favorite area in Indonesia at the moment is the Telo Islands off Northern Sumatra. As soon as I come back, I’m ready to go again.
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