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Jon Rose
Photo courtesy of Leonard Ortiz, The Orange County Register

Jon Rose was on a boat in Indonesia when the Padang 7.6 earthquake hit, killing hundreds, injuring and leaving thousands more missing. He was en route to Bali to take water filters, and quickly changed gears after seeing the devastation, helping the local Red Cross in the early hours after the quake.
Surfer's water filters help desperate quake workers

by Laylan Connelly,
The Orange County Register
Permission to reprint this article was granted by Laylan Connelly and The Orange County Register.

The city of Padang - the capital of West Sumatra - was devastated after a 7.9 earthquake hit on Sept. 30. The death toll is now more than 1,000.
Photo courtesy of Jon Rose

Jon Rose sits on the back of a moped, scouring the crumbled city of Padang.

He passes hotels he's stayed in, looking straight into the rooms. The walls have collapsed. Cracks in the ground run five-feet deep. Entire structures are crumbled like so much broken glass.

The pro surfer had just spent days on a boat off the Indonesian coast, riding waves with friends. When a massive earthquake hit a day before their trip finished, they barely felt it.

But now, he hears screams echoing beneath buildings.

Unable to move concrete slabs that lay on top of the cries, he keeps on searching the streets for plastic containers.

"It was hard to leave," he said later, tears welling in his eyes as he recalls the memory.

"I had to block it out. I had a mission."

The well behind the Red Cross building where they got stagnant, yellow water to put into the water filter.
Photo courtesy of Jon Rose

Like many surfers, Rose, of Laguna Beach, has spent much of his adult life traveling to the poorest countries in the world to search for waves. Living the pro surfer lifestyle, he'd set out to these regions for photo shoots, or just to play.

But, recently, the 31-year-old felt a nagging need to give back.

"You begin to realize how selfish that life is."

His father, Jack Rose, started a nonprofit a few years ago called raincatcher.org, which helps educate villages in Africa on how to catch and filter rainwater. Jon Rose began to wonder: Why can't this be done in surf regions, where many of us travel but leave the land no better than we found it?

"I knew in my heart surfers would give back," he said, "if they knew how."

So, a few months ago, Jon Rose launched Waves for Water, a concept similar to his father's organization. And, after an already planned surf trip to Indonesia with friends, Rose was planning to take 10 water purifiers to a mountain region in Bali.

He kept the purifiers – basically, grapefruit-sized ceramic clay balls attached to a drip filter — tucked away in a bag on the boat as he surfed for 11 days, isolated and cut off from the rest of the world.

On Sept. 30, the boat started to shake slightly.

"Did you feel that? he asked a friend sitting nearby.

Jon Rose, right, and Alfri, a local Red Cross worker in the city of Padang, discuss how to make the plastic gas canisters work as water filters.
Photo courtesy of Jon Rose

"Do you need water filters?" Rose asked the only English-speaking relief worker, Alfri.

The short man's eyes seemed to pop out of his head, as if he'd just won the lotto.

While Rose had the essential parts needed to operate the water filters, they still required plastic buckets to hold the water. On any other day, finding such buckets would be no problem. But with the city demolished, they set out to scour the rubble.

As they started on their mission, Rose got a glimpse of how bad the crumbled city was.

"It was like an over-sensationalized movie," he said, "but it was real."

After searching stores – ready to loot if they had to — Rose and Alfri finally saw some unused plastic gas containers on the side of the road. Not ideal, but they'd have to work.

Everyone gathered to brainstorm on how to create water filters from the gas containers. They sliced them up with Rose's 7-inch knife, punctured holes in them with a hot metal rod, and taped up the new filters so they'd be secure.

Alfri took Rose to a well behind their building. It was a stagnant pool of funk with clumps of weird, unidentifiable things floating around in it.

"It was the sketchiest thing I've ever seen," Rose said. "This stuff was as bad as it gets."

They scooped up the yellow water, poured it into the top of the filter, and waited.

Jon Rose gets crystal clear water from a makeshift water purifier he set up in Padang, Indonesia, after an earthquake shattered the city. Relief workers insisted he try it first.
Photo courtesy of Jon Rose
After about a half an hour — as the foul water dripped through the filter — the bottom plastic container started filling with crystal clear water. Rose put a cup under the makeshift spigot and filled it up.

"Here ya go, boys," he said, trying to hand off the cup.

You first, the Red Cross workers told him.

Rose slammed the drink. The workers cheered.

Clean water. And, for about 10 seconds – in the middle of the devastating chaos – they celebrated their small victory.

"It was a real surreal moment, and we were all smiling," Rose said.

"Then reality set in."

With the workers trained, Rose left the remaining filters and headed to the airport to come home.

His new mission would be to raise awareness about the devastation, and to raise funds. The money would get Alfri and others more water filters as their city struggles back to life. They are in contact via e-mail, with messages of how the filters are helping.

"I'm consumed with this," Rose said.

"I dig deep in myself, and it just feels like the right thing to do."

Written by Laylan Connelly,
The Orange County Register
Permission to reprint this article was granted by Laylan Connelly and The Orange County Register.
Photos courtesy of Leonard Ortiz, The Orange County Register and Jon Rose
Last changed on: 10/29/2009

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Waves for Water: Jon Rose View a short film about what other activist surfers are doing to protect the ocean.

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies provides emergency response and disaster assistance to refugees and victims of natural disasters.

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