Interview with Surfeando Sonrisas
This month we are excited to speak with Daniel Gomez de la Vega the Founder of Surfeando Sonrisas, a non-profit working with youth with spinal injuries and teaching them to surf.
1. Let us start with some background information about yourself and your organization? What inspired you to use surfing?
I am Daniel Gomez de la Vega, I am 35 years old, I am married to Priscilla and we have a baby name, Sebastian. I have 3 siblings, 2 brothers and 1 sister, I was born in Mexico City but when I was 3 years old my parents decided to move to Acapulco, a beach town four hours south from Mexico City. That's where my passion for sports and water sports began.
The sports that I used to practice in Acapulco were sailing, surfing, water skiing, swimming, football and some tennis. Today as an adaptive sports athlete I practice the following sports: triathlon, adaptive surfing and open water swimming.
In 2011, a motorcycle accident left me paralyzed from the chest down.
My non-profit Surfeando Sonrisas was born only as an idea in 2013 when my myself and my good friend Arturo Tamayo started to do surfing contests in Acapulco, he was the one who brought me to the surf scene. Arturo suggested an idea that we should take kids with disabilities to surf, unfortunately, nothing happened. However, in January of 2018, Diego Lombera approached me through Facebook and told me he wanted to do something for People with Disabilities (PwD), so I didn't hesitate and we started planning how to do our first event with the help of my brother Andres. As of today, we have done one event and one clinic, which impacted 25 kids with disabilities, more than 80 kids families members and more than 100 volunteers. Our second event will take place on June 15, 2019.
What inspired me to form Surfeando Sonrisas were my friends. Seven months after my accident, they took me on my first surf trip as a paraplegic and this is the first wave that I took and it changed everything for me:
I still feel goosebumps when I watch the video!!!
I am also a motivational speaker, where I address topics such as attitude, adversity and dreams at conferences. The main objective is to prove to the audience the strength and inspiration needed to do what they love, to realize that the limits are in the mind and that a change of life is never too late. Today I have spoken at over 150 conferences, impacting more than 20,000 people in Mexico and in the USA.
2. How receptive have the family and community members been with Surfeando Sonrisas? Was there push back from the community, local government, etc.
It has been difficult, my friends and family support a lot but I think the main problem in Mexico is there are misguided mindsets towards PwD, sometimes it feels like we don’t belong. In Mexico, we are going to rely more on the private sector than the government. We are still a corrupt country so most of the time the budgets or resources don't end where they are supposed to.
Also, the community on the beach towns where we go surfing are simply awesome. These are people with limited resources but they put there time and effort to help us.
3. What are some of the challenges you and Surfenado Sonrisas are facing at the moment? What are/were some of the strategies you are using to help overcome these challenges?
Fundraising has been challenging, also lack of education regarding the disability world, the word inclusion seems a new concept for my people.
The strategies we are using right now are:
- Awareness talks (inclusion and disabilities)
- Teaching the existing conventional surf schools about adaptive surfing.
- Going to the media, trying to get interviews so people know about us.
- Reaching hospitals and schools
- Great quality videos to impact
4. What do you consider some of Surfeando Sonrisas biggest achievements to date? Or in other words, what do you feel most proud of?
The smiles on our kid's faces and their families!! Nowadays and especially how the world is moving we are focusing on delivering smiles, the money will come later!
5. What are some of the upcoming projects you are working on? And can you tell us a bit about them? Any particular project you are really excited about in the coming future?
Yesterday we closed an important agreement with the only surf league that exists in Mexico. They are the ones that are doing all the conventional tournaments in Mexico. The agreement was that we are going to run a clinic with five events and they will help us with social media to share about the event. Also, we will have access to more brands.
We have a program called “FRIEND SCHOOLS” in which we are trying to support existing surf schools through adaptive surf equipment and certifications.
Our mid-term goal is to have a bus completely accessible so we can take our kids to secret surf spots.
Lastly, our long term goal is to have a water sports accessible resort where we can offer all kind of opportunities in water sports so PwD can practice anything.
6. Is there anything else you wanted to share about your organization or yourself?
We are looking for grants or support outside Mexico. If any organizations, companies or individuals want to connect with us please reach.
Facebook and Ig: @surfeandosonrisas