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By Ben Hicks and John Kalnins

The Friendship

Surfing tracked me and Ben down like we were wanted fugitives, while handcuffing our worries and doubts, it gave us the right to discover our true passion. This passion has grown over the years and has now met at a crossroads with the opportunity to apply for the Alex Cohn Grant. Our love for surfing is not a choice, it is inevitable. We put our heart and soul into surfing and it has given back more than we could have ever expected. Surfing has shown me that the greatest joys can’t be bought and often reside miles away from any store, they live in adventures that happen everyday in life, and the people you meet along the way. The roots of surfing traveled from the depths of the sea, through the sands and intertwined with our lives, eternally connecting us to the ocean and surfing. Now there is now looking back, surfing has molded a bond between Ben and I that can never be broken. It is a bond that is impossible to replace, and has truly changed my life for the better over the years.


It all started the first day of 6th grade when Ben and I met each other. From the beginning we were partners in crime, always looking for an adventure. Whether it was setting off bottle rockets in the street, or making prank calls, it always ended the same way - with us getting a lecture from our parents or a teacher about our misdeeds. As a result our middle school careers were unfortunately riddled with stern talks from teachers. I can speak for the both of us when I say that Mr. Greenberg was our favorite teacher in middle school. Rather than discouraging our rebellious behavior, his class was an outlet for us to release some of our energy by being creative and having some fun while still receiving a valuable education. While we did our best to realize when Greenberg was getting upset, there were definitely times that we went over the top and racked up some major Groucho points. As much as we liked to get into shenanigans there was another way we liked to expend our energy; entrepreneurship.

Ben and I have been ambitious from a young age. We constantly formulated plots to make a little bit of money so we could go to the candy store or buy the newest pokemon cards. A lot of our weekends in Middle School were spent setting up lemonade stands or running car washes on Ben’s street. Since then we have both matured and our ambition and passions have expended as well. Countless times when walking through the Beaver hallways we have been stopped by Mr. Greenberg or another Middle School teacher and they comment on how much we have matured when juxtaposed with middle school. That is not to say that we have lost our sense of ambition or love for adventure. These traits that were at one point uncultivated and juvenile have shaped under the pressure of growing up to become a cornerstone of values that now fuels our passion.

Ben and I have surfed together every Summer since our first lessons in seventh grade. With each new experience our love for the sport grows exponentially along with our skills. Whenever we are together during the Summer we map out our next surf trip. Each trip we return with great memories of new experiences, each distinct and remarkable in its their way. The amount of uncomfortable hours we spent traveling places to surf is unprecedented. We constantly make plans to stay at one anothers house the night before, then wake up early the next morning, cram into the car and drive to different surf spots in New England: usually Rhode Island, Maine, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. We fought the weakening hand of sleep and even persevered through the sharp October water just to get the last wave of the year. Being so committed to this sport makes me spend a lot of time in the car or on a plane to get to my destination. On long ellipses of time while traveling are mainly spent daydreaming of what is soon to come.

Surfing has been more than just a sport for us, it has given us something else in common and cemented our friendship over the years. Through surfing we have become closer friends and while being friends we have introduced each other to many new hobbies. In the winter of Freshman year Ben asked me to go on a ski trip with him. I previously snow boarded but the last time I had been was in fifth grade and my board was too small for me. Ben convinced me to come with him and rent skis to try it out. I took a beginners lesson and was embarrassed because little kids on leashes circled me as I repeatedly picked myself up from the slope. By the end of the day, I improved enough to wearily follow behind Ben on some of the easier intermediate trails. However, like my experience with surfing, I did not give up. With the new skis I got for Christmas Ben and I have gone skiing together every Winter since.

The past couple of years Ben and I have not had many classes together. Last year we both took Mr. Ingenthron’s sculpture class. Ben never had a deep passion for art as he was the type of kid who took it because it was mandatory. On the other hand art has been close to my heart throughout my life. My mother was an artist, but passed away when I was seven. Art is a way for me to carry on her legacy and maintain a connection with her. The art program at Beaver was one of the biggest reasons I applied here in sixth grade. The art teachers have given me the opportunity to grow as an artist and work to my fullest potential.  At first I was pretty skeptical about taking a sculpture class, because I have always been more inclined to paint or draw, but by the end of the term - with a lot of help from Mr. Ingenthron - Ben had a new passion in art and I left my reluctance to express myself in a new media behind me. This past Fall, Ben and I took portfolio development together. We pushed each other to create our best work possible and we, along with our teachers and parents, were very pleased with the results.  Without Ben in that class I would not have accomplished what I did throughout the term. Being best friends with Ben has yielded more benefits than I could have ever expected. Our friendship has blessed us both with a new passion (surfing), countless memories and most importantly, a great friend.

The Passion

Since preschool I have always had a surplus of energy, as a result my mom made sure I also had a surplus of A.D.H.D. medication; from Ritalin to Concerta I have truly tried it all. Throughout elementary school comments were consistently being sent home saying I was “overly energetic,” or “too spastic.” I finally liberated myself from the mental confinements of all A.D.H.D. medications right before the start of my middle school career. At first I was overwhelmed by the amount of pure unharnessed energy that I possessed. I struggled sitting for the entirety of a class, one could say I was somewhat “unstable”. I began to seek ways to exert my energy in a productive manner (at the time I just called it “finding something fun to do”). After returning from my first surf lessons with John; I knew I had found the perfect activity, surfing.

In retrospect I like to think of myself as uranium, full of energy but once believed to be too “unstable” for any productive use. However, now through extensive research, done by the brightest scientists on this planet, uranium's energy is utilized to spin giant turbines and create electricity that lights peoples homes, powers their devices and keeps families warm. To bring the analogy full circle,  John and I are the scientists that discovered the method to manipulate my energy, and though we might not be experts on nuclear reactions, we are specialists on living life to the fullest. By staying open to all new experiences I have come to the realization that surfing is the best possible way I can expend my own energy. The product of me surfing could not power a house or even a light bulb, but something much more beautiful is created. When I stand on top a board, a feeling only unique to surfing breaks the dull stagnant water of my conscious causing ripples throughout my mind mixing up the emotional sentiment that resides on the bottom. These intense emotions erase all stress and pangs from my life and gives me a glimpse of pure love.

Once I established my profound passion I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity I got to surf. From surfing two foot waves on the Cape to surfing waves that were two feet above my head in Costa Rica, I would surf anything as long as I had a board underneath my feet. I began diving deeper into the surfing culture. From watching surf documentaries, to reading surf magazines, I always try to keep myself immersed in the surfing world even if I am hours away from any substantial waves. People often ask me why I found surfing so captivating and at first I have no answer. I constantly mull this question over in my head; “why do I love surfing?” I would ask myself. I can remember countless hours laying on my board while the gentle sway of the ocean negates the drab nature of time, making hours seem like seconds and seconds an eternity. I would stay just thinking of my one answer for that question. Was it the scenery of the ocean that made me love surfing? Was it the people that I met? Perhaps the stories that I collected over the years? After surfing for more than four years I can finally say I found my answer to this question. Surfing is like a huge melting pot; a beautiful blend of community, nature and feelings. The surfing community and natural environment that often surrounds places with good surf can be appreciated by anyone, but those feelings you get while surfing are so unique that it is hard to describe them to anyone who does not surf themselves. Each time I try to depict surfing my ability to describe the sensation and outer body feeling eludes me. So when in the water I sit past the break point close my eyes and think about words I could use to describe the sensation of surfing. It is rare that anyone gets to hear my thoughts, so they remain in the ocean until I return. These words share a similar fate to the the waves I surf - enjoyed by myself for just one beautiful moment until I release them back into the ocean - leaving them there until the next time I am back on my board.


There are experiences in life similar to surfing that give me something too complex to describe as any individual feeling. It is something that comes around only a handful of times in life. It is the reason you get of bed in the morning. It is the person that you look forward to coming home to every night. It is the thing that you could not live without. Surfing has become that one sacred thing in my life, the surf trips I take are short, but the memories continue to last. Being able to depict the experience which surfing brings to me has remained an enigma; luckily many surfers share the same dilemma and as a result surf poetry is all too common. Below is a piece of work submitted anonymously to a popular surfing website, shortly after the submission the poem was posted to the homepage of the site for all to enjoy.

Ode to Surfing

While herein words I cannot put

Nor in frame may cameras capture

Those hallowed waves through which we slip

And ride this life of rapture.

To be or not

The state of me

Rests on a vexing question.

Were not I dealt this salty deck

“Not to be” leads in which misdirection?

Yet here we are

While lost are thee

If not aboard and riding free

For we may fleeting lines convey

The pulse which guides a surfer’s way.

This poem takes surfers just one step closer to being able to fully express the feeling of being on top of that board. Long before this poem, since the sixties surf documentaries have been the closest thing to experiencing surfing first hand as it gets. Documentaries captured the culture and style of surfing evolve over the years. Each documentary is unique, as there are always new adventures to embrace and obstacles to overcome. Documentaries are one of the only ways to portray some of the distinct feelings involved in the life of a surfer. Since the first time Ben and I surfed together in seventh grade we have watched countless surf documentaries. Each film sparks a new flame in us. The small flames have added up to create a fire, which is our dream of being able to film our own documentary. The sheer thought of going on an adventure with my best friend to surf and document our experiences seems surreal. The anticipation of not knowing what waits for us around every corner excites us while we prepare to overcome any hardship that may impede. Yes, everyone dreams of traveling the world with their best friend, but it’s more than that to us. It is a chance to make our dreams a reality.

The Plan

Our idea for the Alex Cohn Grant dawned on us during a sculpture class. We told Mr.Ingenthron that we were interested in documentaries and would love to shoot one but had run into a problem. We realized that a serious commitment like the Alex Cohn Grant would directly conflict with the only thing we wanted to do all summer, surf. Mr. Ingenthron quickly suggested that we film a surf documentary. We could not believe we had overlooked what was in front of us the whole time. This is our chance to fulfill the dream that we both wanted to live since we started surfing.

We set up a meeting with Mr. Ingenthron right away in hopes that he could help us focus our ideas. Luckily he did exactly that. We left the meeting with a rough idea of what we needed to accomplish. Most important was our decision to stay local or travel abroad and if so where and why. Immediately we knew that we wanted to leave the United States. In our favorite documentaries there were always surfers traveling to exotic places across continents to experience new cultures and unknown breaks. It had to be a foreign environment where adventure thrives and new people and cultures are waiting to be discovered.

We wanted to travel to a region that was known to have good waves, but was not as known for its surf culture or tourism: a place with smaller surf communities that do not get recognized as much by the rest of the world. When people hear the word “surf” they usually envision a spot in Hawaii, California or Australia, places all known as the greatest surf spots in the world. Our destination had to be somewhere waiting to be explored, a place teeming with unknown possibilities. We started by researching the best breaks to surf across the globe. From South Africa to Japan, we made sure we did not exclude any region. We finally identified a place that we had both heard the name of, but did not know much about: The Canary Islands, a small group of islands located just east of Morocco. The reason we were intrigued by the Canary Islands is that the country supports a diverse culture that has been influenced by a European lifestyle while still maintaining its island roots. The dialects of the islands are English, Portuguese and Spanish. Spanish is the language that we both study in school, which will making communicating with locals easier. From the hundreds of islands and countries that have spectacular surfing, we selected this one exotic place due to its one of a kind culture and marvelous surf that is still waiting to be explored.

We had found the perfect location but we knew our documentary was lacking a key component, a theme. We both read a story of a surfer who traveled across the world to various surf spots with nothing but the clothes on his back. Relying solely on the generosity of fellow surfers to lend him a board to surf, food to eat and a place to stay. Stories similar to this one kept resurfacing in all of the magazines that we read; amazing feats of human kindness and selflessness often connected in one way or another to surfing. Surfing has an amazing way of connecting and liberating people, because of this surfing represents more than just a sport to many people around the world, it represents a lifestyle. Surfing shaped a friendship between us that has and will continue to be a large part of our lives. Because it has touched us so deeply, we want to understand the tremendous impacts it has made on others as well. By documenting surfers stories and lifestyles we are hoping to make a connection between what we feel inherently and what others are able to describe. By using “Why is surfing a way of life?”  as the leading question in our documentary we would not only be filming surfing through the lens on a camera, but also through the words of the surfers themselves. This key component to our documentary would allow us to gain a deeper understanding of why surfing has such profound effects on people and why it changes lives. By interviewing surfers as well as filming them we can more accurately represent the surfing community. 

Our intention is to illustrate our theme as accurately as possible. Given that our documentary strives to exemplify a lifestyle based on surfing, we feel that a necessary component involves one on one interviews with surfers who have dedicated their lives to this sport. Preparing for the documentary involves writing thoughtful questions to ask surfers that will provoke discussion about “Why surfing is a way of life?”. By filming in New England for one month (June 6th-July 6th) we will gain a better understanding of filming and editing a surf documentary before traveling to the Canary Islands. We have also enlisted the help of friends who are experienced in surfing, as well as editing and producing documentaries. We will interview surfers who have a story to tell and are interested in sharing. Given that we have met a varied group of surfers who exemplify the philosophy behind our documentary we feel strongly that they will be able to help us answer our question with their stories. Our plan is that after thirty days in New England of surfing and interviewing local surfers, we will head to the Canary Islands to continue our research.


Upon arriving in the Canary Islands our intention is to begin documenting surfers and their stories. John’s mom would travel with us as a chaperone but would not be heavily involved in documentary process itself.  We would land in Lanzarote, the largest of all the Canary Islands. Since our hostel is less than five minutes from the nearest surf spot finding surfers should not be a problem. We have already started talking to a local surf shop owner on Lanzarote. His name is Pedro and we will rent our boards from him. His surf shop is in between the beach and our hostel. Pedro knows many surfers who may be willing to let us film them and show us around the island. We found an inexpensive car rental for one week in Lanzarote. This would make it possible to travel around the island freely and not have to depend on other forms of transportation. Our days will be filled with traveling the island to find new people and surf spots. It is impossible to know exactly what we would film while we are in the Canary Islands, but we believe that this is part of the beauty of going on an adventure, the thrill of the unknown. Keeping that in mind we are not planning on traveling to a foreign country to film a documentary unprepared and blind. From the time we receive the grant we would begin planning a more intricate outline of what we want out of the documentary. Our objective while in the Canary Islands, in essence, is to capture the meaning of surfing through the eyes of the locals, as well as to document our experiences along the way.

Once we arrived home we would sort through the footage and start the long editing process. An external hard drive would be used to store all videos throughout the summer.  We will compile most shots in chronological order of our summer. However, we will arrange clips from all of our interviews to best answer the question, “why is surfing a way of life?”. We believe that narration will be a key component throughout the documentary. Narration will add a personal touch to the film while giving the audience a better idea of what our goal is. For a final product we will aim to have approximately thirty minutes of film. Once we have polished our film and organized its components (effects, clips, music and voice overs), we will upload our film on and We intend to share our project and passion with the Beaver community by showing the film and presenting our story. We are hoping to take a less traditional approach to the premiere of this film. Since surfing has everything to do with nature and the outdoors, we believe the audience will have a better viewing experience if the premiere was outdoors also. On a nice evening we would set up a projector and screen either at beaver or in one of our backyards, anyone who is interested in viewing our documentary could attend.

From setting up lemonade stands, to applying for the Alex Cohn Grant; our friendship has developed over the years, but has maintained it’s roots. We have learned a lot about ourselves as well as the world around us. We learned how to play instruments (ukulele), we have confronted obstacles, learned from our mistakes and revealed characteristics about one another that define who we are today. Out of all the things that we discovered about ourselves over the years, our mutual love for surfing has been one of the most important. Discovering surfing as our passion has not only helped us piece together our identity, but has become a large part of our identity itself. Through knowing more about ourselves it becomes easier to comprehend and observe what goes on around us. We have learned that the world is constantly changing, but if you find something truly special it will continue to last and never fade. This cliche, as cheesy as it is, has held true for our friendship and our love for surfing, both still burning bright. Our passion for surfing will never leave us, she has dug her wet salty hands deep into our lives and manifested herself in our hearts. She waits there anxiously - periodically injecting memories of happiness and feelings of surfing - craving the next wave. Surfing has left us with the best moments in our lives thus far. By documenting our experiences we hope to share what surfing means to many different people while capturing what it means to us. To us, surfing is our one perfect escape, that one thing that keeps us stable in a tenuous world. Surfing gives us peace of mind because we know that no matter what, we will always be able to close our eyes and go to a better place.

2013 Alex Cohn Grant Budget


Cameras and accessories:

Camera for in water filming - (already owned)

Camera for out of water filming - $599.00

Camera lens - $250.00

Tripod - $24.00

Memory for camera - $65.00

External hard drive - $73.00

Travel and Other
Plane tickets round trip (x2) - $2634.00

Food and Water - $200.00

Hostel for seven nights - $461.00

Car Rental for seven days - $175.00


Surfboard rental - $184.00

First aid/surfboard care - $32.00
-Sun screen
-Surf wax
-Rash guard
-Antibiotics (already owned)
Total money used: $4,947
Amount remaining: $53

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