Interview with Fallen Waterman’s Foundation founder, Mark Hanley.

Where did the idea for starting the FWF originate from?

All of us have heard about a tragic event that's made us say, "I wish I could do something to help that family."

This happened to me back in 2008. Local Ocean Beach legend, Dirk Denny, died while surfing at a secluded spot near Point Reyes with his 13-year-old daughter, while his wife and 10-year-old daughter were hanging out on the beach.

When I heard about it, all I could think of was how these two girls' lives had changed in an instant. I asked myself, "What could I do to help them?" and that's where the idea for the Fallen Waterman's Foundation came about. After some help from friends, we just completed our website and 501(c)(3) status in June 2017.

Our mission is to help the children of fallen watermen or women get the college educations their parents would want them to have. A second piece is to provide access to therapists so the kids can get counseling to work through their grief.

How does the FWF strive to make a difference in these families lives?

We've all seen what happens when there is a tragedy in our community when it comes to a family losing a parent. Initially, friends, clergies and extended family members come together to help that family in their time of need.

The real challenge is what happens after everyone has gone back to their day-to-day lives and that family is now on their own, with one of their leaders gone. The FWF tries to take the long-term approach. We want to look down the road to make sure the kids have a shot to achieve their dreams and a big part of this is being able to get their college degrees.

Photo courtesy of the Fallen Waterman’s Foundation

How do families get approved for assistance from the FWF?

The most important thing to know is that the FWF's college grants are not just for the families of professional athletes. They are for the everyday waterman or woman that had figured out a way to make the ocean, river or lake a part of their lives. The other critical point is that the person does not have to have died while pursuing their passion in the water.

The FWF is a community-based foundation and we rely on the members of our waterman community to let us know which families are in need of help.

We have a Grant Application on our website which simply asks for the child's age, target years for college and an area to talk about the family's story. Our board reviews the application and the grants are set up to be ready when the child's college years arrive.

 Discuss the SUP community's involvement in the FWF.

I would consider the SUP community as an integral part of our "waterman" community. The unique part of the SUP community is that it's not just ocean-based. To see what's happening on rivers and lakes now in the SUP world is incredible.

Our goal is to embrace the many disciplines that would define a true waterman or woman. A good example of this is our Ambassador for Hawaii and the WPA, Mo Frietas. Mo is not only an amazing paddler but also rips surfing and dives as well.

Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

 You mentioned Mo Freitas is an ambassador for the FWF, how has he been able to help?

More than anything, Mo gives the FWF credibility in the SUP culture. He can reach out to his SUP compatriots and the companies that benefit from their dedication to the sport. He's also from the North Shore of Hawaii, so he has a great pulse on what's happening over there.

How can others get involved?

When I tell people about FWF, their first question is usually, "How can I help?" That's why we have our Ambassador Program. Similar to the Surfrider Foundation's "Chapters," the FWF has recruited volunteer ambassadors for different regions.

The ambassadors are tasked with reaching out to their local community of watermen for donations, setting up events and contacting the local companies and establishments that profit from our passion for the water. The other thing they do is identify the "waterman" families in their local community that could use help from the Fallen Waterman's Foundation.

Your website has a tab called "Talk Story", what's that about?

"Talk Story" is a place people can go to tell their stories of rescuing someone or being rescued themselves and most importantly, then talk about the lives of those that were affected. The goal is to gather up enough stories to publish a book and then have the proceeds go to help pay for more college grants.

These aren't necessarily lifeguard-type rescues. These are the rescues when one of us turns into somebody's hero in their time of need.

Anything else?

In closing everyone should know that the Fallen Waterman's Foundation success is completely determined by the generosity and efforts of our waterman community. The more support that we are able to receive, the more children we'll be able to help.


Learn more about the Fallen Waterman’s Foundation.

More paddlers doing good work in their communities.