Haakenson: Surfing across borders

Joe Surf

July 19, 2012|By Joe Haakenson

Surfing certainly has become an international sport, but Uganda?

You might think finding a surfer from Uganda would be about as easy as finding one from Siberia, but there he was a few weeks ago, right there off 22nd Street in Newport Beach.

His name is Wasswa, he's 9 years old, and he's an AIDS orphan from Uganda in East Africa.

"He got up and surfed all the way in on his first wave," said his adoptive mother, Roxanne Robbins.

Robbins admitted that a few days earlier Wasswa was in Del Mar for the three-day surf camp Walking on Water, so he wasn't totally a newbie. But Wasswa's surf lesson that day, with the help of Scott Moreland and Eric Piper, was a miracle in itself.

The story begins with Jim and Gwen Johnson, who call Corona del Mar home but whose influence stretches beyond any borders. Robbins and Wasswa spent a few days in the Johnsons' home earlier this summer during their trip to Southern California from their home in Uganda.


The Johnsons' daughter, Melissa, met Robbins in Washington D.C., where they both worked. Melissa Johnson worked in the Bush Administration and Robbins worked in corporate public affairs in the wireless industry. They met while they both attended a weekly women's Bible study at the White House.

"[Jim and Gwen] were returning from a trip to Africa," Robbins remembered. "It was about six years ago, and they were in their 80s then. Melissa wanted me to meet them for coffee along with a few of the ladies from our group."

It turned into much more than coffee.

"I was so inspired by Jim and Gwen's energy at their ages, and their commitment to serving people around the world," Robbins said. "They were doing building projects, which is a way you can connect groups and serve overseas. I decided to follow their example."

Did she ever.

Robbins went to Uganda on a five-week volunteer trip. She came back to the U.S. at the conclusion of the trip, but stayed only three months before going back.

"The five weeks turned into five years," Robbins said, noting the five-year anniversary of her move there comes in September.

Robbins created her own non-profit organization, "Tukutana," which means "working together with hope" in Swahili. She said Tukutana is a "Christian organization that serves orphans and vulnerable children and their caregivers."

She hadn't worked long in Uganda before she met Wasswa.

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