Surf fiestas. Eco field trips. Connections with mentors.

Un Mar de Colores, Spanish for “an ocean of colors,” offers all that and more through its focus on inclusivity, its mission of bridging the socioeconomic gap in the surfing community, and its commitment to bringing the lessons of ocean stewardship to children of color and underserved youth.

“We believe the ocean has the power to connect us all,” states the organization’s website. “Surfing reminds us of our relationship to nature and each other by opening our eyes to our place and role in our ecosystem.”

Child on surfboard

Its work has resulted in a $20,000 grant from San Diego Foundation through the SDF Opening the Outdoors initiative, which has supported more than 90 local nonprofits benefitting more than 50,000 youth and families through equitable access to parks, beaches, and green spaces.

Profound Impact

Un Mar de Colores group

The impact has been profound.

“As a single mom, there is no way I could ever afford to do something like this for my kids. This is so special and I’m so grateful,” said a mother of three children in describing the impact Un Mar de Colores has had. “I’ve made friends, too, and we are going to trade off getting the kids to the beach. This changed our lives… Thank you so much.”

Said another parent: “This is the most fun my daughter has had all summer, thank you for bringing joy into her life.”

The Encinitas-based nonprofit opened its doors in 2020 in the wake of the George Floyd murder at the hands of Minneapolis police; Un Mar de Colores Executive Director Mario Ordoñez-Calderon and others involved in the local surf community were looking for ways to build a more equitable society with the resources and expertise they had.

“I’m a first-generation American of Mexican ancestry, and connecting with the ocean changed my life,” said Ordoñez-Calderon, who took up surfing nearly a decade ago when he was serving as a U.S. Navy corpsman based at Camp Pendleton. “It’s like dancing with the ocean. It brought me a community and created a family.”

Diversifying the Sport of Surfing

Child surfing

Sadly, Ordoñez-Calderon noted, the sport suffers from a lack of diversity and has long been dominated by the white community. Un Mar de Colores set out to change the narrative. Among its programs:

  • Surf Fiestas, a summer program that introduces youth to the ocean through monthly group surfing days, familiarizing them with the ocean and providing them with the tools, resources and education to appreciate the beauty of the sea.
  • Eco-field trips that educate youth about our relationship to the environment and each other and include excursions to the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and sailing at the Mission Bay Aquatic Center.
  • Mentorships aimed at improving youth confidence and self-esteem.

Fiscally sponsored under the Changing Tides Foundation, Un Mar de Colores sees surfing as its classroom for lessons about ocean stewardship, overcoming fear, discovering the strength of vulnerability and forging new relationships. Up to 16 youth take part in two-year cohorts heavy on a ‘surf therapy’ experience. The long-term goal: normalize diversity both in and out of the ocean.

Children high fiving adult

It’s also laser-focused on closing the leisure gap. While beaches are open to everyone, enjoying the surf can be prohibitively expensive for children from families lacking in financial resources. Surfboard rentals can cost $40 per day or more. Wetsuit rentals can be almost as expensive. Lessons can exceed $140 per hour.

Opening the Outdoors to All

Learn more about Opening the Outdoors and how it’s helping San Diegans discover the wonders of the natural world and enjoy the benefits of outdoor activity.