Watch the Transformative Joy of Foster Youth Seeing the Beach for the First Time

Raw emotions make way for confidence and hope

Arizona foster youth react to seeing the beach for the first time. Reef
Headshot of Doug Zanger

As the masses make their way to ocean beaches across America for the long Labor Day weekend, it’s easy to take these playgrounds on the water for granted. Even the act of traveling, sometimes lamented as a chore, is a treat many rarely get to experience. Yet, several populations in this country would welcome the “trouble” of taking a trip to step foot in the sea.

To that end, beach brand Reef and L.A. agency Haymaker launched a new film, marking yesterday’s National Beach Day, that chronicled a July trip to San Diego by 10 foster youth from Arizona. Clocking in a just over 3 minutes, “First Beach” is the powerful, behind-the-scenes story of these children as they visit La Jolla Shores to learn how to surf and see the ocean for the very first time.

Beautifully shot and edited, the docu-film quickly sets up the premise as one young woman noted that: “A trip like this is just everything for foster youth. It shows that there is good in the world. It shows that there is some sort of hope—that all this pain, that all the hardship that you go through in foster care—that it was worth something and that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Most of the kids featured in the short share their raw emotions, especially the challenges they face.

“I don’t think I was ever at a point that I thought I would never be able to go to the beach,” said one of the participants. “It’s always been a dream of mine actually to just see a beach because I grew up in the country. Growing up that way, I guess the beach just was never really something that we thought of in a small town.”

“We don’t have the money for it. I mean paying bills is hard enough. You can’t really go if you don’t have the time or money,” added another.

Those reflections on their lives in foster care are assuaged by the hope and promise of an escape, even if it’s for a short time. And upon seeing the ocean for the first time, the reactions are overwhelming and it’s clear that this is a transformative, uplifting moment. Smiles brighten even more as the youth become empowered on surfboards, courtesy of Urban Surf 4 Kids, a San Diego non-profit that teaches surfing for at-risk and underserved communities.

“This project has allowed youth who have never even seen the beach before to experience it to its fullest,” said Craig Jenkins, Urban Surf 4 Kids San Diego chapter president. “Worlds were expanded just a little wider, past dreams became a reality, and new ones were born.”

“We are honored to partner with a unique organization like Urban Surf 4 Kids to bring the incomparable spirit and restorative quality of the beach to young people, who otherwise wouldn’t have this experience,” added Mike Matey, Reef’s VP of Marketing. “The beach is so ingrained in our culture, and we are thrilled we were able to seed that love and passion for this inspiring group of young people.”

Indeed, the time spent in Southern California had a massive impact and helped not only to create a positive perspective moving forward but a great deal of confidence as well. One of the young women powerfully summed up the importance of the journey: “It’s an experience of a lifetime—facing fears that you never thought you’d face—fears that you never thought you had. If this is possible than anything can be possible.”


Client: Reef
VP of Marketing: Mike Matey
Creative Director: Tait Hawes
Marketing Director: Jen Wilson
Marketing Manager: Shea Perkins

Founder, Chief Creative Officer: Jay Kamath
Founder, Chief Strategy Officer: Matt Johnson
Director / Cinematographer: Tyler Haft
Cinematographer: Brendan Calder
Editor: Jarod Tabor
Music: J.R.Narrows
Jr. Designer: Paige DePaepe
Jr. Writer: Cameron Kokes

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.