By Michael Aushenker
What a long strange trip it’s been for Joel Brand, whose career has morphed from that of a journalist covering civil war in the former Yugoslavia for Newsweek to helming Joel Brand Consulting, a public relations consultation firm.
Yet his skill sets from both phases of his professional life informs the Fourth Annual Santa Monica Pier Paddleboard Race & Ocean Festival, an active fundraiser taking place all day on Saturday, June 8 on Santa Monica Beach. The event benefits Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay and its public marine education facility, the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, housed underneath the pier’s historic carousel.
“I call it a ‘friendraiser,’” Brand told The Argonaut. “We’ll have hula dancers all day. It’s kind of a big party.”
What it is, in fact, is a multi-tiered competition in which adults and children alike get to paddle and surf, with a portion of net proceeds from the event going to Heal the Bay, which dispatches beach clean-up volunteerism and ocean-water cleanliness status reports. However, raising money for a great cause is only one part of the mission for Brand, who prioritizes “awareness-building, the educational stuff, and ocean stewardship.”
Brand has enjoyed seeing his beachside baby burgeon to some 500 adult participants this year. What will be new on June 8? There’ll be an elite race track attracting top paddlers from all over the country; two water youth races; a youth swim; and a soft surfboard race for the youngest demographic.
There’ll also be a pop-up lifeguard and surf history museum, live music, and a Tommy Bahama-sponsored rum lounge and Sierra Nevada-hosted beer garden.
Participants pay to take part while spectators enjoy this day at the beach for free.
“The Santa Monica Pier is this iconic location,” said Brand, who has lived in Venice or Santa Monica ever since moving to the L.A. area from Eastern Europe, where he previously worked. “We have this amazing tradition of swimmers, surfers and paddleboarders going back to the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s. One of the birthplaces of paddleboarding is Santa Monica.
“(Ultimately), it’s a celebration of modern competitive ocean sports.”
Brand speaks from personal experience. He’s been paddling for five years and surfing for about 30 years. As a result, he appreciates what the benefactor of his family-friendly “friendraiser” does for California.
“We owe a lot to Heal the Bay,” Brand said, “for bringing awareness to the importance of clean water and clean ocean.”
Everybody’s goin’ surfin’… for a cause
By Michael Aushenker