The first time PLNU sophomore Will Allen tried surfing, he was just six years old. His dad steered him into a wave only for him to tumble face-first into the sand and nearly give up the sport altogether. But Will kept at it, eventually popped up, and has loved the sport ever since.
Growing up in Palos Verdes, Will developed his craft surfing world-famous breaks of Los Angeles’ South Bay, including Hermosa, Manhattan, and Redondo beaches. Skilled with both short and longboard, he came to favor the latter, particularly the classic style iconicized by 1960s and 70s local legends.
By tenth grade, Will was placing in competitions throughout California, and by high school he was branching out to Mexico and Hawaii. He even picked up sponsorships from companies like Bing Surfboards in Encinitas and SoCal-based apparel company The Bend.
At PLNU, Will signed up for the school’s surf team at the new student orientation (NSO) resource fair. Not long after, he attended open tryouts and found out he’d made the cut.
“What stood out to me was the camaraderie,” Will said. “Sure we’ve got great waves here, but getting to do that with other people that love Jesus is such a blessing. It’s like a family.”
“Sure we’ve got great waves here, but getting to do that with other people that love Jesus is such a blessing. It’s like a family.”
Will had come to use surfing as a form of grounding and meditation since he has experienced depression and anxiety throughout his life. As Will started his college career, he made sure to take time to be alone with his board and thoughts and refocus his mind on God. But after about a month, college life and academics began to feel overwhelming for Will, leading him to contemplate dropping out.
“It was a lot for me,” he recalled. “It was overstimulating. I thought college wasn’t for me after all, that I’d have to stay home.”
With encouragement and prayer from his family, Will determined to stick it out, seeking the support of campus pastor Melanie Wolf.
During one session together, Will noticed a photo in Wolf’s office of her youngest son, Ivan, with a board. Will mentioned his passion for mentoring younger kids, specifically a surf-centered youth group he started up back home with friends called “Church Surf,” and offered to serve as a mentor and surf instructor for Ivan.
“I loved the idea,” Wolf said. “Since then, the two of them have surfed together at least once a week. He’s come to Ivan’s competitions to cheer him on with us and has invited him to tag along with Point Loma’s surf team at some of their events. He’s been a really consistent presence and a significant role model in Ivan’s life.”
Will ended up finishing out the rest of the semester with all A’s and a renewed appreciation for his classes and learning. One class that particularly inspired Will was his ecology class with Mike Mooring,Ph.D., with whom his sister had studied in Costa Rica. Will specifically appreciated Mooring’s interpretation of Genesis 1 as a call for humans to steward and care for creation.
“My dad had always taught my sister and me to respect the environment, to never leave the beach without taking a piece of trash,” he recalled. “But my perspective shifted with how we’re called to be stewards over creation as Christians. I learned I can do a lot more to better take care of this planet God gave us to tend.”
Mooring also presented case studies, programs, and organizations achieving notable work in the field of conservation, including the San Diego-based nonprofit Plant With Purpose, with which Will was already connected. A close family friend and board member for Plant With Purpose helped Will perform a service project in elementary school raising money to plant trees in Haiti.
When Will returned home for the summer, he met up with his friend Emily Bark (of the family behind Bark paddleboards) to surf and catch up. The two reminisced about all that happened over the year and began talking about Plant With Purpose. Soon, they decided to start another service project, this time paddling the 22-mile channel between Catalina Island and Rancho Palos Verdes to support Plant With Purpose’s new program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Both had previously participated in Catalina paddle fundraisers. Now a managerial and organizational communication major, Will used his education and broadened network to rally his community, church, and local businesses for support. He enlisted Bing Surfboards and organized a worship night for the kids and families of Church Surf to help raise funds as he did at their age.
Will and Emily ultimately made the successful journey, which resulted in more than $5,000 being raised to help Plant With Purpose empower rural farming families through sustainable agriculture, reforestation, microfinance, and community development in the DRC.
“It was just a really profound experience to see everyone so stoked and unifying around such a cool cause to plant trees. Empowering people to experience new growth spiritually, physically, and environmentally, it’s something that’ll affect all areas of so many people’s lives,” he said.
In his second year at PLNU, Will is continuing to leverage his surfing, faith, and activism to build stronger connections between people and causes he cares about. He commenced the university surf team’s 2019-20 season earning first place in the men’s longboarding event during November’s National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) competition. PLNU has earned NSSA statewide championships for the last five consecutive years.
He was also selected to serve as president of PLNU’s surf club, where he is planning additional outreach events with organizations and ministries on campus, in the community, and internationally. And as an Alpha Group leader with Wolf’s student discipleship program, Will is using his story and experience to invest in others and help them feel valued, heard, and loved as he has.