A surf pioneer’s new inspiration


I first met Fernando Aguerre in the early 1980s in a small, dark surf shop in Pacific Beach. At the time he was starting a small sandal brand with his brother, and he worked days in the shop and worked even harder after-hours to get his company off the ground.

The small brand he worked on so tirelessly would go on to change how the surf industry viewed the footwear category. What was it, you ask?

Reef Sandals.

The brand was a success and dominated the front pages of surf magazines throughout the late 1980s and 1990s with its signature image: beautiful women in Brazilian bikinis. The brand grew to become a $75 million company by the time the Aguerre brothers sold it in 2004. Since that time, Fernando has never slowed down.

His passion for life, surfing and family is very apparent when you meet the Argentinian. His high energy and positive attitude are nothing short of infectious, and his philanthropy within the surf community is legendary.

He was first elected president of the International Surfing Association (ISA) in 1997 and has been re-elected seven times to lead the organization that is the world governing authority for the sport of surfing and recognized by the International Olympic Committee. If you see surfing in the Olympics one day, you will have Aguerre to thank.

While that mission is a top priority for the ISA, perhaps nothing has been greater for Aguerre personally than organizing the ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championship in La Jolla.

This was an event that Aguerre and his staff worked on for months, and he couldn’t be more proud of the surfers who traveled from around the globe to take part. Sixty-nine athletes from 18 countries came to compete in the inaugural ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championship presented by the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which ran from Sept. 24-27 in La Jolla.

Among the competitors were Hawaii’s Mike Coots, 36, who lost a leg to a tiger shark at the age of 18; Alana Nichols, 32, of New Mexico, who was paralyzed from the waist down in a 2002 snowboarding accident; and former professional surfer Jesse Billauer, 36, who became a paraplegic when he hit his head on a sandbar while surfing in 1996.

“This is a historic gathering of the adaptive surfing community, which the ISA is very proud to be leading,” Aguerre said of the importance of the event. “This is a great opportunity to teach and learn from one another about life as an adaptive surfer for everyone to take back to their countries.

“To see these amazing people overcome their injuries and disabilities is truly inspiring.”

That couldn’t have been more true than when I saw a huge smile from 10-year-old Davi Texeira of Brazil. The little boy was in a wheelchair but all that I saw was a young man who was stoked to be around his peers at a surf contest, which is exactly what I loved at that age. Surfing truly heals the heart.

For more about the ISA visit

As a lifelong San Diegan, Ken Lewis has surfing and ocean life in his DNA. A 30-year surfer himself, Lewis has worked in the surf and skate industry for most of his career. Send him your thoughts about the surfing world to or follow him on Instagram @hanger18.

Source: DiscoverSD