Mikke Pierson was one of SurfAid’s first US supporters. After a chance meeting with SurfAid Founder, Dr. Dave Jenkins in Cabo San Lucas, Mikke began a relationship with SurfAid that continues to this day. Beginning with a role as a Founding member of SurfAid’s International Board, Mikke served as US Board Chair at the height of SurfAid’s Emergency Response work including the devastating Boxing Day Tsunami. It was under Mikke’s leadership that SurfAid’s presence in the States grew to include the first US-based SurfAid Cup in his hometown of Malibu.
This month, Mikke steps into yet another leadership role as he prepares for his term of Mayor for the city of Malibu. During this 20th year of Impact, SurfAid has been taking a look back at some of the key elements of our organization’s success. Mikke and the city of Malibu have been dedicated supporters of SurfAid’s efforts. With their help, the SurfAid Cup Malibu has raised over $694,000 since its inception and helped countless families living in SurfAid’s partner communities. Check out Mikke’s story and come surf with us in Malibu on September 12th at First Point.
You have an interesting background that has always included some form of supporting others. From running ZJ Boarding House to your current role as a business coach and now serving on the Malibu City Council. What drives you to want to help others?
The course of my life took me to a place that I realized my true mission was to help people. It came from ZJ Boarding House, where I hired about 800 young people over a period of close to 30 years. Due to their age, many were in need of direction and some were at risk of drug and alcohol abuse. We lost 10 employees over the years and I attended too many services on the beach. These real-life experiences made it impossible not to help and thankfully, we were able to positively change so many lives. Decades later, I’m still close with many of these former employees. Getting involved in local politics is another extension of helping others and although it can be hard, I love it. I love the chance to positively impact even more lives and continue to make a difference even though we’ve been in an emergency situation the entire time I’ve been in office!
How did you first learn about SurfAid?
I was at a surf industry conference down in Cabo around the time Dr. Dave first started SurfAid. I had barely heard of SurfAid before Dr. Dave spoke to our group. The conference room was filled with about 270 people and as I was standing in the back listening to him I found my eyes itching and tearing up. I thought it was allergies until it hit me that I was crying! At that time in my life, I hadn’t cried in about 10 years since my grandfather died. I thought, “Wow, that man-made me cry in public, I need to meet him.” This conversation led to a group of friends and employees organizing the first-ever US fundraiser for SurfAid – a golf tournament that raised around $26,000 and I don’t think SurfAid had raised $.26 at that time! (exaggeration).
What prompted you to take your knowledge of SurfAid a step further and serve as SurfAid first board chair in the US?
I forgot to duck when the board did the nominations.
What were some of the accomplishments you were most proud of during your time at SurfAid?
I think it would have to be the time after the Tsunami. This began a six-year period where SurfAid focused almost solely on emergency response and recovery work. (Indian Ocean Tsunami 04’, Nias Earthquake 05, Mentawai Earthquake 07 , Padang Earthquake 09’ and Mentawai Tsunami 10’) It was so intense and after working all day at the shop I’d spend half the night on Skype trying to figure out how to help. I’ll never forget raising over $100,000 in one day. That happened twice! It blew my mind, but the pressure that comes with that level of devastation is exhausting physically and emotionally. It was a lot and after that, I stepped away from my formal board duties.
SurfAid is celebrating its 20th year of giving back to remote communities. What are your thoughts on SurfAid after that initial meeting with Dr. Dave, to where SurfAid is today?
SurfAid has made a huge difference in so many lives from its humble beginnings. Dr. Dave created something very special. I feel blessed to be a part of it.
You were part of the efforts to bring the SurfAid Cup format to the US in 2012. This September will be our 9th year of surfing and saving lives with the city of Malibu and Malibu Surfing Association. The US now hosts four SurfAid Cup events each year and the series has generated over one million dollars for SurfAid’s Mother and Child Health Programs. How does this make you feel?
I love the format and formula. It is such a great way to get so many people involved. I’m not sure whose idea it was, but it truly is brilliant. I’m glad I could help with the early days of the event in Malibu.
You lead a team each year in the SurfAid Cup Malibu and your family helps staff the event. You are no longer a sitting board member, but you are still dedicated to the cause. What is it about SurfAid that keeps you and your family involved after so many years?
The thing about SurfAid that was apparent from day one is that the impact is so obvious and measurable. The need is so clear. Clean water & sanitation, healthcare, and nutrition, these are basic rights that shouldn’t be dictated by geography. SurfAid’s mission to save the lives of mom’s and babies is so black and white, so life and death. SurfAid showed me a man and a cause that was so powerful, that in many ways it taught me more about myself and my mission and purpose in life. For my little part in that journey, I am eternally grateful.
Last year you were elected to serve on the Malibu City Council. Within 24 hours Malibu was overtaken by the largest wildfire to hit California. How has your city recovered?
About half the homes have been rebuilt so far. It is a hard process, but it is underway. For many of the people that lost homes, this is still very tough, but we are resilient and we’ll get through it.
One year after the wildfire, the COVID-19 Pandemic arrived. How has it changed daily life for families in Malibu and what are your hopes for your town moving forward?
When we all had to shelter at home, I had half a tank of gas in my car. I still have half a tank of gas. So life is very different for all of us. Overall our town has done a great job of being safer at home. I think the vast majority of us hope we can safely emerge from this sooner than later.
What can people do to support each other during these uncertain times?
Connect and communicate. Remaining socially active is key, whether on Zoom or in your neighbourhood. Getting exercise is key too. I’ve started baking like crazy and now I have about 10 pounds I need to lose!
With your last 12 months spent focusing on local emergency response, have you found any time to surf?
Not really. I’ve been in the ocean a bit, but honestly, my lifestyle has beaten my body up. My extreme days took the toll my dad said they would (but no regrets). I tend to mountain bike more, but when the beaches reopen I’ll be there!
If the COVID-19 pandemic permits life to resume in September, will we see you back on the beach for the SurfAid Cup Malibu?
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I feel blessed to have met Dr. Dave. He is one of my mentors and has had a huge positive impact on my life. I cherish the times we have spent together.
Thank-you Mikke for your continued support!