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Surf culture is still associated with the impulse that kick-started the movement: rebellious youth of the 1960s chasing waves and good vibrations. Theirs was a culture of skids with long sun-bleached hair who rejected the responsibilities of adulthood by embracing extreme living and hard partying. Many surfers, though now adults, have never shed their youthful spirits or caved to the beckoning call of the suburban nine-to-five.

Australian surfer clothing brand Billabong has long been cherished by people of all ages who feel some connection to that free spirit, and who know that responsibility does not have to mean buttoning up your shirt and taking orders from your boss. For the past four years, Billabong has been sponsoring a giant charity party called Design For Humanity, which has benefited organizations like SurfAid, The Surfrider Foundation, and charity: water, all devoted to issues like marine health and ecological conservation.

This year, for the first time since the program’s inception, DFH’s chosen recipient is completely outside of issues relating to surfing, but tackles an important issue of social responsibility. Invisible Children is a foundation that strives to help end child abduction in Uganda by soldiers who forcibly enlist them in Africa’s longest-running war. Around 30,000 children, making up approximately 90% of the rebel army (the Lord’s Resistance Army), have been abducted since the conflict began in 1987.

Despite the severity of the situation, Design For Humanity is committed to proving that charity work need not be a sombre or depressing exercise. This year’s event, which took place in Hollywood on the famous “NYC Street” set on the backlot of Paramount Studios, saw performances from Fisherspooner and Kid Sister, as well as a number of celebrity appearances from the entertainment industry. Billabong’s devotion to social justice shows that surf culture can go a long way to benefit those who have been tragically robbed of the very experience of childhood.

Naked Eye
spoke with Billabong’s events manager Amy Sorensen about the campaign.

What are some of the most exciting things that have happened at past events?
Having Andrew VanWyngarden from MGMT perform in a tie-dye muumuu was memorable. We’ve had surprise openers to kick off the fashion show that included Australian singer-songwriter Ashleigh Mannix belting out her amazing rendition of “Hallelujah.” Meanwhile, video highlighting the work of that year’s beneficiary, Surfrider, was projected onstage... That really raised the roof. This year we had The LXD [Legion of Extraordinary Dancers] open the show, and their talent is beyond words. 

Do you see philanthropy as an integral part of the company’s mission?
Billabong has always been committed as an ethical and responsible company in making contributions that lead to positive environmental and social outcomes. We’ve undertaken a range of initiatives to encourage preservation and enhancement of the natural environments that are touched by the board-sports lifestyle.

What made you decide on Invisible Children as this year’s chosen recipient, and how is the decision process made with respect to which charity you work with?
It’s a collaborative process within our marketing department to brainstorm and research multiple worthy causes and organizations that inspire our audience. One of our youngest employees brought Invisible Children to the table. She had interned with them back in high school and had an incredible experience. Once we reviewed their documentary and met them, there was an instant connection. We consider them like family now. In fact, a few of us are journeying to Uganda in a few months to check out their programs and see the beautiful culture we’ve heard so much about.

What are some other ways that people can support the Invisible Children cause?
First, you need to check out their website. There’s so much you can do! You can do something as simple as a straight donation, or purchase a beautiful handbag made in Uganda by former LRA abductees from their MEND campaign, or see where you can attend a screening in a town near you to watch their film and hear directly from those who have overcome unimaginable odds. At the very least, their blog is inspiring, educational, and occasionally hilarious.

Do you think it is becoming more normal for companies to have social consciences?
I think it’s NOT normal for any company to not be using their power to be involved in some type of social awareness.

If you would like to learn more about the Invisible Children Foundation and the conflict in Uganda, visit their website at, and watch their 2003 documentary of the same name.

Special thanks to
Catherine Desrochers at Billabong Canada.

Written by: EVAN MILLAR
Photography by:
september 13th, 2010