Professional surfer Dylan Graves has called Puerto Rico home since he was one year old.
Currently living in California while his wife pursues a degree, he returned to Puerto Rico this month on a mission: to check on his family and friends, whom he had not heard from since Hurricane Maria made landfall, and to help Waves for Water distribute the 500 water filters loaded into his seven pieces of luggage.
Millions of Puerto Ricans (that’s right, millions) are without steady access to running water or electricity. When Graves got back from his two-week mission, we asked him for a firsthand account of relief efforts on the island, and about what we can do to help.
Were you in Puerto Rico during the hurricane? If so, what was that like?
I recently moved with my wife to San Clemente, California. But I was in St. Croix after Irma, helping with hurricane relief there via Waves for Water. All of a sudden Maria was upon us and there were evacuation flights from St. Croix to Miami, so I jumped on one of those.
How did it come to be that you flew to Puerto Rico with 500 water filters?
All the islands were in need of help badly. Water filters made the most sense to me as clean drinking water is the most essential thing our body needs.
So me getting on the evac flight back to the states provided a perfect re-stock opportunity. We were going to need all the filters we could get with Maria flexing on the Caribbean and Puerto Rico a week or so after Irma. Back-to-back Category 5s is just outrageous. We were all really nervous.
I was able to go and restock with 500 water filters as well as food and supplies. I got on a humanitarian flight to San Juan three days after the storm and made it to my hometown of Isabela four days after Maria hit.
I checked in seven bags (a personal record).
You’re from Isabela, what is the situation like there?
The drive out to Isabela was eerie, apocalyptic. I was really nervous as I had not heard from my family since the storm hit. There were no leaves on any of the trees, there were houses that were completely smashed, for the most part wooden houses, but it was freaky!
I drove around to each of my family and friends’ houses frantically to find each of them safe and unharmed. Most houses were damaged, some worse than others, but that was to be expected.
Any specific news from your surf community there? How are they holding up?
There is still limited communication down there. They have certain areas you can drive to with cell phone service but it’s spotty.
Power is meant to be out for months still. I heard whispers of towns around the island starting to get power although I’m not sure how true that is.
Water seems to be the main issue across the island as a lot of the water reservoirs had been compromised by the storm and were needing repairs. So they were shutting water off and only allowing certain towns water during certain hours. Some completely shut off.
So the filters and implementation Waves for Water had going was HUGE in every community we were able to get to, and the team is still working to get as many filters around as possible.
The LA Times reported that people are still trying to get drinking water from streams that have been contaminated by sewage and other pollutants. Did you see any of that firsthand?
Yes, we came across communities that lived right next to streams where they were getting their water. They lit up like Christmas trees when we came in with the water filters and gave them the demo of how to properly use and maintain these badass filters.
Where were you distributing filters? How did you decide who got filters?
This was different than how W4W usually distributes them. It was disaster response, no cell service or ways to communicate with anyone.
So we were straight up driving around from place to place, talking to people and getting intel on what areas needed it most.
Some towns early on still had running water so we were trying to get to towns that had been shut off completely. But we pretty much gave a filter to every person we talked to.
W4W founder Jon Rose and W4W field Manager Rob McQueen called it; eventually people with running water were going to get put on boil alert, and they were right.
Did you see firsthand how the filters could help hurricane victims? Any particular stories you have of people W4W was able to help while you were there?
BIG TIME! Life after the storm was basically waiting in massive lines for the resources you needed, water being one of the main and most essential things people were needing.
When we made it to towns/areas/communities in need, their smiles were some of the biggest I’ve ever seen.
One town in particular on the west side of the island had not been visited by anyone until we got there, so beyond the gift of clean drinking water, we were able to give them some info on what was going on, for which they were most grateful.
What can people do to help Waves for Water’s efforts? What else do people in Puerto Rico need the most right now?
Beyond that, there are some GoFundMe and other organizations that I have posted on my Facebook. If you have any connections/ideas in sustainable energy please reach our to Governor Rosello!
How are you feeling about the future of Puerto Rico right now? Do you have any specific hopes for its future?
I hope this opens peoples’ eyes to how dependent on fossil fuels were are, and how a sustainable island/future might be in our best interest.
I heard stories of people who still had power after the storm because they went solar. I think everyone who waited in one of those horrendous gas station lines would agree.
GrindTV has set up its own donation page for Waves for Water, you can donate here.
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