Joe Surf: Breathe in that misty salt air for kids

Next time you're out there, straddling your board, waiting for the next set, take a long, deep breath.

Appreciate it.

On Aug. 6, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation will hold its fourth annual Pipeline to a Cure gala at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa in Huntington Beach, a fundraising effort to help find a cure for the debilitating disease that affects 30,000 children and adults in the country.

Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening genetic disease that causes mucus to build up and clog some of the organs in the body, particularly the lungs and pancreas. The average life span of someone with CF is the mid-30s.

So what does CF have to do with surfing? Quite a bit, it turns out.

Just a few years ago, there were some doctors in Australia who specialized in cystic fibrosis and noticed there was a group of their patients who seemed to be doing better than others. They tried to figure out what the patients had in common and finally had their answer.


"These kids all surfed," said Michael Shumard, executive director of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. "They did their research and found that when they were out there on the water, they'd breath in that misty, salty air, and it lubricated their lungs."

Breathing clearly is a big problem with CF, and when the kids would come in from a surf, they could more easily clear the mucus, and it settled their airways. The findings resulted in the development of what's called "hypertonic saline" treatments, which mimic breathing in that salty air.

And that's great, but surely these kids would rather get on a board than suck on an inhaler.

"Coming out of Orange County, the surf capital of America, we talked with surf companies and volunteers," Shumard said. "The surfing community has completely embraced us."

That's where Pipeline to a Cure comes in. The gala raises the money — $1.3 million in the first three galas — but for the kids, it's all about the surfing. Pipeline to a Cure has gotten support from Huntington Beach Surf School and Newport Surf Camp, which donate their services to get the kids on boards and out in the water.

They are in the process of scheduling several surf days throughout the summer as they've been waiting for the water to warm up, according to Shumard.

The benefit of getting in the water is more than just what it does for the kids physically. The mental and emotional benefits are immeasurable.

"It's huge for them," Shumard said. "Even healthy kids with CF have four hours of breathing treatments a day and are taking 30 to 40 pills. They're always stuck inside. The opportunity to be outside, in the water, to be able to experience that lifestyle, the complete freedom … And it helps them breathe."

The ambassador for Pipeline to a Cure was Emily Haager, a surfer and CF sufferer who died last year at age 27. Her efforts have brought a greater awareness to the disease and inspired many.

Big wave surfing legends Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama are the honorary chairmen of this year's Pipeline, and Shumard expects other surfing legends to attend as well. After all, the gala is taking place during the US Open of Surfing, when many of the big names will be in town.

Last year's gala honored Tim Salmon, the Angels' all-time home run leader (299) who has been a supporter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and its efforts after getting the chance to meet Emily.

"When I first heard Emily's story, it just pulled at my heart," Salmon said. "It pulled me into it. And there's a kid in one of my kids' classes who has CF, so learning about the disease shed light on the situation back home. It's interesting how the surfing industry and the disease fit together, and I surf now, too, so it I wanted to get behind the cause."

FYI, Salmon rides a longboard and usually can be found at 28th Street in Newport.

The event chairwoman for this year's Pipeline gala is Judy Burlingham. The event starts at 6 p.m. Aug. 6 with a silent auction, hors d'oeuvres and a cocktail reception, followed at 7 with dinner, a live auction and the musical guests Emily's Army, named in honor of Emily Haager.

The drummer is Joey Armstrong, son of Green Day lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong.

It's more than just a worthy cause; it needs as much public support as possible because, according to Shumard, 30,000 sufferers don't qualify the disease as an "epidemic," which would warrant governmental support.

"We get no help from the government, and we don't get any funding from the drug companies," Shumard said. "What funds we do raise, we're able to go to the pharmaceutical companies and say, 'Here's $75 million, this is what we need research on.' The cool thing about Pipeline to a Cure is it has opened up awareness to a lot of people."

For tickets and more information, go to

JOE HAAKENSON is an Orange County-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at

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