Outreach: Ken Whalen Surf Challenge


The Ken Whalen Surf Challenge – in partnership with the Challenged Athlete’s Foundation – takes to the waves annually, bringing kids with varying degrees of athletic ability together to have the surf of their lifetimes. Ken Whalen, the founder of Whalen Furniture, was passionate about getting people to push themselves beyond their preconceived limitations as well as encouraging them to work towards bettering their lives. His mantra of, “saving it for the water” reverberates throughout the ebbs and flows of the event echoing its deeper meaning. Whatever limits you, whatever strips you of your courage, the threshold of discovering your greatest potential lies at the entrance to the water.

A Legacy in the Community

Ken Whalen was more than just an entrepreneurial spirit. He was also an encouraging and dedicated family man who sought to maintain a sense of equilibrium in his life. From a very young age Ken found deep love and comfort in the time he spent with the ocean. His mantra referenced above further exemplifies his connection to the water and surfing. He saw so much potential in others that he was known as an instigative force that encouraged people around him to reach for more than they ever conceived possible. Ken found the challenged athletes he encountered running in triathlons to be immensely inspiring. Those same athletes were the catalyst for his involvement with the Challenged Athletes Foundation. In a full circle moment, the foundation now provides the necessary adaptive equipment to suit the needs of its challenged participants who take part in the Surf Challenge every year.

Combining Forces with the Challenged Athletes Foundation

The Challenged Athletes Foundation was founded in 1997 by Jim MacLaren who’s story is equally inspiring. Jim lost his left leg in a motorcycle accident in 1985, but the setback didn’t stop him from continuing on with his athletic dreams. He continued to participate in running marathons. Later in life he encountered more misfortune becoming quadriplegic after a van struck him during a race. It was from these experiences that a foundation was born.

The Challenged Athletes Foundation has been providing invaluable resources in the form of inspiration, mentoring, and adaptive equipment for the challenged athletes community for multiple decades now. They also use their position to amplify the voices of these athletes by spreading much needed awareness around the topic of challenged athletes and have thus been able to change the narrative surrounding the idea of physical disabilities in sports.

The Surf Challenge

Every year these two dynamic and inspiring groups collaborate for a day of riding the waves and “saving it for the water”. This free event was created to honor Ken Whalen’s memory after he passed away in 2014 and to lean into the beliefs and themes that made his life so rich and meaningful. The Ken Whalen Surf Challenge brings kids ages 14 and under together for an epic day of surfing and fun. The athletes take part in multiple simultaneous heats throughout the event while having access to seasoned surfer volunteers that help guide them on their journey through the surf challenge. Family and other guests that come to the event to cheer on their favorite surfers also have access to their own sources of entertainment in the form of music and games.

Beginner to intermediate level surfers come out to the surf challenge annually to celebrate togetherness and to expand upon their level of surfing in a way that is geared more toward having fun rather than competing with others. In the first four years alone the surf challenge brought together more than 600 kids. There is no entry fee to be a part of the event and all participants will receive a commemorative t-shirt. The surf challenge is a perfect opportunity to take to the waves safely and securely surrounded by friends, family, and organizations who can accommodate any physical challenge in order to create the experience of a lifetime.

Taking it to the Water

The Ken Whalen Surf Challenge honors the memory of Ken Whalen, who was not only the founder of Whalen Furniture, but also a gifted surfer and family man who cared a great deal about determination and perseverance no matter what limitations a person may possess. His encouraging nature and wholehearted belief in working hard towards bettering one’s life evoked that same level of determination and courage in the hearts of many who knew him. Ken may no longer be with us but through the Ken Whalen Surf Challenge his mantra, mindset, and legacy lives on forever. So, whether you’re taking your troubles to the water to work through them or taking to the waves to challenge your limitations or just coming out to celebrate a day of togetherness and joy with inspiring athletes. Ken’s mantra of saving it for the water is a message you will undoubtedly take with you when you go.

The event occurs every year in Ken’s honor, so be sure to attend or donate.