This past weekend I had the pleasure of joining 19 members of the Nautique family, including office and factory workers, team riders and water skiers, and a couple dealers on a service/mission trip to El Salvador. The trip was part of the Nautique Cares initiative – the boat manufacturer’s outreach division that describes its purpose as “to build the world’s best boat and use our resources to impact and help others, one person at a time.”


La Atarraya provides a safe haven for children in a very impoverished area to get a great education while at the same time keeping them away from the gangs and drugs that run rampant in El Salvador.

The trip took us to Ahuachapán – a town two hours west of the capital city San Salvador. Ahuachapán is home to a very special school – La Atarraya – started by missionary Bob Hamilton and his wife Teresita. La Atarraya teaches all ages/grades from K – 12 and is home to approximately 400 students in total. The Hamiltons are a family with big hearts, even bigger passion, and unwavering faith. It shows in the school they have built from scratch as it undoubtedly makes an impact on the future of an impoverished part of El Salvador daily.


Some of the crew working on the ship in the library

What made this trip unique was that it was the first time team riders, dealers, and media participated in an international Nautique Cares project. The wake riders on this trip included Bob Soven, Mike Dowdy, JD Webb, Raimi Merritt, and wakesurfer Tommy Czeschin. The purpose of the weekend was to finish a project that began during an earlier trip Nautique took in July, as well as to help out around the school where neeed, interact with the schoolchildren, and deliver food and clothes to families in the area most in need of help. The main project was building a ship in the school’s newly constructed library/lounge room. The ship was designed by the team at Nautique and would be the feature of the library: holding books and providing students a place to hang out and read.


The ship coming together

With designs, tools, and wood on site, members of the work trip got down to it and proceeded to construct one of the coolest bookcase / lounge areas I’ve ever seen. It was truly a team effort to complete the project and the ship in the library – by being a fun spot to hangout – will undoubtedly encourage reading and learning for the young students for years to come. Other projects during the two days at the school included packaging bags of food supplies for local families, distributing clothing to schoolchildren, speaking to some of the classes, a soccer skills/play day for both students at La Atarraya as well as students from other nearby schools, and even visiting a maternity ward in the city. Interacting with the schoolchildren, the teachers, and the Hamilton family was unbelievable. Each morning we would get picked up from our lodge 30 minutes from the school by one of the school’s three buses – and then proceed to pick up other schoolchildren along the route and go to school with them. Whether it was talking to them in broken Spanish, playing soccer with them in the gym, or sharing lunch with them during a break – all of the experiences from El Salvador are ones I won’t soon forget.


Soccer time in the gym


Rhoni Barton Bischoff and Raimi Merritt preparing bags of food for local families

According to WorldBank.org 35% of El Salvador’s population lives below the country’s poverty line. The GNI (Gross National Income – average income of all families in country) is $3,720 U.S. For perspective, the GNI in America is $53,000. Seeing such poverty up close and personal, especially when we are as lucky as we are to be involved in a sport like wakeboarding, can be somewhat of a shock. But seeing the smiles and joy on the children’s faces quickly fixes everything. You realize within minutes of interacting with them that much of the stuff we cherish isn’t what is important – it is relationships, having fun, and finding joy in life that matters. Going with the Nautique Cares group to El Salvador was one of the coolest trips I’ve been on in my time working in wakeboarding and I am hopeful to go back and revisit the school and community in the future.


Passing out food to families in one of the more impoverished areas near the school


Overall it was an unbelievable experience and it is truly inspiring to see the work of people like the Hamiltons and Nautique to help make the world a better place. For more information on La Tarraya visit www.clatarraya.org


The ship near completion


Soccer time was popular for the kids, and for the wakeboarders


Two students practicing guitar during a lunch break


Bob Hamilton helping members of the Nautique Cares crew move some dirt on the campus where a new building will be constructed