“Storytelling has this incredible power.”
Name: Emi Koch
Education: Georgetown University
Passions and Interests: Surfing, videography, and storytelling
Transformational Experiences: GLA International Director of Costa Rica: Sports Service Adventure and Costa Rica: Protecting the Pacific™
Making an Impact: Founder and Director of Beyond the Surface International and a professional free surfer for Billabong Women
Emi grew up in southern California, and living there, her compass spun in only three directions. She knew Los Angeles was to the north, the rest of the country to the east, and (as any good surfer would know), the Pacific Ocean was to the west.
It wasn’t until she did a service trip in high school to Tijuana that she came to understand what had been missing. As she put it, beyond that wall:
The south really never existed for me.”
While she stood in an impoverished community near Tijuana, she had a realization. She could see a city gleaming in the distance.
I really never realized there was this severe state of poverty just 15 minutes south of downtown San Diego.”
Emi’s life and perspective have changed a lot since that first excursion into the unknown all those years ago, and it has shaped the woman she’s become. As a professional free surfer for Billabong Women, Emi doesn’t compete; instead, she supports youth empowerment and ocean preservation projects around the world using her sponsorships. Graduating from Georgetown University with a degree in Psychology and double concentrations in Anthropology and Justice & Peace Studies, she’s applied her education to the initiatives that mean most to her, and is a relentless traveler in pursuit of her mission.
It is through this incredible history that Emi found herself working for GLA for two summers in row.
First, Emi directed GLA’s Protecting the Pacific™ program in Costa Rica, taking her passion for ocean conservation and working with underserved communities to high school students who want to make a difference in the world. In 2016, Emi helped to launch GLA’s new Costa Rica: Sports Service Adventure program, where her surfing expertise and experience in the field helped her run multiple successful sessions over the summer.
Emi is also the Founder and Director at Beyond the Surface International (www.
Emi’s nomadic lifestyle has led her to a lot of unique places, including living in a Buddhist monastery in Nepal for the summer where she taught art classes, which she credits for showing her the healing powers of peacefully and gracefully sharing one’s story.
As Emi likes to put it, because she is one out of every hundred people in this world fortunate enough to have a college education:
I have a responsibility to the 99 other people in the village.”
That is why storytelling is so crucial to her mission, because storytelling is, as Emi tells it, “the most ancient and powerful activism tool. Stories shared through art, photography, film, and murals cannot be muted.” Her projects provide the tools for youth to share their stories with the world as part of her mission to make it a more compassionate home for all people.
When asked if she could give one piece of advice to a high school student now, she said this:
Go out into the world and embrace self-compassion… As James Baldwin wrote, “Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word ‘love’ here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace – not in the sense of being made happy, but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”
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