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But it's not just the stars of the sport supporting causes from the humanitarian to the environmental. Jesse Billauer, a surfer who became paralyzed 13 years ago after crashing headfirst into a sandbar, founded the Life Rolls On Foundation to help others affected by spinal cord injuries. Operation Amped has introduced surfing's restorative powers to the military community, teaching wounded war veterans to ride waves. Likewise, the grassroots organization SurfAid International was among the first responders to go in after the 2004 Indonesian tsunami and help rebuild, and the apparel company Volcom recently initiated a campaign to donate thousands of surf trunks to local charities. Surfers for Cetaceans, an organization cofounded by Australian surfer Dave Rastovich, has drawn worldwide attention to the commercial massacre of dolphins in Japan; his fearless investigation of the underwater slaughterhouse dubbed "the Killing Cove" inspired the 2009 documentary The Cove .

Maybe a larger sense of commitment and perspective is simply endemic to a sport that involves a thrilling proximity to nature, in all its soul-stirring limitlessness. "The surfing horizon is not bounded by a white line or fairway," says the 1977 World Champion and Surfrider board member Shaun Tomson. "It spans as far as the eye can see, and in that idea of our playing field as the horizon—which connects all of us— we have a different philosophical view of how our sport or lifestyle or art form fits into the world. I think it's a fundamental law of surfing that we all must give back."

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Zach Weisberg is online editor for Surfer Magazine.

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