About 10 years ago, John Bowman had the vision to start a summer camp to teach kids to surf — an experience he says led him on his journey to find Jesus. But over time, the business side of it took him away from the heart of the matter.
He was not alone in this feeling, Bowman recalls. Silent partner Kris Cox, of Cox Chevrolet, pulled him aside one day after their many board of directors or advisory board meetings.
“My heart is not in this anymore,” Bowman says Cox told him.
Bowman was taken back. Later on, he pulled Cox aside, wanting to talk about it.
Never miss a local story.
“Kris, I hate this,” Bowman told a relieved Cox.
Bowman and Cox had allowed the ever-growing day-to-day stuff take them from he wanted to do — which was just get in the water, teach kids to catch a wave and mentor them in the process.
Eternal Summer Surf Camp continues to grow with two new campuses in the works, but for Bowman it’s all about getting back to basics teaching children to surf and guiding them on their own quest to find God.
Bowman started the camp in Anna Maria, and it now includes locations on Siesta Key and in Venice, where every Sunday for six weeks in the summer kids can learn to surf for free.
“I started it as a way of combining my two passions,” Bowman said. “I found Christ through friends of mine that surfed.”
And it was a run-in with one of his former campers, Cameron Rogers, that allowed Bowman to get back into the water. Rogers, who was then in college, was interested in getting involved with a Christian nonprofit.
Bowman thought it was a sign from God, that Rogers was meant to work with the surf camp.
Today, Rogers is the executive director of the summer camp and handles all the day-to-day operations. It allows Bowman to have the time to refocus back on why he started the camp.
He looks forward to Sundays in the summer.
“For two hours on Sundays, I work with the same group,” Bowman said. “I get to know them while we are waiting for a wave.”
Thanks to Rogers, Bowman said, the camp is also able to utilize more of the parents and volunteers who had offered help for years.
“I am really bad at delegating,” Bowman said. “Cameron is so good at that.”
The camp wants to add locations in Fort Myers and St. Petersburg next summer, and they are already working out the details to make it happen.
Bowman says he found God when he was 13.
“When I read the Bible as a kid, it sounded as absolute nonsense to me,” Bowman said. “I was more of a humanist, that God was created in the image of man.”
Today when he reads the Bible, he says the words jump off the page at him. Through mentorship, he tries to help children understand how Jeremiah 29:13 says that, when you search for God, you find him.
“The goal of the surf camp is that they have to search God themselves,” Bowman said. “If they search for God with all of their hearts and minds.”