This year's Rell Sunn poster, designed by Alison Seiffer of
This year’s Rell Sunn poster, designed by Alison Seiffer of

by Dave Davis

Editor’s Note: The Rell Sunn Memorial Surf Benefit has been moved from Aug. 12 to Aug. 13 due to rain expected on Aug. 12.

It’s not all that difficult to imagine there may come a day in one’s future when a debilitating illness or an unexpected tragic event has put you in a seemingly impossible financial hole, unable to keep up with the skyrocketing medical costs or other expenses.

Unfortunately for some, this is a reality that’s not off in the distant future, but a real-time, current experience affecting individuals and families here in our own backyard. The upside to this difficult situation is that there exists a special group of souls at the East End Foundation (EEF), who’ve for nearly 20 years now not only raised and distributed some essential funds to those desperately in need, but have become a catalyst in bringing together a community of exceptional, like-minded people who want to assist with the process, any way they can.

The EEF sponsors Annual Rell Sunn Memorial Surf Benefit and Raffle, which draws hundreds of participants and spectators from both near and far. It’s being held this year on Saturday, Aug. 12 at Ditch Plain beach in Montauk.

Traditionally, there’s a rather moving ceremony referred to as the “Blessing of the Water,” which launches at 8 a.m. The EEF also holds a corresponding Fine Art Auction, which takes place the following Saturday, Aug. 19 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Colin Wood’s beautifully-appointed Gallery at the Terrace, overlooking the ocean on the Atlantic Terrace’s beachfront property.

For those not familiar with the namesake of the event, Rell Sunn, among many other amazing lifetime accomplishments, was an American world champion and pioneer in women’s surfing, beginning in the 1960s and carrying into the early ‘80s when, after a 15-year battle with breast cancer, eventually succumbed to the disease in 1998. It’s Ms. Sunn’s perseverance, unwavering commitment to community outreach, and unrivaled ambassadorship of the sport, that made her an obvious choice for the EEF to honor her legacy.

What began two decades ago as the brainchild of locals Roger Feit and Dorothy Peale has since grown to include dozens of passionate, behind-the-scenes volunteers who put in some serious hours of organizing, marketing, coordination of donations and the like, to pull off such a remarkably successful fundraiser.

Mr. Feit, a former Grand Master surfing champion whose passion to become a better steward of the environment led to his success as a regional trailblazer in the field of organic landscaping, now channels much of that energy into philanthropic needs such as the EEF.

I unexpectedly experienced first-hand evidence of the foundation’s ability to make a difference in the lives of others, in the form of an unsolicited comment offered by an employee while I was making a purchase at a local establishment. I was talking to her about the topic of my August column, and no sooner had I said the words “Rell Sunn” than she immediately responded with “Roger and the others at the foundation are amazing people; they literally saved my life a few years back.”

What can you say; it truly doesn’t get more real and personal than that. 

Alice Housekneckt, former owner of the legendary oceanfront East Deck Motel and longtime Assistant to the Director at the EEF, also showered praise upon those involved with the planning and execution of this event.

“So much goes into making this a success year after year” she said. “Everyone from the artist designing the poster to those soliciting works to be offered at the auction, along with countless others who help out before, during and after; all deserve recognition.”

I caught up with one of the 20 or so artists who will generously donate a piece to this year’s fundraiser on August 19 — the incredibly talented seascape photographer Gary Kuehn.

I had a brief moment to sit down with him at the opening reception of his shared exhibit with sculptor Luke Schumacher, which runs through Aug. 6 at the Woodbine Collection (a bright and airy gallery created by Kristy Schopper and Colin Brown), at 649 Montauk Highway at the entrance to Montauk village.

Though this is the first time the photographer has donated one of his spectacular sweeping views of Montauk to the Rell Sunn auction (he most recently shared his artistry by contributing a piece to a fundraiser for the Montauk Community Garden, held back in May of this year at the Harvest on Fort Pond), the enthusiasm in being asked to lend his talent to help others in need was quite noticeable.

Mr. Kuehn, who’s been shooting digitally for about 15 years, typically uses metal, acrylic or wood as a base; therefore creating an endless, expansive vista for each frameless photo; allowing it to literally spill out onto the wall on which it’s mounted.

“I couldn’t be happier to contribute a piece to such a worthy cause as the Rell Sunn. They go hand in hand,”  he said. “So much of my work is an expression of motion and flow that it fits perfectly into the surfing theme for this particular fundraiser.”

After spending the better part of an hour mesmerized by the clarity and scope of his stunning works at the gallery that evening, it’s no wonder he was approached by the EEF to donate one of them.

Though Montauk persists in effectively trying to navigate the undulations that go along with being labeled the “It” place to be, there exists a steadfast, caring community that doesn’t blink when it comes to aiding one of its own. Be it orphaned children taken in by a compassionate neighbor or providing financial assistance and services to those not covered by insurance, the true “heart” of the Montauk that I’ve known for nearly 50 years. continues to beat stronger than ever.

To register for the various surfing competitions being held on August 12th or to find out more information regarding the EEF and its mission, you can visit their website at

I hope to see you on the beach or at the auction. Mahalo!

Dave Davis
Dave Davis teaches preschool for the Head Start program based at the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton, NY. He is also a frequent contributor to “Who Smarted?,” a popular educational podcast for elementary school children.

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