Adventure junkie Joel Cesare ’04 lives what he loves.
Waist deep in the Pacific Ocean, Joel Cesare ’04 is holding the tail of a surfboard, waiting for the perfect wave to give Jasmine a fighting chance in riding it to shore.
“Paddle, paddle,” he says, pushing the dark-haired teen’s board ahead of the swell. “As soon as you feel the energy of the wave, pop up like we taught you on the beach.”
Jasmine looks unsure but does as instructed, slowly rising to her feet and stretching her arms in the iconic surfer stance.
“Yeeoww!” yells Cesare, pumping his fists in the air like a prizefighter.
Cesare was celebrating not only Jasmine’s feat but also his role as a social entrepreneur in making it happen.
On this day, Jasmine is one of 20 teens from the Los Angeles chapter of the nonprofit Stoked Mentoring learning to surf with the help of boards donated by Cesare’s company, StokeShare.
Cesare and a fellow adventure junkie founded the online company in 2014. The action sports equivalent of Airbnb, StokeShare allows users to rent surfboards, snow skis, kayaks, tents, and other outdoor gear directly from their owners. The company has an inventory of about 500 items, and more than 1,000 users in 11 countries have rented a piece of equipment from the site.
“You can’t store a stand-up paddleboard or kayak in a small apartment so our motto is ‘Own less, do more,’” says Cesare, who is on the lookout for investors. “That shouldn’t be a barrier to enjoying the outdoors. It’s about access over ownership. It promotes resource efficiency, reduces waste, and makes it easier to get people into nature through action sports.”
The company leverages its business model for social impact, partnering with area nonprofits to empower at-risk teens through the rush of action sports while raising awareness about environmental issues.
“When we decided to be entrepreneurs, it never dawned on us that we wouldn’t do something socially driven with the company,” says Cesare, who works by day as Santa Monica’s sustainable building adviser. “Some of it is my upbringing—my mom always reminded us to use our gifts to help others—but it also gives us the opportunity to educate young people about the threats the planet is facing through experiential learning. The world needs more eco-conscious people in the future.”
Cesare developed a passion for the environment while at Lafayette, where he was a founding member of the College’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders. He joined the University of California, Santa Barbara chapter while in grad school and traveled to Peru to work with a village that had put in a clean water system and solar panels at a school.
Action sports is a great medium for teaching life lessons about discipline and grit, says Cesare. There’s only one thing to do when you fall off a surfboard, and that’s climb back on.
“The ocean, the mountains, the river—these elements can be unforgiving,” he says. “By showing young people they can overcome their fears, learn new skills, and persevere, we are empowering them to pursue a better future.”
Connecting inner-city teens with the outdoors is just part of the social equation Cesare hopes to address with his company. The other half involves asking customers if he can use the equipment they’ve listed on his website for that purpose.
“We get to tell our customers, ‘Look, not only is your gear sitting on StokeShare hopefully making you money, but it may transform a young person’s life,’” he says. “It’s not just about helping at-risk youth, but making connections between communities who otherwise wouldn’t be crossing paths.”