Riding the community wave

April 1, 2007

Dr. Beckett reaches some 2,500 young people each year with the message about sun safety.

"I started mowing lawns and doing all sorts of jobs to get enough money to buy my first surfboard," he recalls.

The 60-year-old is still surfing. But today, he is known as the surfing dermatologist and an educator in the community. Dr. Beckett, who has practiced for 28 years in Santa Cruz, Calif., and provided decades of volunteer teaching at Stanford University, says teaching kids and adults about sun safety while promoting the surfing lifestyle is his way of giving back.

His volunteer teaching goes back more than 20 years, to when his children were involved in the local junior life-guard program.

"It is a great program, teaching safety and skills related to the ocean," Dr. Beckett says. "I was watching the kids on the beach one day, noticing that they were getting a lot of unprotected sun exposure, and the lifeguard instructors were not putting much emphasis on sun safety."

Dr. Beckett approached the program's head lifeguard about teaching the kids about the effects of UV damage and how to practice sun safety. The lifeguard embraced the idea and invited Dr. Beckett to join the program.

"I started with my children's' local program, giving talks about how to be safe in the sun while at the beach and in the ocean," he says. "I would give a presentation to each group, and there are usually two groups each summer. That program has blossomed to the point that there are six separate junior lifeguard programs in Santa Cruz County that I give talks to every summer. I also give smaller annual presentations to the city, county and state lifeguard units."

Dr. Beckett reaches some 2,500 young people each year with the message about sun safety.

The parent noted that because Dr. Beckett is a dermatologist and a surfer, the kids listen, and the parents no longer have to hound them about sun safety.

Dr. Beckett has also received his fair share of feedback from the youth.

"I was out surfing one day and paddled by a kid who noticed me and said, 'Hey! Dr. Beckett. I got my sunscreen on!' "

From small start to big screen

With funding from the Santa Cruz Medical Foundation, Dr. Beckett and colleagues produced a DVD called "Sun Safety: The Skin Never Forgets."

The 15-minute film features him surfing and teaching. Public television and school districts in the area have since used the video as a teaching tool, and the California State Lifeguard Association is using it as one of its educational tools for personnel.

For more than a decade, Dr. Beckett and other dermatologists in the community have used the American Academy of Dermatology skin cancer screening format to offer free screenings at surf contests and at the O'Neill Surf Shop in Santa Cruz.