David and Morgan Surkin have created very cool jobs for themselves as the owners and operators of the PortSports Social Club here in Portland, Maine. They spend their days organizing scores of recreational sports leagues for hundreds of people looking to get in shape, meet new people, or just get out of the house for an evening. PortSports offers standards like bowling, volleyball and tennis as well as wiffleball, kickball and ultimate Frisbee. They regularly organize one-off events like city-wide games of hide and seek, trips to sports games and ski mountains, and rafting and skydiving excursions.
If it's fun, it's likely that Dave and Morgan have or will organize something around it.
Not content to just have a good time, Dave and Morgan have built PortSports around raising money for nonprofit organizations. The winning team of each sport and season get to choose where a portion of the league's dues gets donated. Since starting up in January 2008, they've donated more than $13,000 to various nonprofits with no signs of slowing down.
I've been impressed with Dave and Morgan since first getting to know them as a player in their ultimate Frisbee leagues. They both have a seemingly endless reservoir of energy and dedication and are amazingly talented organizers and promoters. I'm proud to call them friends. I'll also forever be in their debt for inadvertently introducing me to my girlfriend, who I met on a Portsports ultimate Frisbee field.
Here are seven questions for David and Morgan Surkin.
MNN: What's the story behind PortSports? How did you find your way to being recreational sports moguls?
Dave and Morgan Surkin: While having a baby, moving from NYC to Portland, Maine, transitioning careers and trying to find friends in a new place, Dave realized that his career as a professional actor was probably over. He wanted to come up with something else to do that didn't involve being chained to a desk in a cubicle working 9-5, but did involve working with Morgan. Six months later, after settling in and doing some research to determine the need for a sports and social club in Portland, PortSports Social Club was born in the fall of 2007 and launched in January 2008.
What's important about playing?
Playing is important because, to us, every aspect of life is play. People play parents, or play as an employee or boss, or they play house. All of these "life games" are really complex. The games we choose to run for PortSports are simple. There is nothing complicated about playing kickball or wiffleball. There is meditation that can be found in the chaos of playing Ultimate or volleyball. And that meditation allows a person's brain the rest it needs from playing in all of life's more confusing games.
Dave and Morgan have the best. Jobs. Ever. Here they are on a Portsports trip to Wildcat Mountain in New Hampshire.
What's the most surprising thing about your work?
When we started PortSports, we thought we would become experts in recreational games. We would know all there was to know about four square. We would be disc golf gurus. But what we found is that we have become experts in people, relationships and conflict resolution. Organizing leagues that are designed to connect people has allowed us to learn which personality types mix well. We have learned how to mediate on- and off-field conflict, and to help people feel comfortable with their place in a league. Nothing can ruin a social sports league faster than brash hyper-competitiveness. It's very normal for a player to fly off the handle when playing games, but after three years, we have discovered that has little to nothing to do with the game they are playing. The social part of PortSports turned into an experiment very quickly after our launch, and finding that balance and understanding of personalities has been a welcome benefit.
What's the difference between green and greener?
To us the difference between green and greener is, green is an ideal and a state of being, and greener are choices we make to reach that ideal. Implementing bottle collection at some of our sports leagues is making PortSports greener. I am not really sure that we can ever green our leagues fully. Kickballs use a lot of rubber, and the shelf life of the balls is not very long. Baden Sports has created a recycled rubber kickball, so that is greener, but unfortunately they are not readily available. We are not sure it is possible to make everything green in our lifetime, but everyone striving to live greener is a good first step.
Does the world need saving?
If we would like the world to be a nice place to live for us and our children then yes, it needs saving. There is no doubt the earth will outlive all of us. So the real issue is the state that it will be in. Expanding development areas is a great way for all of us to be able to have more stuff. It might be more shopping centers, or movie theaters, or restaurants. The philosophical debate is which matters more? Stuff or nature? If people have ever really connected to nature then they most likely will think the world needs saving. If you are raised in a brown suburb in the middle of the country, a new mega shopping center may invoke the same feelings one could get hiking Mount Katahdin. For those in the know, those two feelings are not even comparable. So in summary, yes, the world needs saving so we can provide the access, perspective, and education it would take to save the world.
Who is one person doing good in the world (besides yourself) who we should know about and why?
Our intern, Shana Natelson, has taken Portland by storm since graduating from Bowdoin last year. She has created an amazing show about sex, relationships, and boundaries called "Speak About It." The show is targeted to first-year college students and is a compilation of real stories written by Bowdoin students. It explores subjects like sexual assault, being an active bystander, and healthy and not healthy relationships. Since the show is written and performed by college students, it is a great way to educate our youth about a subject that gets caught up in political red tape and is uncomfortable for parents to really be open about.
(Shea's note: I asked Dave and Morgan to come up with and answer their own question here) What is your favorite part about running a business like PortSports?
Since our business is a Social Club, we can broaden our reaches as far as we can dream and imagine. For example, Morgan is currently reading up on concert promotion and touring because she wants to put concerts together with bands she loves and wants to share with our member base. When a fun idea aligns with a benefit to our members, we can't go wrong.