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Daily Pilot

The importance of water

Teen makes it his mission to help supply filters to make water potable to those in need of them.

By Jeremiah Dobruck

6:45 PM PST, January 11, 2013

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Kevin Kassel's life revolves around water.

The 17-year-old environmentalist is captain of the surf team at Corona del Mar High School and founder of a club intent on providing drinking water for people without access to it.

Kevin started the H2O Club this school year with the goal of raising $10,000 that will help send 200 water filters across the globe. But the club has been more than two years in the making.

When he was 15, Kevin learned about Hurley's H2O program during a tour of its corporate headquarters in Costa Mesa.

Since 2008, the surf wear company has partnered with professional surfers and clean-water organizations like Waves for Water to distribute portable water filters.

"You can literally scoop water out of the Amazon River, and within five seconds, you can drink it," Kevin said.

Through the H2O program, volunteer couriers deliver the filters to people in designated areas in need of clean water.

"I figured you don't have to be a pro surfer to bring a water filter in your bag and give it to someone," Kevin said.

So he volunteered.

That summer, he'd planned to visit the Galapagos Islands, where he would teach English in a middle school.

Hurley gave him five filters to carry in his luggage. Each of the devices, smaller than a can of soda, can provide drinkable water to 100 people for about five years, as long as they have water to filter, Kevin said.

As his teaching trip ended, Kevin handed over his gift to the school's principal.

"That was actually one of the biggest moments of my life," he said. "When I gave it to the head of the school, I gave him a handshake, and he gave me a hug."

That hug changed Kevin's life.

"I think that's really what made me realize how important water is to people and how much we take it for granted," he said.

After returning home, Kevin started distributing filters to friends, family, classmates — anyone he knew taking a trip to an area in which Hurley wanted to distribute filters.

Kevin and his friends called the Red Cross, local government or another contact and set up a meeting for them to take the filters.

Now Kevin has a set a new goal.

He and classmates are trying to raise money for clean water by selling H2O-branded water bottles. That money, the $10,000 the club hopes to raise, will buy 200 filters.

His classmates have jumped on board, and the H2O Club is already about 70 members strong, attracting anywhere from 20 to 50 members per meeting.

They got their hands on the first shipment of 60 bottles, which were gone in an hour and a half.

Friday, Kevin picked up hundreds of more bottles that will be sold at Zpizza, CdM and other locations throughout Newport.

Kevin is still working out the logistics of how he will distribute the glut of filters, but he has one more event to plan as well.

In February, pro surfer Rob Machado will visit CdM as part of a Hurley pilot program meant to raise awareness about the environmental damage single-use plastic bottles can do.

Machado's visit will coincide with the installation of water-bottle refill stations on CdM's campus. They're meant to encourage the use of the H2O bottles and other reusable containers.

But after Machado's visit and reaching his $10,000 goal, Kevin has no plans to stop.

Eventually he would like to distribute filters at a discount, or for free, to anyone traveling somewhere there's a need for clean water — raising awareness and letting someone help fix the problem all in one action.

"My ultimate goal is to have an H2O station in every international airport and give people the opportunity to take a water filter with them to take into one of our designated zones," Kevin said.

jeremiah.dobruck2@latimes.com

Twitter: @jeremiahdobruck