Sunset Surfer Swam at the Olympics

By Connor Fitzpatrick

The chances are good that David Dunford is the only Sunset District resident who is from Kenya and has competed in the Olympic games. 

On paper, the Sunset and Nairobi, Kenya may seem like polar opposites. The Sunset features a calm charm influenced by the Pacific Ocean. Nairobi, Kenya’s capitol, is a bustling metropolis roughly 6,000 feet above sea level. Dunford said that, despite the obvious differences, the two are kindred spirits. 

David Dunford, Andytown on Lawton

David Dunford stands outside Andytown Coffee Roasters on Lawton Street. The Sunset resident swam in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics representing his home country, Kenya. Photo by Connor Fitzpatrick.

“I immediately felt at home here. People had a very similar mindset to what I had grown up with in Kenya: a more positive outlook. I think maybe it’s somewhat tied to the weather,” he said.

Dunford, 30, was born and raised in Nairobi and came to California to attend Stanford University in 2006 after the encouragement of his high school teacher in England.  Along with his older brother, Jason, Dunford studied and swam at Stanford for six years while earning his bachelors and masters degrees in management science and engineering. What sets Dunford’s college experience apart from the norm is that he also competed in the Olympics, where he represented Kenya in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012.  

It was around the end of high school when Dunford realized he had a legitimate shot at achieving his dream of competing in the Olympics. The pedigree of Stanford’s swim team, helmed at the time by coach Skip Kenney, provided Dunford with the challenge and structure he needed to work on his craft.  

“I took a bit of time to adjust to the program,” Dunford said. “I didn’t improve that much my freshman year. It was in the fall of 2007 to the winter of 2008 which is when I really dropped time and that’s when I qualified for the games.”  

Brothers David and Jason were the lone swimmers to represent Kenya at the Olympics. 

“It was my brother and me with about 35 elite runners,” joked Dunford. “It was fun to be a part of that team. Of course from the swimming perspective, it would have been nice to have a bigger team and a more sophisticated coaching staff. Even though swimming is an individual sport, I realized in college that having teammates who are trying to achieve the same goal really does drag you along and push you forward.”  

Dunford said the unique roles he and his brothers played as the only swimmers on the Kenyan team gave them a publicity advantage. Compared to the runners on the Kenyan national team, Dunford said, “I almost felt guilty in a way. We would get much more coverage for getting to the finals or semifinals than a runner would get for winning the gold.”

When he is not working in Mountain View for Zanbato, a financial technology company, Dunford can be found surfing at Ocean Beach.  

“I love the outdoors, especially the ocean, and that’s why I gravitated to the Outer Sunset. On a good day, good swell, Ocean Beach, there’s just no place else I’d rather be,” he said.

Dunford also has a passion for nature conservation, a moral instilled in him growing up in Kenya. He is involved with the Golden Gate Salmon Association and speaks about the plight of the red abalone. 

“Unfortunately, over the last few years rising sea temperatures have led to a lot of the kelp dying off and purple sea urchin coming in, decimating the vegetation and a lot of the abalone are dying off,” he said. “I would like to spend more time and energy figuring out how to be a part of that solution.”

Dunford became a naturalized U.S. citizen in February. He and his wife are eagerly awaiting the imminent birth of twins, their first children.  

It’s not just the surf that keeps Dunford and his wife here. He said that he and his wife are drawn to the Sunset’s sense of community.  

“Everyone is really friendly and wants to get to know you and what’s your story. I think the pace of life is just a little bit different. The diversity in people’s interest and what they do I think is better than overall in the Bay Area.”  

Another similarity between the Sunset and Kenya that Dunford enjoys is the coffee. In Kenya, coffee is a main export and Dunford is happy to see that coffee in San Francisco is now comparable to what he grew up drinking.  

“High quality coffee is abundant these days. It’s a welcome change over the past decade. I used to load my suitcase with coffee beans and fly back to the U.S,” he said. 

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