The first of many community-inspired activations around the 35th Annual Vans Triple Crown of Surfing took place this past Saturday and saw an assembly of legendary waterman and women, professional surfers, volunteers, parents and keiki (kids) gather at Haleiwa Beach Park on Oahu's North Shore. The non-profit Na Kama Kai welcomed youth ages 2 - 18 to learn about the ocean in a fun, hands-on way to cultivate understanding and respect for the coastline and ultimately etch a sense of stewardship for both the aina (land) and kai (ocean) into the future of Hawaii.
Founded by legendary waterman and World Longboard Champion Duane Desoto, Na Kama Kai was inspired by surfing and its ability to connect people and communities to causes such as ocean safety, environmental preservation, Hawaiian values and perpetuation and healthy lifestyles. Na Kama Kai empowers youth through education, culture and ocean activities and nurtures the mentality as they grow into young adults and eventually the business owners, politicians, professionals and parents that lead Hawaii.
"The idea about Na Kama Kai sprouted off of being so fortunate to be a surfer," said Duane. "Surfing professionally since I was 16 years old, I was able to see the world and then come home and realize what a tremendous gem Makaha Beach was, and that this lifestyle doesn't exist anywhere else." Duane also recognized that many kids living in Makaha and the west side of Oahu weren't able to celebrate the ocean because they didn't have the access or knowledge to enjoy it safely.
"The impetus is to insert the children into the ocean and into our programming and within that they build their confidence and expand their horizons," Duane continued. "Ultimately what happens is after being in the ocean and having that relationship with the water, they then want to be the caretakers and the stewards of the ocean and the land, and we teach that relationship."
Volunteers included professional and perpetually stoked surfers Dane and Tanner Gudauskas, who have partnered with Duane and Na Kama Kai on youth development and stoke sessions in the past. They also joined Haleiwa surfing legend Jock Sutherland, QS competitor from Honolulu Kaito Kino, and Hawaiian navigator and Hōkūleʻa crew member Haunani Kane, among many other local volunteers, to partner individually with the keiki for stand-up paddle sessions and outrigger canoe rides.
"For us, it's so fun being able to help the younger generation, especially in Hawaii because the kids are so rad and you get to feel that Hawaiian ‘Ohana (family)," said Tanner. "I love coming down and seeing the community and for me the most fulfilling part is seeing the kids smile and get stoked."
The day also included education stations about wayfinding, marine life protection and safe ocean practices. Na Kama Kai teaches children the acronym K.A.I. as a reminder to Know Your Limits, Ask a Lifeguard and Identify the Hazards before entering the water to ultimately reduce the amount of accidents in the ocean.
The morning began with a pule (prayer), warm blue skies and calm water as keiki filled the beach park with chatter and excitement and volunteers suited up for the day's activities. Vans was on site to pass out goodie bags stuffed with hats, sunglasses, stickers and more to make sure every kid went home drenched in saltwater and stoke.