POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Nov 08, 2010
"By surfing you understand who you are. Those who surf have an inner connection to the ocean and the elements and an awareness of the world outside themselves. If you make a bad choice on a wave, you wipe out and you learn to change your actions. If you make a good choice, you get the ultimate ride. When you take that knowledge into your life, you make better choices."
This is what Judge Naunanikinau Kamalii told me after surfing with at-risk teens during our Surfrider Spirit Sessions program. She's among a growing community of justice professionals, recovering youth, educators and counselors who are all saying the same thing: Surfing can save young lives.
Surfrider Spirit Sessions began with my 2005 book, "The Surfer Spirit." Zen-like sayings and photos of great surfers including Kelly Slater, Perry Dane and Taj Burrows showed how surfing connects us to nature, to ourselves and to each other. Overwhelming positive response to the book got me thinking: Surfing could change other people's lives, too.
Many teens in Hawaii are dealing with family problems, abuse, drugs and alcohol and poverty. Some make poor choices and find themselves labeled "delinquent" and are thrown into "bad land." With more than 5,000 youths in Hawaii's juvenile justice system, the need for positive intervention is great to keep them from becoming adult criminals.
In 2006, I volunteered my time and donated profits from the book to launch Surfrider Spirit Sessions. Judge Karen Radius and several probation officers and counselors joined me and my buddies from Surfrider Foundation as we took court-appointed youth out to surf. We made sure everyone caught a wave the first day. Everyone was stoked!
One counselor equated one surf session to a month of group therapy. Surfing broke down barriers and built bonds between the teens and their "surf buddy" mentors. We gave mini-environmental science lessons and taught life-skills: how to reach out and ask for help, fill out job applications and interview well. Hawaiian culture and eco-therapy strengthened our "surf ohana." We showed kids how to work hard and get back to "good land."
Word got out and I was asked if I could help more youths. So, in 2008 I shut down my successful graphic design business to devote myself fully to this effort.
Surfrider Spirit Sessions is a nonprofit organization that helps kids cross over from "bad land" to "good land." Teens come to us struggling with confusion, addiction, abuse and loneliness. By connecting to positive role models and healthy activity, they gain self-awareness, self-esteem and a connection to the environment. Some go back to school, others get jobs and internships, and all learn to give back through community service or as junior mentors. Best of all, they find a way out of court and into "good land" as contributing members of the community.
Saskia Verbeck wrote about her son Kimo, now a junior mentor manager: "The court system did a lot to deter him from behaving a certain way. But without the Surfrider Spirit Sessions, there would have been nothing meaningful to turn toward."
We're grateful for the support of many wonderful individual donors, corporations and foundations and dozens of volunteer surf mentors. But we need the community to pitch in and help us grow stronger for the sake of our youth.
Every contribution made between now and the end of the year toward this effort will attract a matching donation (up to $50,000). So every dollar given will go twice as far.
Think about it. On any given day more than 125 juveniles are incarcerated in Hawaii, often for minor offenses. It costs taxpayers more than $150,000 to incarcerate one teen for a year. A fraction of that investment can give a kid better options. Over the long term, Surfrider Spirit Sessions delivers a far better, life-saving return on investment.
No one says it better than the kids themselves. One young woman shared her journal entry with me: "I rode a wave. Balance, center, paddle faster. Catch more waves. My choice. To stand up, paddle faster, choose certain waves. How it relates to my life? I have a choice to run away from home (but I don't want to) or to make myself a better person and a leader. Catch more waves."