Ezekiel Lau made Hawaii sports history last week at Huntington Beach, Calif., during the 2010 National Scholastic Surfing Association championships. The 16-year-old from Honolulu won the High School Varsity Men’s Shortboard title, becoming the first national interscholastic surf champion in Kamehameha Schools’ 123-year history. Lau also won the NSSA Explorer Men’s crown.
Lau, who will be a junior at Kamehameha in the fall, surfed against five Californians who were a lot more familiar with Huntington Beach, but he prevailed.
"When I won it felt like all this hard work paid off and I got to show the talent that came from Kamehameha," Lau said. "And show that you can go to a traditional school and still pursue a surfing career."
Lau was part of the first surf team at Kamehameha, the only school from Hawaii competing at the NSSAs. Even though the team was endorsed by the Kamehameha administration, it wasn’t funded in the athletic department budget and was forced to raise its own money and pay out of pocket to compete at the national level. Lau’s first-place finish in the short board division helped Kamehameha to seventh place in the nation despite having only six surfers.
Lau is the only sponsored surfer at Kamehameha. Mainland teams had at least nine members on their varsity squads and had multiple sponsored surfers.
The competition on the mainland was tough, but it wasn’t nearly as challenging as the injury Lau fought through this past winter. Lau was dry docked for three months due to spondylosis, a degeneration of the joints in the neck.
"I backtracked and pretty much didn’t know how to surf when I started surfing," said Lau of his arduous rehabilitation. "I had to fully teach myself how to do turns again and pretty much relearn the whole sport before the next contest."
Lau rallied in the spring and led the Kamehameha surf team to a state championship in the O’Neill High School Surf Club Challenge presented by Hawaii Surfing Productions. Kamehameha had an undefeated record (5-0) in the three HSP contests, competing against OIA schools like Kahuku, Kalaheo and Kalani.
"Right now (surfing) is still on the club level, and basically because we don’t have a league to compete in and we don’t have enough teams in the ILH to have a competition, so we’ve had to compete with different schools," said president and headmaster of Kamehameha Schools’ Kapalama campus Michael Chun, who also is a surfer and an accomplished athlete. "This is something we’ve been talking about for many, many years. … I’ve always given a strong endorsement for surfing."
The problem all schools in Hawaii face with surfing is the precarious matter of liability. There has been much progress within the last two years to legitimize surfing as an interscholastic sport in Hawaii. Chun said the success of interscholastic paddling programs is helping schools navigate through safety and liability concerns.
"It was very rewarding for me to see all the hard work from what has happened," said Kamehameha coach Lea Arce of Lau and the team. "And of what people have done in the past and bringing it all together so that we can continue a successful program for the future generations."