comscore He's a champion of causes | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

He’s a champion of causes

    Duane DeSoto helped keep 4-year-old Alaka'i Wills steady during a recent surfing clinic at Ewa Beach Park.
    World longboard champion Duane DeSoto conducts free surfing clinics for kids through his foundation Na Kama Kai.

Duane DeSoto didn’t need the official title of world champion to be considered one. He has been a champion of causes long enough to understand that winning surf contests is not a priority in everybody’s life.

But just for the record, DeSoto is now the world champion of longboard surfing.

He earned that title on Nov. 5 when he won the Oxbow ASP World Longboard Championship at Makaha Beach.

DeSoto grew up in the waves at Makaha and has long been considered one of Hawaii’s top watermen — an expert in stand-up paddle surfing, canoe paddling, tandem surfing and big-wave tow-in surfing, all in addition to longboard surfing.

Seventeen years ago, he was a teen phenom in the sport of longboard surfing and was invited to compete in the World Longboard Championship. He had been chasing that trophy every year since.

"After 17 years, I finally got one," said DeSoto, 33. "What a relief. There were a couple years there where I was kind of doubting myself a little bit, saying ‘Am I ever going to get it?’ "

DeSoto now joins an elite list of world longboard champions from Hawaii. The others are Rusty Keaulana (1993, 1994, 1995), Bonga Perkins (1996 and 2008) and Dino Miranda (1997).

Inspiration came easy for DeSoto. The weekend before the contest started, he led a free ocean clinic at Makaha Beach for underprivileged children.

"It was mostly kids from Waianae and Makaha, and it was the first time we did a clinic at Makaha, so that was a pleasure for me," he said. "Instead of focusing on the contest, all my focus was with those kids, and that probably helped me when the contest started a couple days after that. Once the contest started, I just had this really good feeling — I don’t know if it was because of those kids, or because it was at Makaha or what."

DeSoto has been feeling good by making children feel good since 2007, thanks to his non-profit organization called Na Kama Kai (which translates to "children of the sea"). With the help of family and friends, DeSoto has been conducting numerous free ocean clinics through Na Kama Kai.

"We try to do at least two a month, sometimes as many as four or five," he said his wife, Malia. "We started small in 2007. I remember when we first started, I was making lunches for the kids. Now we have over 40 volunteers and we found sponsors who can help out with lunches and other stuff."

In 2010 alone, more than 1,500 children have participated in the Na Kama Kai clinics. DeSoto has even conducted private clinics for children from foster care homes and youth correctional facilities.

"We want to work with different communities, get as many kids involved as we can," DeSoto said. "But our first priority is the underprivileged kids."

Each clinic varies, depending on the location. If there are small waves, the children might learn how to shape surfboards, then use similar wooden boards to ride waves. "To show them the connection between the mountain and the sea; to understand how a tree can become an ocean equipment," DeSoto said.

If the ocean is flat, they might paddle a canoe out to sea, then turn around and study the island from that ocean perspective.

"When you’re out there, you can see so much more," DeSoto explained. "So we show them how the mountains, the rivers, all lead to the ocean and so it’s important to take care of the land and the sea."

The clinics have become so popular that DeSoto estimates he spends 30 to 40 hours per week on Na Kama Kai-related activities. Of course, that means that he has 30 to 40 hours less to spend in the ocean himself.

Not that it matters anymore.

"For years, it was a pressure to win the world title, so I went out and surfed and surfed and surfed," he said. "But Na Kama Kai gave me something so much more to be proud of and focus on, it took the pressure off my surfing."

That passion is genuine, his wife says.

"He can literally talk about Na Kama Kai all day," Malia said. "I think winning the world title was a realization of one of his lifetime goals, but I think he also realizes he has something bigger beyond surfing, and that’s Na Kama Kai."

Indeed, DeSoto said he only had a few days to celebrate and enjoy his world championship victory before he had to start planning the agenda for the next Na Kama Kai clinic.

"It can be taxing because we are doing this for free right now," he said. "But it truly is meaningful. It’s cool to see the kids’ faces light up, or the way they respond when they understand the message you’re trying to get across."

Duane and Malia have six children of their own, ranging in age from 14 years to four months. The older ones help at the clinics; the younger ones hang out and play on the beach.

"The way we look at it, this is a legacy for our children," Malia said. "What Duane is doing with Na Kama Kai will leave a bigger footprint than being world champ."

DeSoto realizes, however, that the two work together.

"If being world champ means I have to travel more, do more contests, fine," he said. "That gives me more opportunities to tell people about Na Kama Kai."


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