Commitment to service started with a love of skateboarding
Sam Peralta learned much during his skate camp-youth mission travels, particularly from the indigenous groups he worked with often. Yet he kept asking himself what he could do to give back on Maui.
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Sam Peralta, 32, is the student government president at the University of Hawaii Maui College. He was a skateboarder before he was a political science student, leading skateboarding camps through youth missions in such places as Australia, Papua New Guinea and even North Korea.
It all started at age 11, when he was playing near his Maui Lani home. He saw a young kid on a skateboard being pulled by a dog.
“Then he did an ollie,” Peralta says, referring to a maneuver in which the skater leaps into the air with feet still on the board. “I ran home, and though I never begged for anything before, I begged my parents to get me a skateboard.”
From that day forward he spent five to eight hours a day after school trying to match that jump. Peralta’s now been in or led skate camps for half his life.
“I love the freedom and independence of it. I grew up quiet and reserved, following rules. Skateboarding is the opposite of that,” he laughs. “I also liked the relational aspect. Touring those skate parks was the most bonding experience. It gave me more self-confidence and I felt most alive.”
Peralta says a trip to North Korea with Surfing the Nations, a nonprofit founded in Hawaii that combines community service and humanitarian work with action sports, had the biggest impact on his life.
“It warmed my heart because it made me appreciate the freedoms and privileges we have here on Maui compared to a country like that,” he says.
Born in Texas, raised in Kauai and later Wailuku, where he now lives, Peralta learned much during those skate camp-youth mission travels, particularly from the indigenous groups he worked with often. Yet he kept asking himself what he could do to give back on Maui. In 2017 he signed up for Hawaiian language classes.
“I still had no idea what I was going to do, but I started that 100-level class and felt centered,” Peralta says, “like it was exactly where I was supposed to be. In Hawaiian, words embody results and action, not just a literal translation. Words like ‘mauna’ mean something more than ‘mountain.’ ‘Mau,’ for example, means ‘ongoing, preservation, unceasing.’”
Studying the language shifted how he understood his own responsibility. He soon joined the student government partnership with the administration at UH Maui College.
“It’s given me some of the best opportunities on Maui,” Peralta says. “I was involved in a sister-city governance trip to the Philippines with a student exchange component to Polytechnic University of the Philippines. I learned about the history, politics and arts of my ancestral homeland. It inspired me to be a better leader, seeing Filipinos like myself lead in various fields of society.”
Peralta doesn’t know yet where his studies will take him, but he remains committed to learning and to the community. He works in construction, promotes the One Eighty Maui 808 All Day apparel brand and the Christian ministry One Love Skate, substitute-teaches at Kamehameha Schools’ preschools and state Department of Education Hawaiian-language immersion schools, and is an outreach coordinator for New Hope Maui.
“Sam does what he does because he wants to see change in people’s lives,” says Dwayne Bestill, who met Peralta in Australia in 2012 and now works with him at New Hope Maui. “He wants to be an influencer of culture and people. He wants to see people stop saying, ‘I don’t care,’ and begin to say, ‘I can make a difference in my world.’”
“I just want others to experience the kind of freedoms and privileges I have,” Peralta says. “I really learned the best way to lead is to serve. And it was skateboarding that taught me how to be independent, take risks and not be so judgmental.”