Hōpupu: “the sublime state experienced by a person who has just become one with a wave. Ecstasy. The sensory reward for having surfed well.”1
People are often put through significant trials in their lives. The causes of sadness, challenge, and obstacles for Hawai’i’s youth are many, but the Surf Rider Spirit Sessions have found a path toward healing for these children from all walks of life. Although they are considered “at-risk,” sociologically, the staff and volunteers at Surf Rider Spirit Sessions don’t see them this way.
The philosophy is simple, yet profoundly empowering:
“We believe our youth are ‘Champions in Training,’ and we are coaches who support them, push them when needed, and cheer them on to succeed…we’ve seen their passion and spirit, and we know they thrive on challenges. We see their potential and know what they can do.”2surferspirit.org
Yesterday, I got to go to my first Spirit Session as a mentor. My fellow mentors and I gathered around, wondering who we would be mentoring, checking the waves, and putting on sunscreen. The session was scheduled from 12pm-4pm, and we were getting sweaty in our rash-guards. We had 2 students for the day, meaning we could all get to know each other before paddling out and catching some waves.
Each of us wears a blue rash-guard. We are a family now. We can see each other in the line-up, knowing that each of us has the other’s back, an assurance that is quite foreign to some of these young boys and girls, who are between the ages of 10-18. We are a family, and the blue rash-guards, however hot they might be getting in the mid-day sun, are a signal of that bond.
He‘e nalu: “to slide on waves”
Nalu: “wave; to reflect, to meditate”
Na: “peace, calm”
alu: “to cooperate, to act together”3
To the untrained eye, surfing might seem like just a hobby, just a form of exercise, but it is assuredly not only those things. Surfing is a meditation and lesson, a journey into oneself through a journey into the ocean. The name says it all—these are not simply surfing sessions—these are Spirit sessions, meant to imbue students with a sense of how much more surfing can be, how full and vibrant they themselves are.
We circle up and introduce ourselves, saying where we are from, our connection to the program, and our favorite food. We have a quick warm-up stretch, each of us contributing a stretch for the group to follow along with. We are itching to get into the water, to find respite from the heat, but then we must do a swim test. A friendly Waikīkī lifeguard shares some tips about ocean safety. Finally, we paddle out.
We play, we laugh, we get frustrated and tumbled, and we catch waves. We duck under when boards of fellow surfers come flying at us, and we protect each other. The girls catch waves, and they fall. I fall often, unused to the 8’6” I’ve traded in for my usual 5’11”, but the falling is part of the lesson, and we are teaching the girls that falling isn’t a bad thing. In fact, falling is a part of everything—what matters is getting back up and trying again. After an hour, everyone is sun-warmed and tired-armed, ready to head back in.
I journal along with the other girls:
Date/ Time/ Location:
Wave Height: 2-3 foot faces, occasional 4
Wind Speed: 10-12 knots
Tide: 2-foot-high tide at 12:15pm
Sections surfed: Inside Canoes, Waikīkī Beach
1. How I felt before?
Frazzled from running errands before showing up. Nervous about interacting with the mentees. Excited to paddle out and share my surfing knowledge, to cheer each of them on.
2. How I felt after?
Even more excited, ready to help the girls catch more waves. Excited for next week, hungry, a little sun-burnt. Mostly happy I could finally make time to be a mentor.
3. What did I do well?
I was an awesome cheerleader for the girls and my fellow mentors.
4. What would I like to do better next week?
Interact more, not be embarrassed to talk to the students, improve my long-boarding.
5. Goal for next week? Chat with more of the girls and get to know them better.
Each session has a theme. Today’s theme was choices, and we contemplate what making choices means, what accepting the consequences of our choices means. How do we make better choices for ourselves, and keep practicing making positive choices? How do we deal with the choices we’ve made, without getting caught up in them, or losing out on the opportunity to learn from them?
How did I experience today’s theme?
Today I experienced the theme in making the choice to come here. I chose this challenge, because it is a challenge worth pursuing, it’s not even a challenge—it’s an opportunity. Teaching others the joy of surfing is one of my passions. I made the choice to be here, because this is the wave I want to ride.
How does this theme relate to other parts of life?
Each of us has the capacity to make any number of choices in our lives. Some choices are constructive, some are destructive. Learning from our choices is the most important part of growing, because when we remain stuck in our choices, we cannot grow. I’ve made plenty of bad choices in my own life—how do I overcome them? How do I teach these students that their imperfections are not failures, but beautiful parts of themselves, just as I’ve had to teach this lesson to myself, time and again?
We finish journaling, and we get to eat. We share a meal together, sitting on pareohs and towels spread about the grass, trying to keep the pigeons and birds at bay. We mālama ‘āina, and pick up cigarette butts, floss picks, strange items of trash you would not expect to see, but sadly do. We smile at what we have accomplished for today. We put our hands together in a circle, counting:
‘Ekahi! ‘Elua, ‘Ekolu, STOKED!
Our voices are loud. We have been brought together and connected through the ocean. This is the surfer spirit, and we are so, so stoked!
Header Image Credit: @beachbumpoet from page in
The Surfer Spirit. Derosier, Cynthia