GoPro campaign shows how surfing benefits cystic fibrosis

Kala Alexander and Breana

Kala Alexander was the first pro to surf with Breana, a California teen with cystic fibrosis. They’ve remained in touch through Mauli Ola Foundation. Photo: Courtesy of Kala Alexander

“May the wave heal us all.” It’s a common saying within the surfing community, and one Kala Alexander takes to heart. The veteran surfer has logged more than 40 years on his board. He dedicates the time he spends on land to the Mauli Ola Foundation, an organization connecting surfers with kids living with cystic fibrosis.

Mauli Ola is one of the featured charitable groups part of the GoPro for a Cause online campaign, which aims to bring social causes to the forefront.

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder that causes a thick mucus to build up in the passageways of the lungs, pancreas and other organs. This can result in extensive lung damage, infections and, at worst, respiratory failure. Managing the symptoms can be tough physically and emotionally for families affected.

RELATED: Saltwater and surfing bring cystic fibrosis closer to a cure

“Our events have been amazing because when we’re in the water with the kids, all the parents are on the beach talking to each other, sharing each other’s stories. Basically, our events have become, like, these amazing support groups,” Alexander says. “The kids are laughing and just having fun and being normal kids, and that’s all they want.”

Kala Alexander surfing

Scientific research supports the therapeutic effects of saltwater on symptoms of cystic fibrosis. And judging by the smile on this young rider’s face, it’s great for the soul, too. Photo: Courtesy of Kala Alexander

Led by lifelong surfers Charles and James Dunlop, Mauli Ola came together in 2008. After starting the clinical research lab Ambry Genetics, the Dunlops uncovered a groundbreaking gene test for cystic fibrosis, and later a study in the New England Journal of Medicine providing scientific evidence that ocean water can help reduce mucus in the airways of cystic fibrosis patients.

Alexander and fellow surfers Sunny Garcia, Jamie O’Brien, Kelly Slater and others were brought on board to teach young cystic fibrosis patients how to surf at Mauli Ola events as a natural therapy measure.

There is no cure for cystic fibrosis, but Alexander has seen firsthand the therapeutic effect surfing has on the kids he works with. One of them is Breana, a California teen and state-ranked competitive swimmer. He was the first to surf with Breana five years ago, and he was there when she caught her first wave in Manhattan Beach, California.

“She’s like a daughter to me,” he says of their tight bond, and adds that he still keeps in touch with Breana and her family.

“She caught the first wave of her life with me. To see the smile on her face, and the joy that she obviously had to catch that wave … she’s such an inspiration,” he recalls of the experience.

A father of five himself, Alexander says the importance of giving back was instilled in him from his native Hawaiian upbringing. Because he’s experienced the healing power of a good wave, he looks to project that back into the world by helping as many kids live healthier lives as he can.

kala alexander surfing 3

Alexander and a friend take off for an early-morning ride. Photo: Courtesy of Kala Alexander

“The whole experience working with Mauli Ola has reshaped my surfing. I’ve been surfing for over 40 years and sometimes you get burned out. Now I realize just how lucky I am to catch any wave, no matter how big or small.”

From now until November, GoPro will match donations given to three featured organizations: Mauli Ola Foundation, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Bicycles Against Poverty. You can also nominate a cause or organization, share campaign videos online using #GoProforaCause or make a donation to support a cause.

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