Hawaii to become first state in U.S. to make surfing a high-school sport

If Duke Kahanamoku were still around, he’d be proud. But the father of modern surfing might also say, “What took so long?”

Hawaii this week announced it will become the first state in the nation to make surfing a sanctioned high-school sport, available to students as early as 2013 in public schools throughout the islands, like mainstream sports such as football, baseball and basketball.

“It’s quite clear, when you think of Hawaii, you think of surfing,” Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie said Monday afternoon during a news conference, which was held in Waikiki and near a statue of Kahanamoku.

Surfing, thanks to The Duke and others who rode waves on large wooden planks in the early part of the 20th century, is deeply rooted in Hawaiian culture. It has been romanticized in movies and has spawned lucrative careers for athletes who chose surfing over more traditional high school sports.

By making surfing one of those mainstream sports, it will further legitimize wave riding as a sport and provide more structure and acceptance for others who might want to pursue careers in surfing.

“I think it’s awesome, and it will open doors for kids,” said Carissa Moore, an Oahu resident who earlier this summer clinched the Assn. of Surfing Professionals‘ women’s world title, ending a drought for female surfers from Hawaii that dates to 1981. (Hawaii’s last men’s champion was the late Andy Irons, who won three consecutive titles from 2002-04.)

The ASP has long honored Hawaii’s surfing culture by separating it from the rest of the United States. Moore and Irons won their titles specifically for Hawaii.

The Aloha State annually boasts the prestigious year-end Vans Triple Crown of Surfing on Oahu’s North Shore at Haleiwa, Sunset Beach and Banzai Pipeline. It also boasts the occasional Eddie Aikau memorial big-wave contest at fabled Waimea Bay, held only when swells reach a certain height, in honor of the famous lifeguard and waterman.

But surfing in Hawaii is about more than just competition and careers. It’s a healthy way of life that offers much more than just physical conditioning, Moore told reporters.

“Surfing and riding a wave is so much like life,” she said. “You fall down over and over again, but you keep picking yourself back up until you ride one all the way to the beach. I know that’s kind of cheesy, but I think surfing is definitely a really good outlet for a lot of teens and young kids. It’s a way to channel a lot of energy into something positive.”

Hawaii, like California, does have a National Scholastic Surfing Assn. amateur circuit, which Moore dominated before turning pro. But that’s largely for surf-mad kids with equally surf-mad parents, and can be intimidating.

Moore, who is sponsored and paid a comfortable salary, told the Associated Press that the inclusion of surfing as a sanctioned high school sport will cause widespread acceptance.

“It was definitely hard trying to find my own path and trying to convince my teachers that this is something that’s really important to me and trying to find time and all that,” she said.

Now it’s up to Hawaii’s Board of Education to figure out just how to implement surfing into the athletic curriculum for boys and girls, and how it will fund the first year, expected to cost about $150,000.

As for filling the rosters with kids, that should be elementary.

— Top image shows Hawaii’s Coco Ho in action last winter at the Banzai Pipeline. Credit: ASP/Kirstin Scholtz. Middle image shows Carissa Moore celebrating after cinching the world title this July. Credit: ASP/Bonnarme. Bottom image shows Sunset Beach during a large swell. Credit ASP/International