Dave Reardon: Hawaii needs to get on board and help make surfing a high school sport

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Wasn’t this settled 18 years ago? Or 11 years ago?

The state’s Department of Education sanctioned surfing as a sport in 2004.

Then, political and business leaders — and a young champion from Palolo named Carissa Moore — gave it another significant push in 2011.

But, of the state’s five high school sports leagues, only the Maui Interscholastic League has since held competitions and awarded championships.

For surfers enrolled in schools in the other leagues, there are only club teams. And, although Hawaii youth surfers have excelled nationally, anyone who has ever competed representing his or her school will tell you it’s just not the same thing.

Why no other interscholastic teams more than a decade after the MIL got started, and by all reports is going strong?

Most of the excuses have come down to money, especially as detractors cite liability issues.

But state House Bill 2277 addresses that. It calls for funding (amount not yet specified) from the state’s general fund to specifically support high school surfing.

The bill made it through the Education Committee earlier this month. It goes before the Finance Committee on Tuesday.

Moore, the five-time world champion and inaugural Olympic gold medalist, testified in support, suggesting that state seed money would be supplemented by the private sector.

“When surfing thrives in Hawaii, so will local businesses,” she wrote, adding that the bill “has the unique ability to enhance our underserved youth directly alongside the hard working entrepreneurs of our state.”

For those who see surfing as too dangerous, it should be made clear that we’re not talking about taking on 30-footers at Waimea Bay.

Also, isn’t opportunity for “underserved youth” how we justify sanctioning high school football, despite its high risk of injury? If we can’t support high school surfing, how can we rationalize prep football and other high-risk sports, like soccer and wrestling?

The MIL certifies its coaches with a two-day annual clinic that includes ocean risk assessment, rescue techniques, first aid and CPR.

In written testimony representing the DOE, interim superintendent Keith Hayashi cited an informal survey that “showed only six out of 23 principals interested in surfing as an interscholastic sport on Oahu.”

Wait a second … it’s the interest of the students that matters, right?

MIL (and de facto state) champion Madison Runyon was quoted in the Maui News in 2019 about how surfing for Lahainaluna motivated her in school.

“When surf season came around, I was like, what am I doing? I’ve got to stop playing around and get stuff done,” she said of her freshman year. “From there on out, my grades have been pretty good.”

Surfing is the state’s official individual sport. The DOE gave it a seal of approval nearly 20 years ago.

The Interscholastic League of Honolulu is not controlled by the DOE. But if the Oahu Interscholastic Association, which is, starts hitting the waves, it’s pretty much a given the ILH will too.

With Maui, that would make a quorum for state championships to be held. Hopefully the Big Island Interscholastic Federation and Kauai Interscholastic Federation would get on board, too.

The MIL is a live case study, where educators, businesses, coaches and volunteers have made it work for more than a decade.

Isn’t that the modern-day recipe of success for high school sports?

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