Surfing Approved as Hawaii’s Newest School Sport

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From now on, when Hawaii’s high school students grab their surfboards and head for Oahu’s North Shore—or other surfing destinations throughout the state—they might be doing so as the Kahuku High Red Raiders or the Na Ali’i team from King Kekaulike High School.

For the first time, perhaps as soon as next spring, public schools in Hawaii will be allowed to have official surfing teams. Currently, students are allowed to compete only as members of surfing clubs.

After a lobbying effort by high school students and supporters of surfing teams that stretched over several years, the Hawaii state board of education voted unanimously late last month to approve the sport.

"The interest is definitely there," said Kim Ball, who owns Hi-Tech Surf Sports on Maui and runs an interscholastic surf competition. "It’s part of our fabric here."

But the state board’s decision does not come with money, and it doesn’t resolve some of the issues that kept board members from allowing official teams in the first place in Hawaii’s statewide system.

According to Greg Knudsen, a spokesman for the Hawaii Department of Education, estimates on the cost of having school surfing teams reach as high as $2.3 million statewide. Such costs might include safety personnel, and expenses for transportation to practices and competitions.

"You don’t just run out to the field after school," Mr. Knudsen said. "It would be a major commute."

In the past, the state attorney general’s office held that the state education department would not be protected from lawsuits in the event of an injury, but has since changed that position.

"With proper precautions, they see that it could work," Mr. Knudsen said. The education department, he added, will now be required to write regulations for the sport, though no deadline has been set.

Even though Hawaii is considered the birthplace of surfing—or "wave sliding," as it is known in the Hawaiian language—those who oppose the approval of surfing as a high school sport have expressed concerns over schools’ liability if students are injured.

Some See Perils

The Oahu Interscholastic Association, an athletic league with 24 member schools on the state’s most populated island, did not take an official position on the issue, though local school athletic directors are among those most concerned about the dangers of the sport.

The risks, they say, include shark attacks, rough waves, and collisions with other surfers.

But Mr. Ball said practice in the water could be limited to twice a week, thus reducing such concerns. Other practice sessions could be spent swimming in a pool or working out with weights.

Mr. Ball added that the state board’s decision was just one hurdle to overcome, and that "we still have a long way to go."

"Now we have to lobby each school individually," he said.

The decision whether to have a surfing team will be up to individual high schools and leagues. The first step, Mr. Knudsen said, will probably be to allow students participating in surf clubs to "adopt their school affiliation."

The question of whether there will be a state surfing championship also won’t be settled until it’s determined which schools and leagues have teams.

According to a statement released by the Hawaii High School Athletic Association, which has 78 public and private high schools as members, three of the state’s five leagues must sponsor a sport before a championship competition is held.

In addition, each of the five leagues requires three member schools to have a team before the league sanctions the sport.

Until then, "it would be premature to discuss an HHSAA state championship" in surfing, Keith Amemiya, the executive director of the association, said in the statement.

The most recent state championship approved by the organization was for girls’ water polo, which had its first such championship just last month.

Vol. 23, Issue 39, Page 20

Published in Print: June 9, 2004, as Surfing Approved as Hawaii’s Newest School Sport
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