Water Safety Clinics For Keiki

Duane DeSoto leads a water safety clinic at Waikiki. Photo from Duane DeSoto / Na Kama Kai

Duane DeSoto leads a water safety clinic at Waikiki. Photo from Duane DeSoto / Na Kama Kai

Professional surfer Duane DeSoto is a very busy man these days. While competing in the ASP World Longboard Championships in Hainan, China, last month, DeSoto also was juggling emails and phone calls while organizing Na Kama Kai’s upcoming Ocean Safety and Conservation Awareness Clinics.

“Our next clinic (Dec. 8 at Waimanalo Beach Park), we’ll be distributing our first issue of our Ocean Safety and Conservation Awareness coloring book,” says an excited DeSoto. “This will be a tool to better educate our keiki through a fun interactive activity and give them a foundation for enjoying the ocean safely and respectfully.”

If it sounds like DeSoto is focused, it’s because he has to be – and hundreds of island keiki are counting on it. DeSoto has vivid memories of being an 8-year-old boy, riding his bicycle to Makaha Beach, where he surfed under the care of all the “uncles” and “aunties.”

“They had an eye on me at all times,” he says. “I didn’t realize what a privilege it was to grow up in such a great environment.”

As he started to travel as a professional surfer at the age of 16 to places like Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Jeffrey’s Bay, South Africa, DeSoto realized how unique and blessed his home life was in Makaha.

“Creating a special place like Makaha for the rest of Hawaii’s keiki became a passion,” says DeSoto. “My wife Malia (who was his girlfriend at the time) would entertain my many bright ideas and nicely suggest the reality of such ideas. Some good and some far-fetched, the ideas began to make sense, and the opportunity arrived several years ago.”

DeSoto recalls Punana Leo O Kawaiahao was hosting its annual E Malama I Ke Kai fundraiser for ocean awareness. As a parent, it seemed fitting he design an interactive ocean program for the students that could benefit the schools. It was the start of Na Kama Kai’s first Ocean Safety and Conservation Awareness clinic.

DeSoto says his inspiration to serve Hawaii’s children came from watching the actions of a special woman.

“When I look back at who inspired me to work with our keiki, one person clearly stands out and that’s Rell Sunn,” says DeSoto, who won the 2010 Oxbow ASP World Long-board Championship. “Her contests were designed to help local keiki get a taste of competing and expose us to what was happening around the world. Her contests were also the first memory I have of cleaning the beach. Aunty Rell would give us stickers for picking up rubbish. She was a genius!”

Since 2008, more than 6,500 children have participated in Na Kama programs at no cost. In addition to learning ocean safety skills, keiki are taught traditional surfboard shaping, stand up paddling and canoe activities, and stewardship and conservation.

“The program’s main objective is to encourage children to become more thoughtful stewards of the ocean resources, ensuring its restoration and protection for generations to follow,” says the 36-year-old DeSoto.

Recently, Hawaiian Electric Company donated $15,000 to Na Kama to support the nonprofit organization’s mission.

“Community support is the only way we survive,” says DeSoto. “Grants, sponsorships, individual donors and an outstanding volunteers base have allowed Na Kama Kai to provide free services to our island keiki. The community’s willingness to give has been inspiring.”

The free clinics are held at Waikiki, Pokai Bay, Ewa Beach Park, Waimanalo Beach Park, Kahana Bay and Haleiwa Beach Park. DeSoto believes Na Kama Kai provides keiki with valuable hands-on learning experiences.

“Keeping our ocean clean and safe for seven generations to come is my responsibility,” says DeSoto. “The future of Na Kama Kai is in the hands of those who believe that I can grow it to benefit all keiki in Hawaii and I am eternally grateful to them.”

For more information about the ocean safety clinics or to donate to Na Kama Kai, visit nakamakai.org or call 864-9164.