Maui Nei is the home island for more elite surfers per capita than anywhere in the world. No contest. (Well, maybe with Kaua'i.) With about 150,000 residents, Maui is bursting at the seams with homegrown talent. World-class surfers like Granger Larsen, Cheyne Magnusson, Hank Gaskell, Kai Barger, Matt Meola, Dusty Payne, Eli Hanneman, Albee Layer, Ian Walsh, Billy Kemper, Ian Gentil, Clay Marzo, Ola Eleogram, Paige Alms, Summer Macedo, Aloha Lopez. World-beating windsurfers like Graham Ezzy. World-famous watermen like Zane Schweitzer, Kai Lenny, Connor Baxter and Dave Kalama. This is the best playground in the world for watersports, and the waves of talent churning out of Maui and breaking onto the world stage prove it.
For too long, despite Maui's distinctive identity as a global Mecca of surfing, Maui's keiki didn't have the chance to pursue he'e nalu (riding the waves) on a school team. Competitive surfers certainly were able to compete in events run by the HSA (Hawaiian Surfing Association) and NSSA (National Scholastic Surfing Association), and in a number of specialty surf contests (e.g. Ian Walsh's Menehune Mayhem, Legends of Honolua Bay). But it was always outside of school. While football teams carried the pride of whole communities, and school cross country teams were celebrated on the front pages of newspapers, surfers weren't able to join a school team, represent their schools or gain access to coaching.
This all changed because of one man: Kim Ball. For 20 years, this longtime Maui community member, business owner and gentleman advocated for surfing to be included as a school sport. Kim actually hosted an annual high school championship contest for 19 years each spring at Ho'okipa, but teams were always at the club level, not at the funded, resourced, consistent team level. Persuading a nervous and dense bureaucracy that surfing was safe enough (empirically, it is; cheerleading is more dangerous), that the demand was great enough (it is; Maui's school teams have grown steadily), and that a sustainable protocol could be developed (it has been, thanks to Archie Kalepa, Cary Kayama, and more) was a tall order. Indeed, it took Kim 20 years.
But Kim knew the benefits of sports participation from his years coaching Lahainaluna wrestling. National studies prove that students who participate in scholastic sports are on the average more engaged in the classroom, more structured in their time management and more disciplined. Why should surfers be on the outside looking in at scholastic sports? Why shouldn't talented and ambitious surfers also be eligible for scholar-athlete of the year? This is the fire that drove Kim Ball.
Finally, in the spring of 2014, the Maui Interscholastic League (MIL), an athletic partnership of all the public and private high schools in Maui County, embraced Maui's sea-borne soul by becoming the first public athletic league in the entire United States to include surfing as a funded, sanctioned, scholastic sport. This means that students may join surf teams at almost all of Maui's high schools. This achievement is to the credit of all of the school principals, athletic directors, coaches and league advocates who worked to make this happen.
The MIL's fourth surf season runs from Feb. 8 to April 22. School teams will compete at events at D.T. Fleming on March 18, Koki Beach on April 1, Lahaina Harbor on April 15, and at Ho'okipa for the championships on April 22. Surfers will work hard to earn good grades to maintain athletic eligibility, train with teammates and coaches to be safe and skilled, and represent their schools with pride.
Now the dream is to use Maui's good work as a model for Kaua'i and independent schools on Oahu (who have their own sports league) to embrace surfing as a scholastic sport. With leagues functioning on three islands, the sport would then qualify to hold a State Championship. The State of Hawai'i would then lead the nation in incorporating surfing into its school culture, and Maui will have been leading the charge. Surfing would be a scholastic sport in Hawai'i, right where it should be, the sport of kings, celebrated and supported, open to Hawai'i's keiki. Why not?