On Hōkūleʻa’s first full day in Durban, several members of the local group Christian Surfers invited rescue swimmer Archie Kalepa – lifesaver and big wave charger from Maui – to a Saturday surf session they offer each week for local street kids and youths from troubled homes. As soon as Archie stepped out of the car at the downtown beach, about thirty amped youngsters of various ages, sizes and colors mobbed around him, bouncing with energy.
After getting them settled onto a patch of grass, Archie asked, “How many of you guys love the ocean?” and everyone’s hand flew up. “How many of you guys want to do something that involves work in the ocean?” Again, all hands. “Well, you can do it, but only if you put the time in and work hard. It’s like going for a big wave – you’re scared, but if you give it 110%, you know what happens? You have the ride of your life. And that’s what this is all about – riding the wave of your life.”
He told them that he had started out not much different than them, “but since I made the ocean my passion, I’ve been able to travel around the world, surfed some of the biggest waves there are, and made my living doing it. And you guys can do that in life too, but you’re gonna have to work twice as hard. People will tell you that you can’t do it, but believe me, you can. The key is that you’ve got to believe in yourself first, just like when you’re riding a big wave.”
When Archie gave the word, the kids went scrambling for a patchwork collection of donated boards. Despite the fact that the waves were small and windblown, with “bluebottles” (aka Portuguese man o’ war) visible at the water’s edge, they charged in, all smiles and shouts as Archie and others pushed them into rides over the frothy whitewater. Some showed a real knack for the sport, including a 16-year-old named Ronnie, who said he’s been coming to the Saturday sessions for two years and had just made the semifinals of a local surf competition that morning. “Each time I go out, I get more and more excited and inspired,” he said.”
An older girl named Gabriella said she’s only been coming to the program for a couple of weeks, but already she’s totally hooked on “the tranquility it gives you, and the connection between the surfer and the waves.”
Back on the canoe, Archie said that it was heartwarming and moving to see that those kids from troubled homes and lives knew that people cared about them, but that the best part of the day for him was simply seeing “that they were just truly, soulfully happy in the water. That was a takeaway for me, because a lot of who us who spend time in the water can start to take things for granted. But that being such a positive outlet for them was just a reminder of the healing, spiritual gift we have from the ocean.”