Keiki surfers hope to hit waves soon for competitions

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May 19—LAHAINA — With the return of soccer and other outdoor youth sports after a months-long COVID-19-related ban, state and county officials appear close to allowing surfing competitions to resume as well.

Representatives for Gov.

David Ige, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi and Maui Mayor Michael Victorino said Tuesday they have been discussing the matter. "Gov. Ige is currently working through the details and is expected to make an announcement soon, " according to spokeswoman Jodi Leong.

For members of Maui's keiki surfing community, any action in their favor won't come too soon. With residents and visitors free to hit the waves, supporters say there's no reason to leave out "groms " who are involved in a no-contact sport with built-in social distancing, since only four surfers per heat are allowed in the water at any one time during contests.

"Surfing for me is really important, and I just love competing, " said Juliana Colpas, 14, of Honokowai. "It's such a big deal in Hawaii, and I think if they're not going to have it, it's not really fair."

The eighth grader and her mother, April Colpas, joined a rally Tuesday at Lahaina Harbor urging officials to once again allow keiki surf meets. Colpas, 35, said her entire family surfs, but it's especially a passion for Juliana, who's been "super bummed out " about not being able to compete.

Colpas said she and her daughter were exiting the water after an early morning surf session at Lahaina Harbor last week when they observed what she estimated were more than 200 people, many not wearing masks or social distancing, lined up for boat tours and then packed onto vessels.

"Our jaws just dropped. It was actually the first time it was in our face that you don't get to compete, but all these people who are visiting, they're coming here, spending money, and they get to line up for a freakin' boat ride when my daughter can't even do a four-man heat ? It doesn't make any sense, " she said.

Also at the rally was Lahaina resident Kellie Banto, whose two sons, Niko, 16, and Matias, 10, surf.

"Kids are better off outside. They've had enough screen time, they've had enough computer time—they've had enough of that. These kids that are outside exercising and living this healthy lifestyle, they should have the opportunity to be able to have these events, " said Banto, 44.

As COVID-19 cases were rising late last year, and soon after a coronavirus cluster was reported among World Surf League officials, the state in January suspended all surfing competitions indefinitely. Lacking surf contests here, Maui parent Justin Prouty, 49, took his 9-year-old son, Ryder, and two other youths to a competition at Huntington Beach, Calif., earlier this month.

Prouty owns Minit Medical urgent care clinics, which has been working with Maui County on COVID-19 testing.

"I understand COVID inside and outside, and I understand that surf competitions definitely do not affect the spread of COVID, " he said.

Also anxiously awaiting the restart of keiki surf meets is professional surfer Ian Walsh, whose nonprofit foundation sponsors the annual Menehune Mayhem competition usually held in the spring. In addition to awarding wave-riding prowess, the program grants college scholarships and recognizes participants for sportsmanship and environmental awareness.

Four hundred kids age 4 to 17 were signed up for last year's competition at Hoo ­kipa Beach Park before it was canceled due to COVID-19. This year's 17th running of the event was planned for April but remains on a month-to-month hold.

Walsh said the pandemic caused organizers to limit participation and adopt other measures such as separate ocean entry and exit points so that surfers heading out for their heats never interact with those who have just finished.

Walsh said he is hopeful he'll be able to stage the event soon. "There's water polo events, there's soccer events, there's baseball events, there's basketball events, and I think with all those events operating, there should not be a ban on amateur events for surfing or other ocean activities, whether it be canoe regattas, Junior Lifeguards or whatever that might be, " he said.

"We just want to give these kids a chance to surf. A lot of them don't have other sports ; surfing is their primary outlet, and they've been standing by the wayside for some time. With these other events being able to operate successfully, we're hopeful that they will allow us to put these events on for the kids."

Victorino, an ardent supporter of youth sports, noted that ocean sport events must be approved by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, so the matter isn't entirely within county control. "The mayor has spoken with Governor Ige about Maui County's desire for youth ocean sports to return to our shorelines soon, " said spokeswoman Teri Freitas Gorman.

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