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Maui's surf pros paddle out with kids from Lahaina for a healing surf session

Pro surfers organized a Saturday morning surf session to help kids do something they love at Ho'okipa Beach on the island's north shore. It's about an hour's drive from Lahaina.
Claire Harbage
/
NPR
Pro surfers organized a Saturday morning surf session to help kids do something they love at Ho'okipa Beach on the island's north shore. It's about an hour's drive from Lahaina.

Families on Maui are coping with terrible losses from wildfires. But this weekend, some of them came together to help their kids do something they love: go surfing.

Pro surfers organized the Saturday morning session at Ho'okipa Beach on the island's north shore. It's about an hour's drive from Lahaina.

"Getting in the water is such a healing place for me and I know it is for everyone else," big-wave surfer Paige Alms told NPR. "What we thought we would do is just put some smiles on some faces and have a good time."

"It's about stoking out the groms," she added in surfer slang (groms = young surfers).

Big-wave surfer Paige Alms helps a boy pick out a board to use on Saturday.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Big-wave surfer Paige Alms helps a boy pick out a board to use on Saturday.

Some kids lost their boards to the flames

Dozens of kids and their families turned out on a morning blessed with fine weather and big waves. Some were originally from fire-hit Lahaina and Kula; others were from the north shore, coming out to welcome newcomers to this reef break.

Loaner boards were laid out on the sand for kids who lost theirs in the fire, provided by the nonprofit Boards 4 Buddies.

Alms and a group of kids look at the surfboards donated by Boards 4 Buddies.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Alms and a group of kids look at the surfboards donated by Boards 4 Buddies.

"We're here to let kids borrow boards, but they're also welcome to take them home," Brit Oliphant, the group's founder, said.

Oliphant also teaches fourth grade at Kula Elementary School. She's watched many of these kids grow up.

"Every kid I've talked to, I say, what do you miss the most?" she said. "And they miss their boards. On Maui, surfing and skateboarding is so rooted in our culture and it's kids' outlet for fun."

Brit Oliphant, founder of Boards 4 Buddies, "we're here to let kids borrow boards, but they're also welcome to take them home," she says.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Brit Oliphant, founder of Boards 4 Buddies, "we're here to let kids borrow boards, but they're also welcome to take them home," she says.

A local shop donated acai bowls for the event. Other companies sent boxes of towels and slippers, said Rafaela Muniz, who helped organize the session with her husband, Pedro Robalinho. The couple lost everything in the fire; they've now moved away from the west side of the island, enrolling their kids in new schools as they build a new life.

"For sure it's a process," she said. "But all this love makes everything easier."

Kids of all ages take to the waves at Saturday's event.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Kids of all ages take to the waves at Saturday's event.

Families get a chance for a normal Saturday

Along the beach, the scene was like any other morning family outing: kids ran and yelled to each other, and grownups made sure their young ones had sunscreen and snacks.

The morning also gave parents who have been coping with the disaster a chance to see old friends and catch up — and commiserate over what they've endured.

Thayane Colpas, a teenage surfer from Lahaina, lost her board in the fire. She wasn't home when the fire destroyed her family's house — meaning she was safe, but that she wasn't able to bring anything with her.

"I'm just thankful we're alive," she said.

April Colpas and her daughter Thayane Colpas, 14, lost their home in the fire. "I'm just thankful we're alive," Thayane said.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
April Colpas and her daughter Thayane Colpas, 14, lost their home in the fire. "I'm just thankful we're alive," Thayane said.

It was also nice to be back at a beach, she said. Before the fire, she surfed nearly every day.

"It's a good distraction to get away from what's been happening," she said of Saturday's event. "It's super cool, having everyone get together."

The waves were "firing," Thayane said, approving the surf at Ho'okipa. But it was also a bit crowded out on the water. Asked if she would paddle out when things slowed down, she replied, "Yeah, I think so."

A group of kids and adults approaches the water to begin surfing.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
A group of kids and adults approaches the water to begin surfing.

An extended surfing family stands for a moment of silence

Kids shyly approached Maui's well-known surfers from the pro tour to chat and take a photo together. Some braved the day's big waves alongside them. With a glance, Alms spotted a roster of fellow pro surfers from Maui: Kai Lenny; Imaikalani Devault; Cody Young; Jackson Bunch; Summer Macedo; and Annie Reickert.

Pedro Robalinho, center, and his wife Rafaela Muniz organized the session. The couple lost everything in the fire. At the beginning of the event, Robalinho called together the group that included Alms and other pro surfers from Maui: Kai Lenny, Imaikalani Devault, Cody Young, Jackson Bunch, Summer Macedo and Annie Reickert. They all held hands and had a moment of silence.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Pedro Robalinho, center, and his wife Rafaela Muniz organized the session. The couple lost everything in the fire. At the beginning of the event, Robalinho called together the group that included Alms and other pro surfers from Maui: Kai Lenny, Imaikalani Devault, Cody Young, Jackson Bunch, Summer Macedo and Annie Reickert. They all held hands and had a moment of silence.

Before heading to the water, the extended surfing family, from 5-year-olds to touring pros, formed a circle. Lenny thanked them all for coming and for supporting each other.

The group then observed a moment of silence, holding hands around the sand. Then it was time for young surfers to hit the waves at a beach that could become their new home break.

"Alright, who's ready to surf?" Lenny asked, setting off a round of cheers.

That seemed to sum up the day's goal.

As Alms said, "Just by going surfing with the kids, it will give them some grasp of, you know, we're still here and we're not going anywhere."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Some kids went straight into the waves while others gave the scene a chance to calm down.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Some kids went straight into the waves while others gave the scene a chance to calm down.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.