A deep spiritual connection to the ocean is ingrained in Hawaiian culture.
One of the best-known expressions of this connection is through the sport of surfing,
which can be traced back through Hawaiian ancestry to the art of he'e nalu, or "wave sliding." Dr. Carlos Andrade, director of
the Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, said Hawaiian royalty - men and
women alike - were noted for their ability as surfers. In fact, Andrade said, the whole
of the population celebrated the activity, with entire villages emptying to go surfing
when the waves arose.
Over time, surfing has grown from its Hawaiian roots to become a global phenomenon.
The art of wave sliding has evolved to include big wave charging, barrel riding, and spectacular aerial maneuvers. But while surfing has become a part of mainstream culture, for
many surfers it's a way of life symbolized by the same link to the ocean felt by the sport's
originators on the shores of Hawai'i.
"Surfing is one of the greatest gifts
Hawai'i gave to the world," says Stuart Coleman, author of "Eddie Would Go," and
the Hawai'i regional coordinator for the Surfrider Foundation.
Riding Waves in the Sanctuaries
Hawai'i may be the birthplace of surfing,
but it is by no means the only place with
great waves. National marine sanctuaries
encompass some of the nation's most celebrated places for ocean recreation - surfing included. In fact, sanctuaries feature
high-profile professional contests at some
of the largest rideable waves in the world,
from Mavericks in central California to the
Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau at
Waimea Bay on the North Shore of O'ahu.
The legendary "shoot-outs" between surfing champions Kelly Slater and Andy
Irons at Pipeline, arguably the most famous wave on Earth, took place within the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National
Marine Sanctuary, one of the most important humpback whale mating, calving and nursing grounds in the world.
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the largest marine sanctuary, is home
to the powerful and massive waves of Mavericks, as well as more modest - but no
less popular - breaks like Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz, Calif. Countless other surf
spots can be found throughout the coastal
waters of the sanctuary system, supporting
thriving recreational use and tourism.
Conservation: A Common Goal
"Conservation and surfing are like two
sides of the same coin," said Dr. Marc Lammers, a cetacean biologist and assistant researcher at the Hawai'i Institute of Marine
Biology. "I don't know how you could be
a surfer and not care about the marine environment. Surfers and sanctuaries pretty
much care about the same thing: the wellbeing of the ocean."
Clean water, trash-free beaches and
healthy ecosystems are just a few of the
shared concerns that matter to the surfing
community and sanctuary managers alike.
Water quality, in particular, is an issue that
presents opportunities for surfers and sanctuaries to work together.
"[Surfers] are indicators when it comes
to water quality," said Coleman. "We're
the first to experience it and the first to get
sick." Sanctuary staff throughout the U.S.
mainland and Pacific Islands are working with community members, agencies and
organizations like the Surfrider Foundation
on efforts to improve water quality and reduce marine debris.
Lammers, an avid surfer and former
sanctuary advisory council member, said
marine debris is an ever-present reminder
of our impact on the ocean environment.
"When you spend a lot of time on the water you start to notice that there's plastic
bags everywhere and all kinds of debris,"
Protecting the Waves
Surfers spend countless hours in the
ocean connecting with nature, becoming
immersed in their surroundings and soaking
up an intimate knowledge of local coasts,
beaches, and reefs. "Surfers are familiar
with the wildness of the sea," said Dr. Michael McGinnis, a coastal California native,
lifelong surfer, and professor of Environmental Policy and Governance at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. "Even though many of us were raised
in suburban environments, it was the sea
that taught us the first lessons of wildness,
and why we need to protect wild places."
Indeed, surfers can bring valuable knowledge and experience to the cause of conserving and managing our national marine
sanctuaries. They are welcome additions to sanctuary advisory councils, volunteer
programs, and other organizations engaged
in ocean conservation. "We spend so much
time in the water we could be first responders," suggested Coleman.
"I think that the more you surf and just
enjoy the ocean, the more appreciation you
have for it," said Doug Cole, executive director of the North Shore Community Land
Trust. "Sometimes you just have to get out
there in it to remind yourself that - wow -
this really is a special place, and we could
do more to keep it special and help others in
their work to keep it healthy."
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