Surfers Rally for Resumption of Keiki Competitions
* Updated May 21, 9:20 AM
The return of youth surfing competitions is being discussed at the county and state level, but for some in the local surfing community, the current restriction has gone on long enough.
Maui professional surfer, Ian Walsh spoke out about the restriction and its impact on youth in an interview Wednesday afternoon with Pacific Media Group COO and Maui Now director, Jack Dugan.
“These regional surf events for our kids are the lifeblood of the surfing communities on each island,” said Walsh who has spearheaded the Menehune Mayhem surf meet at Hoiʻokipa, Maui for the last 17 years. “For me the Menehune Mayhem starts with surfing, but it’s grown into so much more. It’s a way to introduce kids to the ocean. It is a way to introduce them to the importance of taking care of their environment; and eventually, these kids will be the leaders of these communities… I cannot emphasize the importance of what these events mean to these kids and allow them to express themselves in the ocean.”
While he understands the incremental changes to the mandates surrounding COVID-19, Walsh said he thinks the time is now for surf kids to not be excluded and be able to participate in their sport.
“Seeing these other events unfolding and other things that are happening on our island and our state, these kids should be allowed to compete. I understand entirely, keeping professional events at bay, those draw large crowds…but I don’t think these kids should be punished – for lack of better words – because of the size of these professional events, because their events don’t draw the same amount of crowds,” said Walsh.
“Seeing some of the events operating currently in the state of Hawaiiʻi, whether its soccer, water polo and flag football… there’s nothing dramatically different with surfing – outside of having a lot more space between the kids than some of these other events,” Walsh said.
His comments come in the wake of a community organized sign waving demonstration at Lahaina Harbor held earlier this week
“Surfing is a really amazing sport. It’s super fun and super exciting. We get to go compete, but just with COVID that got taken away,” said one keiki sign waver in video provided to Maui Now. “I don’t understand why everything gets closed… this whole thing is interesting, but I wish we would have more surf contests.”
Walsh said, “I have devoted my life to surfing and I think for a lot of kids that have grown up similar to how I have, it is part of their lives. It is something they look forward to every single day.”
Specifically on Maui County, Walsh said the only obvious obstacle is that the state has a ban on competitive surf events. “The state has that ban and that’s the only obstacle and getting that ban lifted and allowing these events to take place, the same way these other events can happen,” he said.
Maui Mayor Michael Victorino addressed the competition aspect during a press briefing on Tuesday saying:
“There’s been some questions about youth surfing competitions. We allowed them for many months last summer, and unfortunately, it was closed down due to the governor’s orders. So the Department of Land and Natural Resources has not been allowing County surf meets–not only in this county, but throughout the state. I have been in discussion with Governor Ige on this matter, along with other mayors, and he is planning to make an announcement to clarify the state’s guidelines for youth ocean sports, including surf competitions. So stay tuned,” said Mayor Victorino, noting that he anticipates a resumption in some previously restricted ocean competitions “very shortly.”
County officials note that currently, there are very few youth who are vaccinated and that restrictions are in place for indoor sporting events and those in enclosed facilities. Currently, ocean sports need an okay from both the County of Maui and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. County officials say Gov. Ige will soon make an announcement about surf meets and other ocean sports for youth.
“I think the time is right now to allow them – keiki – to get back to doing amateur, small scale, regional surf competitions under the COVID-19 protocols,” said Walsh. “I feel it is doable seeing what is happening within our state… Hopefully it is coming soon and hopefully the county and state can make adjustments to make this happen. There are a lot of people like myself that want to provide events and opportunities for these kids to have fun.”