By Daniel Ikaika Ito
If there weren’t any Americans playing in Major League Baseball next season, the Entertainment Sports Programming Network (ESPN) would probably cover the incident as a national crisis. Stuart Scott would be on Sports Center citing the tragedy, asking how it’s possible that the inventors of America’s favorite past time are not competing at the highest level of the sport. Die-hard baseball fans would rant and rave about how the game would be changed forever. Luckily, for Americans and baseball, that scenario is only fiction. But, for Native Hawaiians and professional surfing, it’s a reality.
This is the first time in modern surfing history that a Native Hawaiian isn’t competing for the ASP World Championship of Surfing. Translation in pidgin: “No mo Hawaiians on da ‘CT, bule.” It’s important to note that a Native Hawaiian is a descendant from the indigenous Polynesians who inhabited the Hawaiian Islands before Western contact.
That’s not saying that the World Championship Tour is void of aloha. On the contrary, the aloha spirit is still alive and well on the WCT with ambassadors Pancho Sullivan, Fred Patacchia, Jr., Roy Powers and the Irons bruddahs. This isn’t an issue of aloha. It’s about kanaka maoli (Native Hawaiians) not being represented at the highest level of competitive surfing. For many Native Hawaiians, surfing isn’t just recreation or a life style, it’s a cultural practice. A way for Hawai‘i’s aboriginal descendants to tap into the lines of their na- kupuna (ancestors). The missing indigenous Hawaiians on the WCT has great cultural implications for the Native Hawaiian community.
When 29-year-old Maikalani Kaiolohia Robb (a.k.a. Kalani Robb) and 36-year-old Vincent Sennen Garcia (a.k.a. Sunny Garcia) retired from the World Championship Tour last year, they became the last Native Hawaiians to compete on the coveted World Championship Tour. Aside from 2000 WCT World Champion Sunny G, the only other Native Hawaiian to win an ASP Championship title was 1993 World Champ Derek Ho, the first kanaka maoli to win an ASP World Championship. The absence of Hawai‘i’s indigenous people in pro surfing only concerns professional shortboarders. Native Longboard World Champs Rusty Keaulana, Bonga Perkins and Dino Miranda have brought the longboard world title back to the Islands a combined five times. Mahalo bruddahs. So, why are kanaka maoli extinct on the “Dream Tour?” Like most things in life, the absence of Native Hawaiians on the WCT boils down to a lack of money and opportunity.
According to the US census bureau, Native Hawaiians lead the 50th state in poverty and prison populations. In fact, most of the homeless people camping out on the beaches on the Leeward side of O‘ahu are Native Hawaiians. As a result, the kama‘aina (children of the land) growing up in the tents on the beach spend a lot of time in the water and develop surfing skills quickly. Unfortunately, those Native Hawaiian youths will, most likely, never be able to take their ocean prowess to the amateur surf contest scene due to a lack of funds. “Surfing is an expensive sport to pick up,” says Kamehameha Schools graduate and WQS warrior Jason Shibata. According to Shibata, who competed in the NSSA and HASA as a young boy, many Hawaiian parents don’t have $300 dollars laying around to buy their keiki a surfboard. Let alone extra cash to drive their grom to different beaches to hone their skills.