Travel and adventure, inherent aspects of this sport we call surfing, necessary means to and end; an end that for most of us is about 6-foot, liquid in nature, perfect in form, running along a remote reef or sandbar. An end that provides us with the satisfaction we seek. But for others the waves they seek have become a means in themselves, a means to a different end. For these people, travel and adventure through the surfing world has led to an awakening as they pause to take in the cultures they encounter and meet the people that populate the lands they visit. People like Hawaiian born and San Diego resident Kahana Kalama.
Kahana, a graduate of Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California, has spent significant amounts of time over the past few years veering off the beaten path, from an orphanage in Baja, to a trash dump in Nicaragua, and on to a community in Bangladesh. It is the children of this community and their formation of a surf club that is the subject of a recent documentary, Gum For My Boat, in which Kahana plays an important role. We recently sat down with Kahana, hoping to get a sense of the impetus for the selfless course he has chosen.
Where does this sense of global awareness and social responsiblity come from? When did you begin to take interest in the plight of the less fortunate here and abroad?
KAHANA: I’d definitely say that this sense of social responsibility for me comes from my faith in Christ. My parents raised me to respect others, so I think at some level it was hardwired into me. The first time I ever really made the connection between surfing and service was on a trip with good friends Shannon and Shayne Mcyntire on a surf trip through Baja. On our way down we ended up stopping off at an orphanage for handicapped children and babies born with HIV. We spent the day hanging with the kids and it was a blast. By the end of the trip we scored some amazing surf, but it was the day spent at the orphanage that really stuck with me.
How does a surfer end up on a trip to Bangladesh?
Surfing the Nations is a non-profit organization based out of Hawaii that that has been working really closely with the kids in the Bangladesh surf club over the past five years. I have a bunch of friends who have been very active in the service projects they carry out in Hawaii. Over the past few years I’ve volunteered a couple of times at some of their Feeding the Hungry programs when I’m back in Hawaii. My really good friend Russell Brownley has also been involved with STN (Surfing the Nations) and it was basically his vision to create a short documentary on the Bangladesh Surf Club and the work that Surfing the Nations is doing over there.
So tell me more about this documentary, Gum For My Boat.
It’s basically the story of a group of Kids in Bangladesh that started a Surf Club. With surfing being such a foreign concept to the people of Bangladesh, these kids are essentially creating their own surfing subculture within their community of Cox’s Bazaar. Within this developing surf culture is the shared belief between the club members that with surfing comes the responsibility to care about the people around you.
What other similar projects have you or are you working on?
I don’t necessarily enjoy calling these experiences projects. That word implicates some sort of start and finish, and to be honest it’s a never ending story. If anything, I am the project. Every trip challenges me to take a look at myself and analyze the things that I assign importance to. I guess that’s the beauty in all of these experiences abroad; you go on trips to places like a trash dump in Nicaragua thinking that you will be able to “help” or “give back” to the kids there, when really you’re the person thats often affected the most.