On any day of the year, at almost any moment in time, the small stretch of Honolulu beachfront known as Waikiki will reek havoc on your senses. Far from the calming scenes that sold Western tourists the image of a utopic, dreamy Polynesian paradise nearly 100 years ago, the modern version of Waikiki is a veritable smorgasbord of lights, smells, sounds, and visions. It is a high-octane town in fifth gear. But today, on this late May weekend, it is something special, something unique, something unfiltered. It's the effervescent joy and smiles of keiki going tandem with their dad. It's high-fives, burritos, plate-lunches, and energy drinks. It's surfing solely for the fun of surfing. It's the annual Town & Country Grom Fest and it is wonderful.
"This is my favorite event of the year," said Town & Country founder, Craig Sugihara. "I really look forward to it. I mean, how could you not? Look at all the kids having such a good time."
Sugihara speaks the truth. A quick glance down the beach at the event reveals an army of young surfers running wild in oversized contest tees. Out to sea, the southern hemisphere is sliding a three-foot swell into the lineup. Uncrowded Queens and a whole mess of swell—it's a wonder there weren't more parents dragging their kids out to a heat in the tandem divisions just to score an empty slice of the surf.
Between heats, the team from Town & Country kept the contestants busy with a slew of games, including an ad-hoc dance-off. There was only one catch: you had to do it in a fake mustache courtesy of Donavon Frankenreiter. (Big mahalos Donnie). Although these kids won't be featured on America's Best Dance Crew anytime soon, they gave it go and one grom even busted out a one-handed handstand for the win.
In the lineup, the raw talent exuded from children as young as 5 always impresses, perhaps this year even more so than others. One thing is abundantly clear: The future looks as bright as the blazing Waikiki sun for the next generation of Hawaiian surfers. But the Grom Fest isn't an event meant to harden the competitive spirit. On the contrary, it's much more about giving young kids a chance to get their feet wet in the contest scene and have some fun with their friends without any of the pressure that comes with competing in other events.
"This is a really special event in Hawaii…I don't even know how long we've been doing it. A long time. I bet if you were to ask any of Hawaii's top surfers now, they'd all surfed in this event. It's really special. Plus, somehow we always get good surf for it!"