The Giving Tree

To 19-year-old pro surfer, Kekoa Cazimero, the 'Aloha {{{Spirit}}}' is giving without expecting anything in return. It's in this sentiment that the Waimanalo native, nicknamed Koa Boi, is creating the Koa Tree Foundation. This Hawaiian non-profit organization's main objective is to award grants to deserving, National Scholastic of Surfing Association (NSSA) surfers to compete at the National Championships held annually in June at Lower Trestles. With the rising price of airline tickets and the declining economy, many parents in Hawai'i can't afford to fly their kids to San Clemente, California. Cazimero hopes to offset this economic trend through the Koa Tree Foundation.

"If I see a kid ripping in the NSSA all season and if he or she can't afford to go to the Nationals then the non-profit organization will give these kids money to travel so they can show their stuff," says Cazimero. "I feel like the Koa Tree Foundation can help kids get where they want to be because it gives them a chance to compete at a higher level."

The higher level of competition at Nationals is critical for young surfers because it allows them to showcase their talent to the entire surf industry. A good result at Nationals can lead to lucrative sponsorships and increased media exposure. Just ask Cazimero — he knows the value of a Nationals victory firsthand. In 2006, Koa Boi won the NSSA Open Men's Championship, the most coveted amateur surfing title in the nation. The NSSA title helped boost Cazimero from a local ripper to an internationally recognized name in the sport. Since graduating from the amateur ranks, Koa is enjoying a rewarding career as a pro surfer, but he hasn't forgotten about his NSSA experience.

"I feel like you can still blow up, be big and go back to where you came from — which for me is the NSSA," explains Cazimero. "You can help out, give back and that's what it's all about with me."

The idea for the Koa Tree Foundation is based on Kekoa's charitable experience in 2007. That year Aleesa Quizon was on fire in the NSSA, winning at Regional Championships and qualifying for Nationals. Yet, she wasn't going to Trestles because her sponsor dropped their entire team and her family couldn't afford the airfare to Cali. When Koa found out about Aleesa's plight, he bought a round trip for her to Nationals where Quizon won the {{{Explorer}}} Girl's division. As a result, Aleesa was picked up by Billabong Girls and remains a strong contender in the NSSA to this day. This past year, Cazimero also helped fund NSSA campaigns for Kaulana Apo and Eli Olson.

NSSA Hawai'i Director Bobbi Lee Parker has watched the profound effect that Cazimero has had on the groms and is stoked on the Koa Tree Foundation. The non-profit organization is one of the NSSA Hawai'i 2008-09 season sponsors. Parker sees Koa as great role model for groms, and recognized his generosity and leadership abilities from a young age.

"Koa has always been giving and very family oriented," says Parker. "Ever since he was little he's always been a leader and not a follower."

Cazimero is leading the Koa Tree Foundation and its goodwill toward grommets with his sponsors' support. He will be helping them design the Koa Collection, a line of products dropping in 2009. So far, the collection includes a pair of Hurley boardshorts, an HIC t-shirt, a Fitted Hawai'i New Era hat and HIC 2X Sunblock, with more in the works. A percentage of the Koa Collection's sales will be donated to funding the Koa Tree Foundation. The non-profit organization will then redistribute these funds in the form of cash grants to deserving NSSA competitors based on academics, a two-page essay and community service.

According to Cazimero, the koa (sandalwood) tree is a metaphor for nurturing young amateur surfers' talent, by planting the "seeds for success": education, hard work and the 'aloha spirit.' In ancient Hawai'i, koa wood was the most prized lumber for constructing canoes and surfboards. Furthermore, it's the only indigenous acacia tree in Polynesia and is an extremely valuable wood today for building furniture and musical instruments. With the foundation, Koa hopes to give talented groms opportunities for success and to start the reciprocal cycle of giving back that will outlive his pro career.

"There are endless possibilities with the Koa Tree Foundation and I know it's going to carry on beyond my time as a pro surfer," explains Cazimero. "Aloha means so many things, but to me it's being a good person — giving back without expecting to receive anything in return."