Catching the (first) wave: Hukilau Surf Camp awarded grant to continue teaching kids to surf

Published 1:25 pm Thursday, June 13, 2024

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Hukilau Surf Camp received a grant from the Outer Banks Community Foundation to purchase a new trailer to hold boards and gear. With the grant, Hukilau volunteers can continue to do what they love: help kids catch their first wave.

In 2000, a visiting missionary from France, while sharing the message one Sunday evening, challenged members of Nags Head Church to use their passions for God. Steve Wise was sitting in the audience. He didn’t need to think twice to name his passion. It was the same passion he’d had for almost 40 years.

When Wise was around 10 years old, his father was transferred to Hawaii for a tour of duty with the Navy. Their landlord’s son showed Wise how to take a piece of plywood, round off the edges, and use it like a makeshift boogie board to catch waves that would come off the solid concrete wall of a pier.

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When Wise’s family moved to the military base at Pearl Harbor, he would ride a bus to Waikiki and rent a board, learning to surf in the easy rolling blue ocean waves.

“The waves were easy to catch and fun to ride,” he said of his early years of surfing in Hawaii.

He was hooked.

It was the early 1960s. Though Hawaiians had been surfing since the 1800s with wooden boards, the sport was finally taking off on the mainland thanks to lighter foam and fiberglass boards. When his father was transferred to the Pentagon, Wise still managed to find a way to get to the water. He and some friends would travel down to Virginia Beach or the Outer Banks to surf.

Over the next several decades, Wise would remain an avid surfer. He moved down to the Outer Banks to surf. He traveled to surf. He collected classic surf boards and restored them.

“My passion is surfing,” he said to himself that Sunday evening. “I could do a surf camp.”

And so Hukilau Surf Camp was born.

He started out using his own boards and some of his classic surf boards just so he would have enough. He reached out to fellow surfers or young people from his church to help serve as volunteer coaches.

For almost 25 years, Wise has been teaching kids to surf. He offers the camp every other Saturday in June and July. The camps are timed with low tide so surfers and coaches can easily access waves.

Twenty campers arrive at 8 a.m. for a brief on-land demonstration about how to pop up on the board, and then they spend an hour or so practicing getting up on a board. The ratio of kids to coaches is almost 1:1 so campers can have individualized help on the board.

“The main thing that we love about teaching kids to surf is helping them catch their first wave,” Wise said. “Because they get so stoked and you get so stoked because they’re excited about it.”

Campers take a break back on shore and listen to a guest speaker share a story of faith. Then it’s back to the water for more practice, with most campers finding success on the board. The morning wraps up with a raffle prize to Surfin’ Spoon. After rinsing off the boards, everyone goes home with a cool Hukilau Surf Camp t-shirt.

Camp cost is only $35, which pays for next year’s t-shirts and replacement boards. If someone can’t pay, Hukilau offers a scholarship. He’s taken surf camp as far as Ecuador and India.

On the Outer Banks, Wise estimates he and his team have taught about 2000 kids to surf.

“I have friends who say that I’m the reason that the surf breaks are so crowded because I’m teaching all these kids how to surf,” he said.

2024 surf camp dates are June 15, June 29, July 13 and July 27. To register, call 252-441-1696.