Traditional Board Building with Hui Malama O Ke Kai

Story & Photos by  Lauren Shanahan

On a Saturday in March, under a warm Hawaii sky in Waimanalo, the spirit and culture of Hawaiian tradition was very much alive and well. The cathedral-like ridges of the Ko’olau mountain range were the ideal backdrop for an afternoon spent at the Hui Malama O Ke Kai ‘Ohana Strengthening Workshop Series: Kalai Papa He’e Nalu (Surfboard Making). Taking place over the course of 15 weeks at the Waimanalo Teen Center, keiki, teens, and parents gathered together for a hands-on experience shaping their own traditional surfboards. Led by waterman and HPU professor, Ian Akahi Masterson, the workshop was made possible through Hui Malama O Ke Kai (HMK) or “the group that takes care of the ocean.”

Fine curls of wood shavings scattered on the grass as rasp hand sanders were used against the grain of the boards. While the surfboard shaping is the focal activity, the real purpose behind the workshop is family strengthening. Malia Greaney, former HMK Director/member of the Board of Directors and current Program Evaluator, mother of two, and Molokai native spoke about the purpose and importance of this grass roots organization. Community-based and non-profit, HMK began 15 years ago through the efforts of ocean-minded and youth development people such as Jerry Vasconcellos, Nani Akeo, Sharon Majit-Gorion, Eric Bunyan, Kawika Eckart, Sonya Evensen, and others. These surfers, body surfers, lifeguards, and canoe paddlers recognized the need for a free after-school program for the keiki. Furthermore, a program that taught kids to be safe in and love the ocean and stay grounded through Hawaiian culture and values.

Hired to teach the classes, Ian, big-wave surfer, father of three, and former HMK Program Specialist/Curriculum Developer, learned to shape and ride traditional Hawaiian surfboards. He too recognizes the great value of this ‘ohana strengthening program. “The seminar uses Hawaiian culture to bring families and individuals back to nature, which is the main thing that needs our attention.” The keiki of HMK are taught from the beginning that whatever happens on the land effects the health of the ocean; believing that it is ours to both enjoy and care for. We take care of it and it takes of care of us. Proving to be very popular, the multi-week family approach to teaching Hawaiian values through traditional surfboard making is so innovative, it may be the first ever. Malia says, “The kids, their parents, and even grandparents keep coming back every week because they believe in it too”.

The various programs within HMK are designed to give kids and families a sense of pride and ownership through cultural practices and ocean activities, ultimately instilling a personal desire to care for their community and the land. The future is bright and it is in the hands of our keiki, and HMK aims to inspire good values at impressionable ages. Words like “pono” (righteousness), “malama” (care), “mana‘o” (knowledge), and “kuleana” (responsibility) floated through the air that day, testament to the survival of the native culture.

Malia and Ian, along with other members and supporters of the foundation, believe it is important to reclaim the pride and brilliance of native Hawaiians and share it with the community. What better way to do this than to begin with our keiki, by teaching them about the ways of the native people who lived in a true state of “lokahi” (unity, harmony) with the ocean and all of nature. Malia spoke passionately about the future of the program and the bigger picture of its efforts; “If we can regain it, it’s a lesson not only to Hawaii, but to the whole world…We’re going to heal ourselves as a people, claim it and regain it, so it can continue to service all of us.”

This process of traditional board shaping helps bring families closer and creates a sense of ownership and pride. The beautiful end product also hopefully stands as an heirloom for families to pass down through the generations, as this ancient art and practice once was. It provides meaningful time spent together, both during building and when surfing after the workshop. For the next few months, Ian will continue to share his knowledge; from cutting the plank to shape, planing out the rocker, carving the rails evenly, and applying the homemade kukui nut oil for water resistance, the families get to spend each Saturday crafting a symbol of tradition. Once the boards are finished, the families will test them out together in the waters of Waimanalo. They’ll learn to surf on the wood boards and share in an ancient sport of the ali‘i (royalty), helping keep it alive. The family strengthening and cultural values teaching will continue on through HMK’s unique after-school youth development and leadership programs, ‘ohana programming, and youth-and-family driven community service projects.

Alberto Ricordi, a Brazilian member of HMK’s Kalai Papa He’e Nalu (surfboard making) workshop, speaks about what he’s gained here in Waimanalo. “When we are doing these activities, everybody has the same challenges, it doesn’t matter if you are Brazilian or Hawaiian, you still have to have the patience and perseverance like everybody else.” Alberto also described how the inclusive seminar has been a different way to gain an understanding of Hawaiian culture. “This is a unique opportunity for intergeneration relationships. You don’t find this knowledge in books; you only learn it by doing it together, with other people… It’s passed down from generation to generation and hopefully the kids will be the ones in the future to be teaching the process.”

With such a positive impact seen in the keiki, families, and community of Waimanalo, HMK members anticipate similar programs growing out of other communities in Hawaii. Malia sees opportunity for growth and is excited for what lies ahead as she shared the most fulfilling part of her involvement in Hui Malama O Ke Kai, and it couldn’t be more radiant. “These children are so much more ready to face their futures and perpetuate their past. They go forward with confidence knowing the beauty and history of this land. That to me is the most fulfilling and beautiful part.”

For more information or to learn how you can help or get involved, please visit or contact Kathy Morris, HMK’s Executive Director, at (808) 258-6717.


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