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Sep 02, 2016

Saved by Surf

There's a change underway in the lineups of Hawaii. With the help of the nonprofit group Surfrider Spirit Sessions, some of the state's at-risk youth are being introduced to surfing and positive mentors to add some stability in their lives. That's right, if you've heard that surfing changes lives, this program is quite literally the proof. Surfing is part of our collective heritage here in the islands and we believe that riding waves can heal and enhance our lives. It's with this mindset that the Surfrider Spirit Sessions (SSS) was born in 2005.

According to Cynthia Derosier, who founded the organization nearly a decade ago, the act of surfing itself isn't the sole ingredient for changing lives. Rather, the act of riding waves opens up an opportunity for the participant to connect with a mentor and share the simple pleasure of being in the ocean and enjoying what makes Hawaii so special.

Surfing is the hook to reaching these kids who no longer trust adults. The real change occurs when the youth begin fostering a positive relationship with their mentors.


Cynthia Derosier

By working with the Hawai'i State Family Court system, SSS mentors juveniles who could have otherwise been facing time in a detention center. Through a judge order, the juveniles are mandated to attend the course and hit the surf. The results, as collected over the years, paint a picture of success. By introducing the teenagers to surfing and partnering them with mentors, SSS creates a path of stability and growth, proving that the ocean quite literally heals. That's why the Ward Village Foundation has recognized and supported the organization with a sizeable grant.



Perhaps as impressive as the ocean's ability to transform these troubled teens are the mentors who volunteer their time for the program. "We have attorneys, doctors, journalists, and people from all different walks of life volunteering with us," she says. "They're the ones who are helping to steer these kids into more positive futures. Surfing is really just the spark that sets off the process. It's fun, difficult, and rewarding, and when they work with their mentors to line up a good wave, it really opens up a whole new world.

"We've seen youth who appear closed off and convinced they can't succeed at anything stand up on a wave during their first session and smile ear to ear. You can almost hear the first scream of success as they head toward shore. These youths have grown and are beginning to trust adults, teachers, and probation officers," wrote Judge Radius, in praise of the program. "Many of them have completed their probation, gone on to receive their GEDs, and go to college or enter the work force and have successful careers. Research has shown that detention alone doesn't help troubled youth. Although they need to be held accountable for their actions, they also need healthy alternatives and ways to reconnect with their communities, schools, and families. S.S.S. has proven vital to our work."

Since the program began, more than 400 participants have completed the course. According to Derosier, the vast majority have had a profound shift in their lives by the end of the nine-week session.

We've seen so many transformations through the program. We've had children who were constantly running away from home—or just about any obligation—turn up right on time at our session every week. We really are making a difference here. I can only hope that more people see the Spirit Sessions as another method of implementing a positive change on a young person going down the right path.


Cynthia Derosier

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