Making Surf Dreams Come True

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - May 11, 2011
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David and Maile Lamaku catch a wave thanks to ‘They Will Surf Again. Photo courtesy Gayla Elizabeth

A year ago, 4-year-old Maile Lamaku innocently asked her family a question that caught many of them off-guard. “When I grow up, can I go surfing?”

Gayla Elizabeth recalls that special moment and knew right then she would find a way to make her niece’s dream come true. Maile was born with spina bifida, a congenital disorder that involves the incomplete development of the spinal cord or its coverings.

“We didn’t know how to respond to that because of our lack of education,” says Elizabeth. So she got educated and attended an event in San Diego that offered opportunities for adaptive surfers. Maile was there, too, “and she loved it!”

Elizabeth’s next goal was to bring Maile back home to Hawaii to surf in front of her family. With the help of the Life Rolls On Foundation, several local companies and an army of volunteers, she organized “They Will Surf Again.” On April 30, Maile and more than a dozen other paraplegics and quadriplegics surfed at White Plains Beach in Ewa Beach.

“It was great,” Elizabeth says with excitement. “We had 15 adaptive surfers ranging in age from my 4-year-old niece to a gentleman in his 50s. We had more than 100 volunteers, nice waves and even a few first-timers!”

“They Will Surf Again” is a series of events that empower people to surf despite paralysis or other disabilities. The free event invites young people with spinal cord injuries to ride waves. Maile and her family currently live in San Diego but are originally from Hawaii.

Elizabeth says watching Maile ride the waves with her father David was a special moment for the entire family.

“It was special to see the excitement and joy on their faces as they caught waves and felt a sense of freedom,” says Elizabeth. “It was priceless, and it makes you feel grateful and thankful that you’re bringing so much joy to their lives.”

“Maile’s future has no limits!” says her grandmother Della Young of Honolulu.

Life Rolls On was founded in 1999 and is a subsidiary of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. The organization is dedicated to improving the quality of life for young people affected by spinal cord injuries using action sports as a platform to inspire infinite possibilities despite paralysis. This was the inaugural event in Hawaii, but organizers hope to make Honolulu an annual stop on their nine-city tour.

“It was a great opportunity to provide public awareness, and people on the beach were walking up to our registration booth asking questions on how they could help,” says Elizabeth. “Some donated money right on the spot or purchased T-shirts.”

Event sponsors include Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa, Wahoo’s Kahala, Duke’s Waikiki, Gayla Elizabeth Photography, Lulu’s Waikiki, Ba-Le, Leonard’s Bakery and Function Drinks. Community partners for the event include the U.S. Navy, AccessSurf Hawaii, Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific and the Ty Gurney Surf School.

To celebrate LRO’s inaugural visit to Hawaii, Wahoo’s in Kahala hosted a celebration with a portion of food and beverage proceeds donated to Life Rolls On. Kahiau provided live entertainment; LRO founder Jesse Billauer made a special appearance and prizes included a surfboard donated by Aaron Rutledge of Star Beach Boys that was autographed by the cast of Hawaii Five-O.

“This was personal for me, and I was extremely proud and overwhelmed with happiness and love,” says Elizabeth, who is a professional photographer and documented the day with hundreds of photos. “When I came back and reflected on the images, it gave me great satisfaction and I was feeling an abundance of joy within myself. It was very rewarding.”

She says other volunteers shared similar stories.

“They said thank you for inviting me to participate in this; it’s been a blessing,” says Elizabeth. “Even though we were volunteers, what they were giving us was beyond what we ever expected.”

And to think it all started with an innocent question from a girl who dared to dream big.

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