HONOLULU (AP) — Football wears the crown in Hawaii, but the real sport of kings is surfing.
Hawaiian chiefs and royalty used to glide across the Pacific centuries ago as form of expression, to show courage and to compete. Today, it's big business and people ride waves across the world.
"Hawaii is the birthplace of surfing," Gov. Neil Abercrombie said. "From Duke Kahanamoku to the thousands of residents and visitors who surf both recreationally and competitively, the sport is rooted in our culture and way of life."
Abercrombie's comments come as Hawaii prepares to become the first state in the nation to make surfing an official high school sport, joining the likes of football, basketball, volleyball and swimming, starting as early as spring 2013.
"It's quite clear, when you think of Hawaii, you think of surfing," said Abercrombie, with Waikiki beach behind him. The news conference was held near the statue of Kahanamoku, an island icon and Olympic gold medal swimmer known as the father of modern surfing.
The Aloha State is known for its world-class surf breaks and competitions. It is home to many pro surfers and has produced several world champions including Hawaii's Carissa Moore, who this summer became the youngest world champion at 18.
"I think it's awesome, and it will open doors for kids," said Moore, who welcomed the announcement. She said the sport taught her many life lessons growing up, such as hard work, perseverance, and time management.
"Surfing and riding a wave is so much like life. You fall down over and over again, but you keep picking yourself back up until you ride one all the way to the beach," Moore said. "I know that's kind of cheesy, but I think surfing is definitely a really good outlet for a lot of teens and young kids. It's a way to channel a lot of energy into something positive. It's just really awesome."
Hawaii has the only statewide public school district in the nation, which means surfing will be offered as a sanctioned prep sport in schools across the islands.
Moore said it's "overdue."
"I went through high school without it being a part the sports curriculum," she said. "It definitely was hard trying to find my own path and trying to convince my teachers that this is something that's really important to me and trying to find time and all that."
The state Department of Education is working with the newly appointed Board of Education on developing a plan to implement surfing. Judging will be done similar to pro surf meets and there will be an individual boys and girls champions, as well as team champions, similar to golfing, said education board member Keith Amemiya, former head of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association.
The board approved surfing in May 2004, but funding, safety concerns, liability and other challenges prevented the sport from becoming sanctioned.
Amemiya said surfing often attracts athletes that may not be interested in traditional sports like football, baseball and soccer.
"In our view, the more students that engage in athletics and other afterschool activities, the higher our student achievement rates will become," he said.
With the addition of surfing, students in Hawaii public schools will have 19 different sports, believed to be the most of the nation — from air riflery to bowling — producing 44 state champions every year.
Amemiya said the estimated cost of surfing in the first year about $150,000, with $50,000 already committed through private sources.
"Because of these lean fiscal times, none of the DOE funding will be used to run the events," he said. "We're counting on the private sector and the public."
The financially-strapped state is confident it will receive the necessary funding gauging from the interest from the community and corporate sponsors.
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