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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Ocean 'ohana

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

The surfing Owen family: (from left) Corinne, 19, Christine, 18, Chase, 14, Becky, 12 and Caitlin, 10, with parents, Vance and Kimberly Owen.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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For more information on the Rabbit Kekai Foundation, see www.rabbitkekai.org.

For wave reports and information on upcoming grom contests, visit www.surfnewsnetwork.com.

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Drowning claims the lives of more than 4,000 people every year, reported the National Safety Council. It’s the leading cause of unintentional injury and death among children nationwide. In Hawai'i, more than half of all reported surfing-related accidents occur among beginners. So here are tips for newbie surfers on how to be safe in the water:

Learn to swim. Being comfortable in and knowledgeable about the ocean will only make you a stronger, better and safer surfer.

Take surf lessons from an experienced individual. Be sure your instructor is certified in water safety.

Surf where there is a lifeguard. If you’re just starting, stick to surf breaks suited for beginners such as Canoes in Waikiki and White Plains in 'Ewa Beach. Both spots have lifeguards on duty.

Use the buddy system. Whether you’re a beginner or not, never swim alone. If you are injured, your buddy can get help.

Ask lifeguards about beach and surf conditions before heading out. They will also advise you on what breaks are appropriate for your skill level.

Heed all beach safety signs. Novice surfers should avoid going out in certain conditions including high surf and strong current. These signs will be posted.

Use sunscreen. The sun’s rays are most intense between

10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Use at least 30 SPF. And don’t forget to reapply.

Know your limits. As lifeguards say, “If in doubt, just stay out.”

Sources: Ocean Safety Department,

City & County of Honolulu; American Red Cross; National Safety Council

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Richard Stevenson balances his son Toa at Rock Piles in May 2005. Toa was on a bodyboard by 14 months.

Mahina Chillingworth

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Ocean Safety Department, City & County of Honolulu: www.aloha.com/~lifeguards

American Red Cross, Hawai'i State Chapter:


National Safety Council: www.nsc.org

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Owen family members (from left) Chase, dad Vance, Christine, Becky, Corinne and Caitlin paddle off Ala Moana Beach Park. They're one of many 'ohana who take joy in and bond through surfing together.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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The blue Dodge Caravan parked at Ala Moana Beach is packed with two things: surfboards and kids. The sun's not even up yet — and neither are the five in the back, some half-asleep and still in their pajamas.

That is, of course, until they see the surf.

Meet the Owen family, a seven-member caravan of ocean-lovers who find time — somehow, between housework, homework and running a small business — to hit the surf at least a few times a week.

More often, if the surf is really good.

"We're always in the water together," said dad Vance Owen, 49, who owns Owen & Owen Photographers in Mo'ili'ili. "We help each other, push each other, cheer each other on. And we always have stories to tell later."

Surfing is more than just a hobby for many local families who spend weekends at the beach, from Makaha to Makapu'u. It's a lifestyle, one that connects brothers and sisters, parents with kids.

"It's something I've seen a lot," said Matthew Murasko, founder of the Surflife Foundation, which puts on the annual Rabbit Kekai Grom Fest, geared toward novice surfers. "Parents will write to me and say this is now the common thread they share with their kids. Now the whole family is doing it."

Murasko, 40, grew up surfing with his two brothers in Florida and California. Now living on Maui, his brothers come out to visit him, surfboards in tow.

Now a father, Murasko already has taken 1-year-old Zane out on his longboard. He has no doubt his son will pick up the sport — and hit the waves with his parents.

"When we catch a wave and start moving, he giggles," Murasko said. "He's been around surfboards since the womb."

DiZsae Josue paddled out for the first time last month at the Rabbit Kekai Grom Fest, held at Queen's Beach in Waikiki.

And right away — even though she didn't stand up — the 7-year-old was hooked.

"It's fun when you get to stand up and you fall down," said DiZsae, who wants to be a dentist and pro surfer when she grows up. "I like surfing with my dad."

And her parents are happy, too.

Thomas, 38, grew up surfing in Waimanalo but stopped when his first daughter was born. Tasha, 35, has always loved bodyboarding and bodysurfing. Now she has an excuse to learn how to surf, too.

"It's nice that they can see mom and dad doing it, not just the kids," said Tasha, a program assistant for Na Pono No Na 'Ohana at Blanche Pope Elementary School, where her two youngest daughters attend. "It's really awesome because we're always asking each other, 'Can we go surf?' Even if it's just to paddle around, even on ugly days. Their latest thing now is, 'C'mon, Mom, surf's up.' "

The contest wasn't just DiZsae's first time on a surfboard. Her sisters Ariel and Xanda-Lee all got stoked that weekend, too.

Now the Josues look forward to spending time as a family at Kaiona Beach Park in Waimanalo, where the kids get to play on their new, blue foam boards, donated to them by Surflife.

"I like surfing because I can do it," said Xanda-Lee, 8, who can't wait to catch bigger waves. "And I'm not scared."


Surfing has been one way that Richard Stevenson and Mahina Chillingworth connect their blended family. They have four children — his two, her one and their one together. And the entire family, including 21-month-old Toa, hit the surf whenever they can.

"Surfing is the best way to connect and blend your 'ohana together," said Chillingworth, 39, a secretary at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa and reporter for Surf News Network.

From the first time the couple paddled out to Kaiser's six years ago, they knew then that surfing was a healthy, lifelong sport they could do as a family.

"So we're passing on the torch to our kids," Chillingworth said, "which didn't take much convincing."

Now, Bubba, 15, is grabbing rail and surfing with his dad in good-sized waves. Kala'i, 12, likes surfing at Rock Piles and has been hinting for a longboard. Kilia, 8, can't wait to graduate from bodyboard to surfboard. And little Toa is already dragging out his bodyboard and pretending to noseride in the living room.

"It's a healthy, positive and forever sharing experience," Chillingworth said. "Plus, it's not expensive and can last all day."


The Owen kids' favorite memories in the surf almost always revolve around their family and their favorite break in Mokule'ia, where Vance grew up surfing.

There was that one New Year's Eve when they went out for a sunset session in clean 4-foot waves. Or that other time when Chase, 14, caught the biggest, longest wave of his life.

"It's really a special thing that we surf as a family," said Corinne, 19, a student at Kapi'olani Community College who works at Local Motion and teaches swimming at Leahi Swim School. "Of all my friends, I don't know anyone who's lucky enough to have a family that surfs together."

In the Owen's Kaimuki home, boards hang in the laundry room, on bedroom walls, in a storage shed.

"It's definitely part of our lifestyle," said mom Kimberly, 45, who bodyboards instead of surfs. "It's a connector. They're always talking about it. They have the surf lingo down."

This family is beyond stoked. They're forever bonded.

"The thing I love most about surfing is getting away from the hustle and bustle of everything," said Christine, 18, who surfs in between studying for midterms at KCC. "When I'm out there, I don't have school on my mind. It's just me, the waves and my family."

Reach Catherine E. Toth at ctoth@honoluluadvertiser.com.