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It was a sunny Friday afternoon on Maui’s north shore. Light wind wafted through the halls of Haʻikū Elementary School as hundreds of kids anxiously followed their teachers to the basketball court. They were in for a big surprise—three brand new water filling stations—provided by Reef, Dakine, and Skyline Eco Adventures in partnership with the Rob Machado Foundation. The salty air was laden with excitement, and we could hear the low rumble of the giant north-west swell picking up just a couple miles away. For these students, hearing and feeling the effects of big waves at school during the winter is typical. Our local pros who surf those waves are heroes to them. One of them could grow up to be the next Billy Kemper, or Paige Alms, riding the world’s biggest waves in our backyard.

Growing up on Maui, the ocean is everything. Whether you surf, dive, fish, paddle, or just enjoy cruising on the beach. With forty-million pounds of plastic floating in the North Pacific Ocean alone, it’s imperative that we find ways to reduce our impact, as well as educate the future generations to protect the planet. That’s where these filling stations come in.

Reef ambassador Rob Machado started this program in his hometown of Encinitas, CA. Here on Maui, the initiative was spearheaded by Torsten Durkan, a big-wave surfer, environmentalist, and Haʻikū School Alumni. He is the founder of Athletes Because, a platform for athletes to raise money for a cause through extraordinary feats. 

Rob was unable to attend the event in person, but made a special video chat appearance for the students. As soon as his face appeared onscreen they lit up and gave him a very warm welcome. It was pretty amazing to see all of kids so stunned and stoked.

Gabriela Aoun, Programs Manager at the Rob Machado Foundation said,

“The water station program began when Rob noticed that the elementary school he had attended, and that his children then attended, still had the same water fountains as when he was a student there. He asked the some of the students if they used those fountains and they scrunched their faces in disgust, complaining that the water tasted bad. Rob noticed that kids were buying water or sugary drinks in single-use plastic bottles. The whole notion seemed crazy to him—for kids to have to buy water, a basic necessity. The refill stations are great because the kids are happy to have free access to clean, good-tasting drinking water, and by bringing their own reusable bottle to fill up, they're saving countless single-use plastic water bottles from entering the landfill, or even worse, our waterways. It's a win for the students' health and for the environment."

Richard Carosso, the school's principal, quieted the students and explained their reason for assembling. He introduced Torsten, the sponsors, and the athletes, to roaring applause. The stoke on the students’ faces was priceless. Torsten gave an inspiring message and encouraged the kids to take care of their bottles and fountains, after so much hard work went into it. 

Lily Serano, a marine biologist and lead educator at the Maui Ocean Center gave a brief presentation on the detrimental effects of single-use plastic, explaining the damage it does to animals and the ecosystem. Lily reminded us that although we may feel powerless in the face of all the plastic polluting the ocean, the little things we can do are worth it and add up. 

Three ways to make a difference today: 

Reduce - Stop buying water bottles, and other single use items like plastic bags, plastic utensils, etc.
Reuse - Use reusable grocery bags, reusable water bottles and filling stations, take reusable lunch boxes to school.
Recycle - Dispose of plastic containers properly, use it in an art project, don’t just add it to the landfill.

The water bottle signing was a blast! A group of Maui’s top professional surfers came out to fuel the fun. The crew included: Paige Alms, Albee Layer, Kai Lenny, Jesse Richman, and thirteen year-old Ty Simpson-Kane, Maui’s up and coming big wave charger. The smiles on the student’s faces were contagious, and their cheers and chatter reverberated across the court. Autographs from their hometown heroes provided major incentive for the kids to take care of those bottles. After about an hour of youthful pandemonium, the bell rang and school was out. 

Every student left the area with smiles on their faces and autographs on their bottles, but more importantly, they left with knowledge. Knowledge of their ability to make a difference, to protect the water they drink and the water they play in. It’s inspiring to see our community come together for a great cause. Mahalo to all of the sponsors and those involved for bringing clean drinking water to Haʻikū Elementary, and for helping to preserve the future of our oceans.


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