Surfrider Spirit Sessions’ mission is to serve at-risk and adjudicated youth by teaching ocean awareness, environmental sensitivity and Hawaiian culture via holistic, ocean-based experiential education, mentoring programs, and activities that connect, enhance, and fill in the gaps within existing nonprofit programs.


It Began With a Book:

The surfer spirit

The surfer spirit

Surfrider Spirit Sessions was created in 2006 by former Executive Director Cynthia Y.H. Derosier in response to a need expressed by the Hawai‘i Girls Court. Inspired by life-messages in Derosier’s book, The Surfer Spirit, and her work as a motivational speaker, Girls Court therapist Emma Pavich asked Cynthia to help teach the girls the messages found in the book, to which Cynthia replied, “The only way they can learn it is to experience it. If you want them to ‘get it,’ we’ve got to get them surfing.” Judge Karen Radius encouraged this, calling it “an idea so radical, it just might work.” The judge actively championed the proposed pilot program.

In December 2009, Surfrider Spirit Sessions became an independent non-profit corporation, and received IRS 501(c)(3) nonprofit tax status in March 2010. Since the initial launch the Spirit Sessions team continues to provide six sessions each year in spring, summer and fall for around 100 Oahu youth each year.

Our strength rests on personal and community involvement. We’ve learned that we aren’t just catching waves and changing lives; we’re building a stronger community for all. The Surfrider Spirit Sessions ‘ohana continues to grow, learn and serve.


We don’t see “at-risk”... we see future champions and leaders

We believe our youth are “Champions in Training,” and we are coaches who support them, push them when needed, and cheer them on to succeed in school, at home, at work, in the community, and in life. We call our teens “Champions in Training” because we’ve seen their passion and spirit, and we know they thrive on challenges. We see their potential and know what they can do.

The teens we serve have the innate capacity to be powerfully positive leaders

Our kids are strong and courageous. They have endured challenges and encountered obstacles the average person will never see in his or her entire lifetime. They’ve suffered setbacks, and have sometimes found themselves “on the wrong side of the tracks” headed in the wrong direction. Yet they have survived. They have the resilience and power to overcome hardships, redirect their lives, and lead others towards positive change.

Why We Exist

Surfrider Spirit Sessions was initially created in response to needs expressed by Hawaii State Family Court judges, probation officers and counselors

These needs include:

  • adrenaline outlets

  • healthy and fun physical activity

  • exposure to positive role models

  • adapting new life skills and mode of thinking

  • cultural and environmental awareness

  • improved self-esteem

We address these needs to help youth fulfill their true potential and become successful adults.

Providing a safe and nurturing community

Surfrider Spirit Sessions provide our participants with a positive link to our community and new identities as good citizens, role models and potential community leaders.  Youth are literally immersed in a healthy and comforting environment with the safety of one-on-one mentorship... one they are happy to embrace!

What We Do

Surfing Naturally Appeals to Teens

By using surfing, we literally pull the ground out from under our youth, grab their interest, help them recognize their own inherent value, and transform their raw energy into character strengths!

The joy of surfing and accomplishment of catching waves is an instant boost to self-esteem, and surfing together provides a positive bonding experience and enhances trust. Our method of combining one-on-one adult mentoring, group mentoring, peer mentoring, eco-therapy, experiential environmental education, Hawaiian cultural lessons and athletics stimulates youth participation and leads to strong relationships.

The more connections, the tighter the safety net.

We’re building a big `ohana.  Based on the Hawaiian concept that we are all connected, Surfrider Spirit Sessions brings together state and local agencies, businesses, and community members to support our youth and share their resources to provide a better safety net for our teens. Our programs work because we all work together to empower our youth to succeed at home, in school and in their community.

Culturally Aligned Programs

We believe that community support and healthy culturally based activities are the answers to healing the trauma experienced by our youth.

Our programs’ successes are based on the practice of ALOHA and the life-long commitment that supports youth at-risk and their families and builds healthy relationships through our Surf ‘Ohana. We strive to connect youth to appropriate community resources and strong support networks through collaborative relationships with community partners and youth service agencies, in alignment with the AHUPUA’A system of community interdependence and interconnectedness. We use surfing and Hawaiian cultural traditions (such as mentorship, developing a connection to the ocean and land and mālama‘āina (care for the land) as a means to engage youth invigorating their spirits, and building positive mana in our community.

Our programs and curriculum incorporate Hawaiian culture within the framework of the seven guiding themes of culturally responsive programs expressed by the Native Hawaiian Education Council. Our programs and lessons impact youth:

  • Enhance family, peer, adult relationships

  • Increase connectivity with community

  • Decision making and ability to contribute to self, family, community

  • Reduce risky behaviors

  • Increase cultural awareness and appreciation

  • Increase in environmental stewardship and awareness