Answering the call.. Colleen Kudo grew up in the desert, but she could still hear the sea

By Cindy Luis-Sports Section Star Advertiser

Some never hear the call of the ocean.

Others hear it even when living more than 100 miles from shore.

Even when growing up in Desert Hot Springs, Calif., Colleen Kudo still heard the ocean. And she listened.

It was a message of surfing and sustainability, of green living on the Blue Planet known as Earth. It led to the creation of “Because We Surf” and the “Ocean Girl Project,” which includes surf camps for girls 14 and under.

“It just all came together,” said Kudo, who moved permanently to Hawaii in 2004. “I was the manager of Diamond Head Market & Grill, working with a lot of young women, a lot of them ‘ocean girls.’ We had time on our hands after work so we’d all go out and surf.”

But it wasn’t enough. When Kudo heard about critically ill neighbor island children in Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children whose families couldn’t afford airline tickets to visit during the holidays, “that became one of our first fundraisers,” she said. “We gave them tickets to be with their kids. Then someone told me about this high school coach who was cleaning out the channel in Ewa Beach by himself. So we decided to go help the guy.”

And so it has continued with the official launching of “Because We Surf” in 2008. Much like a wave builds, the organization continued to evolve, picking up momentum and adding the “Ocean Girl Project” to help meet the need for affordable and sustainable surf camps for young girls.

The lesson learned is that it does take a village to raise a surfer. The all-volunteer organization gives to the community and the community has given back.

Among the volunteers are pro surfers Nancy Emerson and Jeannie Chesser, and photographer Donna Welch. Emerson donates surfboards from her Nancy Emerson School of Surfing, Chesser passes along her expertise and Welch gives surf camp participants photos of their experiences.

The 52-year-old Kudo, the manager and an instructor for Emerson’s surf school, didn’t learn to surf until she was 30 and still living in California.

“I grew up in the desert but my family had ties to Hawaii,” she said. “During my teenage years, we spent time here. I never thought about surfing, but I always wanted to be in the water. The ocean is so healing. It is such a blessing.”

Kudo spent 17 years working with at-risk youth. That’s not the target group for the Ocean Girl surf camps.

“It’s for girls whose families are struggling but they’re in that gap where they aren’t considered at-risk,” she said. “A lot of them don’t have bathing suits, towels or can bring snacks. We’ve had people donate those, especially healthy snacks.

But honestly, I think all kids are at-risk without the love and support of all of us.

“But the camp is not about bikinis and playing. We start with a beach cleanup. Sometimes we have marine biologists speak, sometimes people from other non-profits do presentations. We teach CPR, ocean safety and respect for the ocean and reefs.

“We believe the ocean and surfing to be the ultimate classroom. What is very rewarding is when the girls who have gone through our program come back and help.”

The five-day camps are limited to 10 to 12 participants. The minimum requested donation is $100 but Kudo says financial aid is available.

The camps have been limited to summer months but there has been a discussion about adding one this winter.

“I think that sometimes the ocean just calls us,” Kudo said. “I teach surfing to people who are from everywhere, from Canada, Germany, Missouri. They could be 20, 30 or 60 (years old). What in the world would be their connection? It’s that strong desire to be in the water, just like I had.”


  1. summyr levitoff says:

    You are a hero and an inspiration to everyone around you. Thanks!!!


  2. great article! Thanks for sharing.


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