Riding the waves was made an official high school sport Thursday by the state Board of Education, convening on Maui. The decision whether to have a surfing team will be up to each school.
Before voting 9-0, board members heard about an hour of testimony mostly in favor of sanctioning the sport.
Despite its history as the birthplace of surfing, Hawaii had never allowed recognized interscholastic high school surfing teams because of concerns over safety, cost and liability.
“I want my 16-year-old son to have the chance to surf at home for his high school,” said longtime Maui surfer Snake Ah Hee.
Public school students now compete in surf meets as members of clubs, but they can’t use their schools’ names. The new policy will allow such clubs to be official school teams.
The public school Oahu Interscholastic Association has not taken a formal position, but Executive Secretary Dwight Toyama said athletic directors have concerns about potential liability. The private school Interscholastic League of Honolulu has opposed surfing, also citing the liability issue.
That issue led the state Attorney General’s Office in 2002 to recommend against surfing as an official sport. Opponents argue that surfing involves an unpredictable environment, including waves, sharks and collisions with other surfers.
An average of about four shark attacks are reported each year somewhere around Hawaii’s more than 200 miles of shoreline.
Bethany Hamilton, then 13, lost her left arm when she was attacked by a shark Oct. 31 on Kauai’s North Shore. She returned to surfing competition in early January, placing fifth in her age group in the Open Women Division of a National Scholastic Surfing Association meet in Hawaii.