By Karen Rose
Kailua-Kona’s hometown hero and big wave surfer Shane Dorian has taken his success in surfing and utilized his fame to establish a surf competition for Hawai‘i Island’s youth. Now in its 23rd year, the Shane Dorian Banyan Keiki Classic reflects Shane’s commitment to the Kona community and local groms (young surfers), ensuring his status as one of Hawai‘i’s favorite surfers.
“I was 22 when I started the Keiki Classic,” said Shane. “When I was growing up in Kona there weren’t many surf competitions, so when I started doing well in surfing, I felt I was in a unique position to bring a competition to my home town. I wanted to create a competition that I felt would be like a contest I would have wanted to surf in as a kid.”
Born in 1972, Shane grew up in Kona where his parents owned and operated a restaurant called Dorians. Being too young to help out in the restaurant, he occupied his time playing near the ocean. In 1992, Shane began surfing competitively, touring on the World Championship Tour. He quit competition surfing 11 years later to become a big wave surfer and is currently considered one of the best in the world. Big wave surfing is the sport of getting towed into big waves via jet ski, however most big wave surfers today prefer paddling into the waves. Shane won top prize for big wave surfing in 2008 at the Global Big Wave awards in California.
“I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s in Kona when it was a very small town,” said Shane. It was a tough dynamic down at Banyans when I was a kid. There were a lot of drugs and drinking, and lots of guys hanging out down there that just got out of jail. There weren’t many positive influences in my life at that time. Over the years it has really changed, it’s much more of a family beach now.”
Wanting to bring a positive vibe and influence to his hometown beach, Shane chose to have the surf competition at Banyan Beach in Kailua-Kona. Twenty-three years later, the Shane Dorian Banyan Keiki Classic has grown into a highly anticipated annual event for young local surfers.
“I really wanted to have it at my home break at Banyans,” said Shane. “There are quite a few kids that grow up at Banyans that aren’t able to compete in the surf contests because so many of them are really expensive to enter. We wanted to have a free event for kids where no one was excluded, and it was really cool and fun for them to look forward to every year.”
Today, the Shane Dorian Banyan Keiki Classic is a favorite competition for young surfers on Hawai‘i Island. To qualify for entry, keiki must submit their most current report card, along with their entry form, to confirm they meet the eligible grade point average of 2.25. The contest is limited to the first 50 qualified entrants who are 17 years old and younger. Contestants are also required to bring canned food to donate to the Hawai‘i Island Food Bank when they check in at the competition. Shane feels it is important to give the kids academic motivation and encourage them to work hard to reach their goal of participating in the competition.
“When we started the contest, we had a grade point average minimum of 2.0,” he said. “After a while we bumped up the required GPA to 2.25, and that was really cool because there were a lot of kids who had to work really hard in order to get into our event.”
As a result of the academic requirements he implemented, Shane began receiving messages from young surfers who shared with him how they previously never made much of an effort in school. “I received letters from a lot of the kids who told me they never really paid much attention in school, but because of the GPA eligibility rule, they stepped up their game and started working harder so they could compete,” he said. “It’s important to me that I know it impacted the kids that way.”
The Banyan Keiki Classic has become a popular annual event in Kailua-Kona. Competitors receive a contest t-shirt, lunch, a goodie bag full of surf-related items, and a chance to win one of many trophies, including the coveted Surfer of the Year award. There is also the much anticipated ‘Expression Session’ during lunch where all the competitors are on the water at the same time for up to half an hour, and the most radical maneuver of the session wins. Competitors and spectators alike are treated to an autograph session with some of the world’s top surfers.
“It’s been really cool, because since I’m a pro surfer, many of my friends are as well, so every year I always fly over between five and eight pro surfers from O‘ahu, Maui, or California,” said Shane. “Because of this, the kids from the Big Island who surf Banyans every day, and who never get to be exposed to pro surfers in real life, get to meet some of the guys such as Kelly Slater, Torrey Meister, Zeke Lau, and Matt Meola, that they look up to and watch on the world tour webcast or see in the magazines and movies. I think that is a really unique aspect as well.”
Shane makes every effort to keep the competition consistent from year to year. It’s important to him that the original concept remains intact and not deviate too far from why the competition was created in the first place. It is important to him the competition remains free, continues to be a fun day for the kids that is not overly competitive, and is something they look forward to every year.
“A lot of the surf competitions that kids surf in these days are extremely competitive and kids are all about winning,” said Shane. “That’s fine, but we wanted our event to be a little bit different. We want the Keiki Classic to celebrate a day of surfing, more than celebrating who wins the contest. It’s always great to win the surf contest and the kids get really excited about it because they are naturally competitive. However, we really try to put an emphasis on the overall day and the experience the kids have instead of the competitive aspect.
“This is a really fun community event for kids that doesn’t cost anything to enter,” said Shane. “It’s a great experience, and even if your kids don’t surf, all families are welcome to come check it out. There’s always great food and fun things for kids to do. There are some amazing community events on the Big Island and I’m just really grateful to be able to organize one of them. I’m stoked to bring the Keiki Classic back to Kona every year.”
The spirit of the Keiki Classic instills a sense of community inclusion within the participants and gives local businesses an opportunity to give back and feel good about dedicating resources and time to the event. The main objective of the competition is to inspire Hawai‘i Island youth to plan for the future as well as to help their community.
Shane’s hope is to encourage youth to be their best, and at the same time see beyond themselves to the larger world around them through the sport of surfing. Past competitions have given young surfers the opportunity to compete in Nationals in California as well as participate in other surfing trips to Central America and the South Pacific.
In addition to hosting the Keiki Classic every year, Shane has contributed to the sport of surfing in other ways as well. In 2010, he had a close brush with death during a massive wipeout at Mavericks big wave surf spot in Northern California. The terrifying incident inspired him to design the sport’s first safety suit that holds a CO2 cartridge in a wetsuit vest. The invention is designed to instantly catapult a surfer who is trapped underwater back up to the surface.
Shane also has concerns about how climate change will affect the sport of surfing. In his travels around the globe, he has witnessed the effects of overpopulation and pollution on the environment.
“It’s difficult to predict how climate change will affect the future of surfing,” he said. “It seems like there’s a lot of problems that don’t have a great solution. I’ve been to places like China and other countries in Southeast Asia. All of their trash, all their sewage, all their pollution goes straight into the rivers, lakes, and oceans. It’s concerning because it feels like no matter how hard you try to do your part, it remains overwhelming. At the same time, I go surfing here in Hawai‘i every day and the water is relatively clean and there’s fish so you can go fishing. However, I feel if we don’t activate the next generation and teach them about sustainability and caring for the ocean and the earth, future generations are going to suffer.”
When not surfing, Shane makes his home in Hōlualoa on Hawai‘i Island with his wife Lisa and their son. He reflects on how surfing has shaped his life and made him into the man he is today.
“I kind of feel, in a way, that surfing saved me,” said Shane. “I feel like surfing has really given me everything. I met all of my closest through surfing. I’ve made a living through surfing. I met my wife through surfing. Surfing has shaped this life that I’ve been lucky enough to live and for that I’m very grateful.” ❖
All photos courtesy of Shane Dorian