Certified Fun

Teens gain respect for the ocean at Four Seasons Hualalai

By: Betsy Tranquilli

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The Alakai Nalu teach teens to be
ambassadors of the ocean.
Whitney Harvey and Charnelle Terawaki exchanged skeptical glances as they stood on the beach watching instructors Daniel and Randall Perez plow through walls of white-capped waves, demonstrating a Jet Ski rescue for the two 16-year-old students. There was a strong swell that day, making the typically inviting water along the Big Island’s west shore somewhat intimidating.

“Okay, who wants to try it?” Daniel Perez asked after returning to shore.

“Not it!” Harvey exclaimed.

After some playful debate between the girls, Harvey finally agreed to go first. She gripped the oversized body board and was whisked into the surf by the Jet Ski. For 10 minutes, Harvey bounced and thrashed as the Jet Ski bobbed and weaved through the relentless waves. When the ride was over, Harvey emerged soaked, wearing that seldom seen expression for a teenager on a family vacation: a smile.

“That was so much fun!” she said as she bounded onto the beach. “That was awesome. You have to try it.”

It was the final challenge for the girls as they completed the three-day Junior Alakai Nalu program at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Historic Kaupulehu, located about 10 miles north of Kona International Airport. The program, geared toward guests ages 10 to 17, introduces young travelers to the professional and exciting lifestyle of the Alakai Nalu (Leaders of the Waves).

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Participants learn to catch waves
on a long board.
The Alakai Nalu are not only lifeguards. While they are highly trained in lifesaving ocean safety techniques, the primary role for the resort’s six-person team of Alakai Nalu is to be ambassadors and educators of the ocean. The concept harks back to the 1930s and ’40s, when “beach boys” were the watersport icons of Waikiki, respected and honored by tourists and locals alike for their vast knowledge of Hawaii’s shores. The idea for the Junior Alakai Nalu program was developed five years ago, when young clients would follow the Alakai Nalu up and down the beach asking questions about the water. Based on that interest, the Four Seasons, in partnership with their parent Hualalai Resort, created the Junior Alakai Nalu program, said Jeremy Sosner, vice president of marketing for Hualalai Resort.

The goal of the program, according to veteran Senior Alakai Nalu Daniel Perez, is to help clients better understand and interact with the ocean, a central part of any Hawaii vacation experience. That respect is instilled through teaching recreation, safety and Hawaiian culture.

Each program typically draws anywhere from one to six participants, many having little to no experience with the ocean, Perez said. At the end of the three days, clients take a 20-question quiz testing them on what they’ve learned. Then they receive a certificate of completion at a luncheon for participants and their families. “We teach kids to have respect for the ocean. It’s easier to have respect when you have knowledge,” said Perez. “It’s a real intense program. The great thing about the Junior Alakai Nalu program is that it reinforces the importance of people working with each other.”

During their classes, Harvey and Terawaki learned the basics of first aid, CPR and rescue skills, navigated the underwater world with snorkeling, went spear fishing and even caught waves on a long board.

The girls were also introduced to the ancient Hawaiian skill of paddling in a traditional six-person outrigger canoe. First they were taught how to hold and move their wood paddles before venturing out with the Alakai Nalu to paddle the 400-pound buoyant vessel. The girls worked hard moving the paddles in sync with each other, counting strokes and listening for the leaders’ shouts of “hut-hut!” to switch sides in tandem. Miles away from shore, the girls could hear the moans of humpback whales echoing through the canoe, while the Senior Alakai Nalu pointed out breaching humpbacks in the distance (during summer months, clients are often treated to similar visits from schools of dolphins). As they paddled and whale-watched, the Alakai Nalu “talked story” with the girls about the paddling tradition of the Hawaiian people.

“It’s nice to experience the land this way, the same way the Hawaiians used to do this,” Perez told the girls. “When you share the paddling, you share the history of this place.”


Four Seasons Resort Hualalai
72-100 Kaupulehu Dr.
Kaupulehu-Kona, HI 96740

The Junior Alakai Nalu program runs Monday and Tuesday from noon-4 p.m. and Wednesday from 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Graduates receive a certificate of completion and luncheon. The rate of $550 per person includes transportation, supplies, activities, snacks and water. Clients meet at Hualalai Resort Sports Club and Spa.

Commission: No commission is paid on the Junior Alakai Nalu program, but Four Seasons pays 10 percent commission on hotel accommodations.