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
“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).
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
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
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
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