Around The Surfing World

Remember To Breathe

The Mauli Ola Foundation converts one more…

How many times have you stopped to focus on your breathing only to find that you are taking very short breaths or maybe even holding your breath in times of stress?  This is completely counter to what your body needs.  According to Breathing.com, breathing provides 99% of our energy.  Now imagine that you could only take that essential breath through one of those tiny plastic coffee stir straws.  What made me think so much about breathing?  Well it happened quite by accident one day while cruising on my longboard.

So there I was paddling around in small surf one Saturday morning in Laguna Beach.  The water was freezing cold.  For some reason the temperature dropped into the 50’s in the middle of July.  Another day of June Gloom (which never seems to come in June anymore), and I was pretty confident that I had the surf all to myself.  Twenty minutes later, tents are popping up.  Then dozens of kids show up with their boards, parents too, but the most surprising of all were the professional surfers.  Now we know these guys never get up at 8am to ride 1-2 foot surf at Thalia Street, especially when the water is cold.  So what gives?

Pro lifting Brooke Montelone — age 6

As it turns out, they were all here in support of the Mauli Ola Foundation.  Sure I had heard the name before, and like everyone else, I called it The Maui Ola.  Close enough, right?  No, Mauli Ola means “breath of life” in Hawaiian.  Pretty cool, huh?  These guys are all about helping people overcome the challenges of living with Cystic Fibrosis, a disease that affects the respiratory system.   The Mauli Ola Founders discovered that ocean activity is a treatment for Cystic Fibrosis.  Wow, how cool is that?  I always felt that surfing was healing, but this takes it to a whole new level.

For most of us, coughing is enough to clear our lungs, but for people with cystic fibrosis, coughing is not enough.  Lung airway surfaces in CF patients are dry, which makes the mucus harder and stickier.  When patients inhale saltwater, it causes their lungs to re-hydrate by adding a layer of water to the airway surface.  The ocean water acts as a lubricant, which makes it easier to clear the mucus.

I decided to stay right in the middle of the group as the Pro surf instructors each paddled out with one kid.  This was more like a big family reunion than a surf instruction.  Oh, yeah, there was a lot of talk about the cold water, but I never heard anyone complain. Did I mention it was in the 50’s?  These young surfers were having too much fun and did not want to get out of the Ocean. I could sense the camaraderie and friendship among every member of this group.  I immediately wanted to know more about these kids and find out how surfing has changed their lives.

When I got back on the beach I decided to spend a little time observing this event while I shook the water out of my ears.  There was this one big dude in particular with a bullhorn yelling out commentary about the kids while they surfed.  He also cracked the mandatory jokes about the surf pros/instructors.  I introduced myself to the ring leader, Bobby Serna.

Bobby gave me the quick history of The Mauli Ola Foundation.  “Charlie Dunlop read an article on CNN.com about the positive affects of Ocean water on Cystic Fibrosis and took it to his brother James.  They were both life long surfers, so the light bulb went on. I think Charlie knew exactly what conclusion James was going to draw.   After James read the article he told Charlie, ‘we’ve got to get these kids in the Water’.  This was before The Mauli Ola Foundation; these guys did the first event in 2007 under their own company, Ambry Genetics, but mainly as individuals with a passion for surfing and science.  The two worlds collided at that moment. James contacted CHOC Hospital Along with surfing friends Cordell Miller and Jamie O’Brien and the 1st Cystic Fibrosis Surf Day was held at 28th street in Newport Beach.”

A Young Surfer Charges At The Event

I decided to dig a little deeper and chat with some of the other folks attending the Surf event. The more I talked to these people, the more I realized that an impressive number of Pro surfers and other great athletes have already come forward to support this cause.  But everyone was quick to remind me that the real stars are the kids.  That’s where the inspiration comes from.  The leaders of the Foundation, The Surf Pros, the parents and volunteers are all inspired by the kids.

So I watched the kids.  I saw this one girl taking off and riding waves like it was no big deal. Now seriously, c’mon, all surfers know that it is a big deal to stand up and ride a wave when you’re a beginner.  We all took the essential nose dive “pearls” as we learned this new skill.  I had to meet this surf chick.  Turns out her name is Taylor Ross, She’s nine and she’s been surfing for 1 ½ years.  Like most of us she’s addicted to surfing.  Taylor surfs four times a week.  She would probably surf more if she had a driver’s license.  Luckily she has something even better, an extremely supportive family.  Taylor also gets plenty of support from the surf community.  When I asked for her favorite memory, she told me “, Surfing with Kala Alexander; knowing that a pro like him was willing to teach a little girl the ins-and-outs of riding.”  After Saturday’s event Taylor asked her Dad if she could make money from surfing.  He told her she could and she replied “, Nice, I never have to get a job!”  (Her Dad is stoked about this?  Where was he when I was nine?)

Taylor Ross

I asked Taylor what it’s like when she first gets in the Ocean water.  “When the water isn’t too cold it feels awesome coughing up all the ‘yukkies’ stuck in my throat and lungs,” she said.  “When I’m done surfing I can take deep breaths and it lets me live a normal life….at least for the rest of the day.”

Next I spoke with Pro surfer Kala Alexander who was one of Taylor’s first surf instructors (Not bad learning to surf with a famous North Shore local).  Kala was quick to point out the influence the kids have had on the Pros.  “I’ve never met anyone as tough as these kids,” said Kala. “The amount of pills and hospital visits these kids have to do, but they still get stoked and count the days until they surf.  After 39 years of surfing I sometimes take it for granted, but these kids get me stoked about surfing one foot waves.  Taylor has the same Stoke that I saw when Malia Manuel and Bethany Hamilton were her age.  She’s got the right attitude.  She could be the first professional surfer with CF.” Kala also has the vision of taking Mauli Ola to all kids.  “Get them off the sofa; off the video games and get them surfing.  It’s great for self-esteem and it’s a great sense of accomplishment.”

Kala urged me to meet the Montelone Family.  They have five children ranging in ages from four to eight (Two sets of twins for you math majors).   Michael age 8, Brooke age 6 and Gavin age 4 have CF, while Brian age 6 and Grace age 4 do not.  Like most parents, Rob and Paulette have a full schedule taking care of so many young children.  Add in the extra responsibilities that come with treating Cystic Fibrosis, and most of us would naturally expect Mom and Dad Montelone to be exhausted.   However, as Kala pointed out, these people are extremely enthusiastic and bring tons of positive energy wherever they go.  In Kala’s words “They are a pleasure to work with.”

Paulette Montelone explained the effects of surfing on the entire family.  “At the end of every surf day Rob and I are overjoyed with how the day has gone.  The children have had fun, loads of attention, and a salt water treatment.  What could be better? Despite our exhaustion at the end of the day, after the children have gone off to bed, we find ourselves talking well into the wee hours of the morning and looking at the pictures of the day.  Surfing is a sport that we may never have considered without the help of the Mauli Ola Foundation and now it is becoming a way of life. Mauli Ola and surfing have brought such tremendous joy for our whole family.  We cannot thank Mauli Ola enough!”

Next it was time to hear from these cool kids:

“It feels fun because the waves take me for a really long ride and I get to stand up.  When I get out in the ocean it makes me cough which my mom says is good for me because I get out the gunk in my lungs.  Surfing means that my life will be better because surfing is a natural treatment.”  -Michael, 8

“It feels super fun.  It is like an upside down roller coaster because it goes so fast.  I am not scared to surf because it is so fun.  Surfing helps to get all the yucky stuff out of my nose and lungs.  Surfing is good for me because it is super fun.”  – Gavin, 4

“It is cool that I get to surf even though I don’t have CF.  It is hard to have brothers and sisters with CF because they have to do treatments all the time and do other things without me and Brian.  It makes me sad that my brothers and sisters have CF.  Surfing makes us happy because we can all surf together.”  -Grace, 4

Kala Alexander and MMA star BJ Penn with the Montelone Family

I was also introduced to an extremely stoked young surfer named Caleb Remington.  Caleb is 20 years old.  He moved out to California from Chicago soon after he discovered that that surfing was going to help him breathe better and strengthen his body at the same time.  By strengthening his body, Caleb will have better results when battling respiratory infections.

“As I googled CF and surfing, I discovered that the Ocean does wonders for CF
patients,” Said Caleb. “Little did I know that Mauli Ola and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation had the entire surf community behind the disease raising awareness and thousands of dollars to find a cure.  After reading all this, I wanted to jump out of the hospital bed and run to California because I knew God had one awesome adventure lined up for me!   When I got in the water and paddled out for the first time, it felt like a gallon of mucus leaving my throat.”

Caleb Remington

Even though Mauli Ola has attracted big names like Kelly Slater and Rob Machado, the kids I spoke with gave all the credit to people Like Mauli Ola Team Manager Dougie Tanaka Jr. who has taken Caleb under his wing, and Laguna Beach local, Steven “Sli Dawg” Chew who apparently taught Taylor some essential surfer slang, as well as riding skills.  “Brah” is her new favorite term according to her Dad.  Thanks Sli Dawg.

I kept hearing words like family and support.  Everyone I met said that they would do whatever it takes to get the word out about Mauli Ola.  Not one complaint.  These kids do not have it easy.  Caleb was hospitalized three times last year, but he’s completely stoked.  He’s breathing better, he’s eating better and he’s getting stronger.

Hopefully we will all get the chance to meet and surf with such an inspiring group of people.  In the meantime, enjoy your surfing, and above all enjoy your breathing.

For more information please visit www.mauliola.org

Watch Caleb surfing, breathing and getting stoked http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Zd793tMpko

~~~~~

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Dave Christensen

Dave Christensen is a surfer/musician/artist based out of Laguna Beach, California.

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5 thoughts on “Remember To Breathe”

  1. Thank you for this awesome piece!! The first step to a cure for CF is awareness and we thank you for sharing our story.

    Mauli Ola is currently traveling across the U.S. to help bring surfing to CF patients in other states! We wish them well. Mauli Ola rocks!!

    By the way, the unidetified girl in the photo is Brooke Montelone — age 6

  2. Thanks Paulette. It was a fantastic experience for me to get to know these great kids and their wonderfully supportive parents.

  3. What a beautifully inspired story of these amazing children,their families and Mauli Ola. This surfing event is a wonderful way to help the kids and spread awarness of which I had none. Good luck to all those involved.

  4. Thank you SO MUCH for bringing awareness and attention to Cystic Fibrosis! I am from Corpus Christi, TX and grew up near a beach. My son is 4 and has CF. I plan to take him to the event in Port Aransas, Texas this August. He’s gonna be stoked!!!

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