Nā Kama Kai (Children of the Sea) is a non-profit organization that brings ocean-based safety and conservation education directly to Hawai’i’s youth. Its mission is to empower children of all ethnic and economic backgrounds to explore their kuleana (responsibility) to water safety and environmental awareness through its hands-on, statewide ocean clinics.
Founded by 2010 World Longboard Champion, Duane DeSoto, each clinic gives participants a one-on-one experience with professional surfers, watermen and waterwomen, lifeguards, firefighters, marine scientists, Hawaiian cultural practitioners, and ocean rescue instructors.
Arguably the premier ocean education non-profit for children in Hawai’i, DeSoto and his dedicated staff have grown Nā Kama Kai since its beginnings in 2007, gaining a strong team of committed volunteers who believe in the power of its motto: Keiki Aloha Kai Aloha; Beloved Child, Beloved Sea.
“Nā Kama Kai is like an infant. Each morning, I wake up and instantly wonder how I can nurture it to grow and mature to be what community needs it to be,” DeSoto said.
Nā Kama Kai believes that children are nurtured at the same time their love for the ocean is nurtured. When he was a child himself, DeSoto’s father instilled advice that would prove to be a source of motivation for him in surfing: kulia i ka nu’u – there is only one way to compete in all things – with excellence at your highest level. Undoubtedly, his father’s words have resonated in the development, growth, and success of Nā Kama Kai today.
Q&A with Executive Director Duane DeSoto
Video by Aria Studios
What’s Nā Kama Kai’s mission?
To connect keiki with the kai, and develop a deeper sense of aloha and kuleana for themselves and the environment.
What was the inspiration behind creating Nā Kama Kai?
It came from being in such a great and privileged position in the ocean, and realizing that our children in Hawai’i aren’t getting the same access.
What were some of the biggest hurdles you’ve had to overcome to get to this point nine years down the line?
The biggest hurdle was overcoming myself in the process and realizing that as much as I wanted to focus on programming activities, I had to oversee all parts of the nonprofit, learn about the business side, and what it means to manage from a team perspective.
What are the main sources of generating revenue for Nā Kama Kai?
The main source of revenue comes from our big fundraiser every year; we’ve put together a big gala that generates close to 50% of our unrestricted funding. Then, we accomplish the rest with grants – and we’ve been trying to build and grow our individual donor base right now.
What do you use to track or make sure you’re accomplishing your overall mission?
We keep head counts to keep our metrics. We do so many events with so many children, and we share specific information every time. We also have our “Alaka’i Program” through which we’re able to track [the children] over years. We’ve really seen a lot of growth out of each child; they’re able to become instructors out of being in the program. Creating the metrics of how it impacts our children over their lifetime is really hard to track. We’ve been working on coming up with the right questions and forum to even collect the questions from them – that’s still in development. It’s not super easy to track the intangibles. We can see them and we’re witnessing them, because we’ve been around for almost ten years. We’re seeing the evolution happen. It’s just a work in progress.
What would you say is the most influential factor in Nā Kama Kai?
The most influential factor for me to Nā Kama Kai was Makaha Beach – growing up on such an incredible wealth of knowledge with the people there giving, and giving, and giving. Extended uncles and aunties don’t even think twice about sharing that knowledge and experience of the beach. It dawned on me that it wasn’t widespread. The light bulb went off. It became that moment of “oh my gosh, why are we living on an island and we’re not perpetuating our ocean correctly?”
What do you know today that you wish you had known when you first started creating Nā Kama Kai?
I’m glad I didn’t know anything about what I was doing. If I had known all the hurdles that would come with learning the nonprofit world, it would have been a little bit scary. I look back at it and realize that my ignorance caused me to fly through the learning process – learning as I went, and really depending on others for that knowledge, instead of expecting myself to have it all.
What’s one piece advice for someone wanting to start a nonprofit?
The biggest thing you can do if you want to start a nonprofit is to put yourself out there and do it. It’s not going to happen talking about it, and it’s not going to happen if you wait for somebody else to help you do it. You’ve just got to get out there, put yourself on the line, and go.