JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Volunteer Mason Mike, at left in foreground, laughed with CJ Akana while surfing yesterday during the fifth annual Surf 4 HUGS in Waikiki. In the background was 6-year-old Payton Green with volunteer Lee Ellis. Volunteers took children from the nonprofit organization HUGS (Help, Understanding & Group Support) who were diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses out for a day of fun at Waikiki Beach.
Riding waves of life
Fun Day: Kids with life-threatening illnesses go to the beach
For several years, 10-year-old Bernice Danetaras underwent chemotherapy for leukemia. She's now on her way to a clean bill of health, and yesterday was able to try surfing for the first time.
"It feels like you're flying," Bernice said. "It's refreshing."
Danetaras was among more than 30 children participating in Surf 4 HUGS, which brought volunteers and children with life-threatening illnesses together for a day at Waikiki Beach.
The children come from HUGS, or Help, Understanding & Group Support, a nonprofit organization that provides services to children frail from illness.
The Thomas family started the event five years ago to share the joy of surfing with children in need of joy.
Brett and Dee Thomas, both avid surfers, spent years doing volunteer charity work, but wanted to do more. Their teenage children Torrey and Leila also wanted to contribute and began calling vendors, volunteers and HUGS to coordinate the first Surf 4 HUGS event.
"The first one went so well, that the families went and told other HUGS families," said Dee Thomas. "It's worth every amount of energy. Everyone involved becomes rewarded."
Surf 4 HUGS has gone from 10 volunteers to more than 80 volunteers.
"Sometimes it seems the volunteers have more fun than the kids," said Brett Thomas, who owns a California-based property management company. "They really enjoying seeing the smiles on the kids' faces."
The volunteers range from cooks at Rainbow Drive-In, who provide hot food to the children and their families, to local surfing organizations and a police homicide detective.
Started in 1982, the HUGS organization services more than 165 families statewide. Yesterday's event fits perfectly with the nonprofit's mission.
"These are the events that create positive memories for families," said Donna Witsell, HUGS executive director. "So when the families look back, it wasn't about all the yucky stuff --- the treatments, the surgeries, the chemotherapy."
Carol Danetaras of Ewa Beach said the HUGS has helped her deal with her daughter's years of chemotherapy.
"Talking to other families, you get encouraged," she said. "It takes the focus off of you, and onto other people, and you get to share with them."
Her daughter Bernice agreed as she wiped sand off her wetsuit.
"It feels like family," she said.