Monday, January 5, 1998

Rell Sunn was more than a surfing legend

SURFING used to be considered a sport for men. Women were supposed to sit on the beach in revealing outfits and look pretty while they watched their daring boyfriends challenge the waves on surfboards. Rell Sunn, who died Friday at 47, helped to change that forever.

Born in Makaha, she began to surf there at 4 and by 14 was entering surf meets. When meets had no category for women, she would compete with the men - and compete successfully.

An expert swimmer, she became Hawaii's first female lifeguard. She helped organize the Women's Surfing Hui and the Women's Professional Surfing Association. In 1975 she founded the women's professional surfing tour. In 1982 she ranked first in the international professional surfing ratings.

Stricken with breast cancer 14 years ago, she remained active in a variety of ways, working as a radio disc jockey and surf reporter, physical therapist at a Waianae care home and counselor at a cancer research center.

She became known as the "Queen of Makaha" for her efforts to teach children to surf and involvement in many community programs. Her Menehune Surf Meet for children has been an annual event for 23 years. She was also proficient at dancing the hula and playing the ukulele and was an accomplished diver and spearfisher.

She was Hawaii's most outstanding women in water sports, called by one admirer a female counterpart of Duke Kahanamoku. Like Duke, she was a generous, cheerful person, despite her struggle with cancer. Fred Hemmings, another former surfing champion, said she "embodied everything that is great about surfing, but she grew larger than that. She represented the values we hold so dear in Hawaii. Rell was a giver, not a taker."

She will be sorely missed, not only by the surfers and swimmers and the Makaha community she loved, but by all the people of Hawaii, even those who never got on a surfboard.

Information, please

IN a perfect world, government workers would be eager to help when taxpayers request information from their respective departments, as it is the taxpayers' largess that pays these workers' salaries and overhead costs. Since that is a long shot, the next best thing is for the state to have its records available electronically through the Internet, as government is beginning to do.

Until that practice is widespread, state employees should heed the advice of the Office of Information Practices when it comes to determining what collected data are accessible to the public, and whether extra fees can legally be charged for research. If the state Occupational Safety and Health Division had done so, OSHD might not have been the subject of a page one story last Friday.

Star-Bulletin writer Ian Y. Lind reported that the division, for most of 1997, had been charging an unauthorized fee of $11-18 an hour for staffers to respond to requests for records. Division head Jennifer Shishido said the fees were intended to cover the costs of researching complex, time-consuming inquiries, but admitted that even more modest jobs were price-tagged the same.

When Shishido was asked by Lind where in the new bill - passed by the Legislature in 1996 giving OSHD the authority to establish new fees by amending its rules - allowed for the search fees, she was unable to do so. In her defense, Shishido said that no more than $1,000 was collected from people requesting searches, but the hefty price tag undoubtedly caused some to abandon their requests.

Shishido frets that her office gets hundreds of requests for records, many from companies that want to direct their sales pitches to companies in need. She said that may divert time and attention away from duties like safety inspections. Still, that was no justification for imposing the arbitrary fee. This kind of mentality reeks of being business-unfriendly.

Shishido should have called the Office of Information Practices, headed by director Moya Davenport Gray. She could have inquired whether such requests should be a priority for the department, and about any liability to the state if such information was dispensed. Then Shishido would have learned that the $11-18 an hour research charge was not allowed.

Lighting the way

GEORGE Bush's Points of Light program was a dramatic and successful move to honor citizens for their distinguished volunteerism. The federal program came to an end when Bush was defeated in his bid for re-election in 1992. Six years later, President Clinton has refocused the spotlight on these selfless acts of community service.

Bush called recipients of the Points of Light awards "the soul of America. They are ordinary people who reach beyond themselves to the lives of those in need, bringing hope and opportunity, care and friendship." Seeing the program as transcending presidential politics, Bush continued it in private life with his Points of Light Foundation.

Clinton has decided to join Bush in resuming the program under co-sponsorship by the federal Corporation for National Service. The first recipients of the award under the new regime are Amy Achor, a teen in Waco, Texas, who co-founded a youth group that meets regularly with nursing home residents and elderly shut-ins, and a group in Tucson, Ariz., the Give A Parent Support Program, which provides infant care, education and job training to first-time and at-risk parents.

Clinton is to be commended for rejuvenating this worthwhile program that Bush will be remembered for initiating. But the real heroes are the Points of Light winners for keeping alive the spirit of volunteerism.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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