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Hawaiians debate authenticity of Olympic surfing ahead of debut

Surfing will finally become an Olympic sport in Tokyo this year, but not all Hawaiians see it as a victory for their culture, as they mourn the whitewashing of the sport.

Hawaii is widely considered to have created surfing. According to the Boston Globe, the so-called father of the modern sport, Duke Kahanamoku, lobbied for surfing to become an Olympic sport as far back as 1912. Over a century later, his wish is coming true.

“(Kahanamoku’s) dream was to see this in the Olympics, being a four-time Olympian himself, and this finally came to fruition,” Native Hawaiian surfer Tony Moniz told KITV.

However, some Hawaiians allege that the Olympics have also contributed to the cultural appropriation of surfing. Moniz said commercialization and large surfing companies have distanced the sport from its heritage.

Brian Keaulana, a member of the water safety organization Hawaiian Water Patrol, asserted that Olympic officials did not communicate with Native Hawaiian community members about ceremonies at the Games.

“It’s like we’re invisible. That’s the whole thing,” Keaulana told KITV. “As a Hawaiian in Hawaii, we’re invisible.”

Keaulana also protested the fact that Hawaiian surfers cannot compete as part of a Hawaiian team, but rather as members of Team USA.

Mahina Maeda, a Hawaii-born surfer who will represent her parents’ native Japan in the Olympics, said switching her affiliation from Hawaii to Japan was a tough decision. But ultimately, she told KHON, she is still grateful to champion the sport and honor its forefathers.

“I think the main part that all surfers, whether we’re from Hawaii or not, is the fact that we’re representing surfing in the Olympics,” Maeda said. “That was one of the goals that Duke Kahanamoku really wanted to do as the image of surfing. We are making that dream come true. I’m definitely really excited to do something that our ancestors of the Hawaiians did back in the day and being able to bring it to the modern day era.”

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