A clip of Cam Newton throwing a football with some seventh- graders emerged Saturday and quickly went viral. Newton saw one student wearing his jersey and asked teachers if he could join the group. He hopped the fence to interact and toss the ball around.
Newton has enough detractors that I’m sure someone somewhere saw this and said he shouldn’t be influencing kids to be trespassing and loitering. They even took a group dabbing photo! For shame.
But it was simply a high-profile athlete connecting with some local kids.
Over the past two weekends, Hanalei Bay has hosted both the Irons Brothers Pine Trees Classic and the Bethany and Alana Keiki Classic. This pair of annual events gives Kauai keiki an opportunity to interact with some of their heroes and to also participate in some real contest style heats.
A lot of times when kids meet their heroes, the messages are about working towards goals and how they can become anything they want. It’s always well intentioned, but it’s just as frequently false. None of the kids who ran routes in that schoolyard are growing up to be Cam Newton. His talents are so specific and his gifts so rare that he’s an anomaly. Of course you want the kids to take away the fact that they can do anything, but NFL MVP and Super Bowl quarterback is almost certainly not in the cards.
But for groms on Kauai right now, anything seems possible. Kilauea’s own Sebastian Zietz is not only forever etched as a Triple Crown champion, but he’s currently ranked second in the world on the Championship Tour — the most elite rankings in surfing. Just up the hill from last week’s event is home to the world’s fourth-ranked woman, Tatiana Weston-Webb. Current world No. 8, Malia Manuel, is a few more minutes down the road — depending on Kapaa traffic and contra-flow, of course.
There is natural ability that all top surfers enjoy, but Kauai’s youth can simply look to the water and see the exact spots where Alana and Bethany grew up surfing together. They know where Seabass honed his skills and may even see him out there on his board in the offseason.
That concept of anything being possible is much more realistic when you can see who this little island has produced and how they didn’t need to hit the genetic lottery to get to where they are. The kids don’t need to hear anecdotes or tall tales. They can just pull up the WSL website and see the same face they just saw at Pine Trees towards the top of the world rankings; the same person who was just walking by Bubba’s with a feature in Surfer Magazine.
Strictly by the numbers, the start to 2016 indicates the oncoming of one of this island’s best professional surf eras in some time. It’s much easier for everyone to feel a part of it than it would be in other sports. The heroes aren’t mythical creatures, they’re Kauai kids — and there are very likely more to come.
David Simon can be reached at email@example.com.