Jeff Fear and the Big Island Wave Riders Against Drugs have been on a mission to clean up West Hawaii beaches for the past 27 years.
On Saturday, Fear and his band of volunteers will be out again in force from Kawaihae in South Kohala to Miloli‘i in South Kona picking up trash others have left behind.
Last year’s effort, which drew nearly 1,000 volunteers, netted about 30,000 cigarette butts and at least seven truckloads of trash hauled off the shoreline to the transfer station.
Fear said he organizes the event to promote change.
“If we cannot have change then we’re not going to progress forward. And that’s what we’re supposed to be doing. We’re supposed to be making things better, not worse,” he said.
One of the founding families of Solid Rock Ministries, Fear created the youth program Big Island Wave Riders Against Drugs as the church grew with the community.
“I’m a waterman. I used to be a lifeguard at Waimea Bay (Oahu) and a commercial fisherman so we’re down at the beach all the time at Kohanaiki. A friend of mine started Wave Riders Against Drugs on Oahu and encouraged me to start one here, so Big Island Wave Riders Against Drugs was born,” he said.
Their first cleanup was held in conjunction with a keiki surf contest at Old Kona Airport Park 27 years ago. Because of the shallow reef and potential for injury, Fear moved the event north to Kohanaiki where prizes were given to the kids who picked up the most trash.
“We did that for about 12-13 years,” he said. “The same kids were winning the prizes, the same kids were doing it every year. We needed to get it more out into the community.”
That’s when he enlisted the help of the community in his efforts, from keiki to kupuna.
“As a community the beaches are important to all of us,” said Jerome Kanuha of The Betty Kanuha Foundation, which has been a part of the cleanup for nearly two decades. “We need to respect the aina. We all need to take care of it.”
The Betty Kanuha Foundation’s involvement in the cleanup was spurred by his son, now-Sen. Dru Kanuha, who was a member of Big Island Wave Riders Against Drugs as a youth and felt the community should be a part of helping the oceans and cleaning up the beaches.
“We are stewards of the island. If we don’t take care of it, it will be gone,” said Kanuha.
Fear said students from Kealakehe and Kahakai elementary schools have committed to this year’s cleanup and he encourages other school groups and charitable organizations to join in the fun.
“If I can plant some seeds … which we have throughout the years; we have a senator, doctors, policemen, firemen, lifeguards, all these people are kids who started out with us and now they’re professional people and now they’re back giving to the community,” he said.
Besides volunteering for the cleanup, Fear encourages businesses to get involved in other ways.
He said it takes about $10,000 to put on the event. Local businesses can make cash donations, provide prizes or be sponsors.
“If you are local and own a business, it’s your obligation to give back to the community,” said Fear, stressing community ownership. “You cannot take take take and not give.”
Registration starts at 8 a.m. at Old Kona Airport Park in Kailua-Kona and Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area in South Kohala.
“You can come check in, decide where you want to go, go clean, come back we feed you lunch, we have prizes, music and games for the kids,” he said.