“To live in hearts that we leave behind is not to die. “
– Thomas Campbell
For 20 years, Jane Roberson has kept the memory of her son alive, not only in the hearts of the surfers he left behind, but also in the waves they ride.
On January 16, Roberson oversaw the 20th edition of the Ho’okipa Surf Classic. The competition began in 1990 to commemorate Justin Roberson, a gifted professional World Qualifying Series (WQS) surfer who died in a tragic alcohol-related traffic accident at the age of 19.
“Most of everything I’ve done since is in memory of my son,” says Roberson. “As far as I can remember, Justin was a waterman. Once, when he was four years old, he didn’t have a board with him at Lahaina Harbor. People in the line-up noticed him and started making boards for him. Roberson smiles thoughtfully at the memory.
Justin would take these surfboards to new heights. Along with his friend and competitor Christian Fletcher, Roberson was instrumental in the aerial surfing movement that began in the late 1980s. His progressive style gave him a competitive advantage that earned him corporate sponsorships from Quicksilver, Gerry Lopez and Da Kine. But in the worst possible fence imaginable, fate befell Roberson during his first year on the WQS, ending his dreams of becoming Maui’s first boy on the World Championship Tour (a title won by Dusty Payne of Lahaina in December).
Bad things are said to come in threes: 10 years after Justin’s death, the island’s surf ‘ohana has lost another, with the untimely death of 18-year-old Eric Diaz. And in 2004, legendary aerial master Steve Cooney was killed in a single vehicle crash at the age of 30.
“These three boys died too young making bad choices,” says Roberson. “They took risks with their lives and lost everything. But I am determined to keep their memory alive. And the best way for me to do that is to take care of the beach park that they loved.
In 2000, Roberson’s kuleana led her to become the CEO of the Surfrider Foundation, Maui Chapter, where she gave countless hours to protect and preserve the island’s surf spots.
In 2003, Maui was the first chapter in the state to implement the Blue Water Task Force, the Surfrider Foundation’s water quality monitoring, education and advocacy program. That same year, Roberson removed a landfill at the entrance to Ho’okipa Beach Park and used the space for a student restoration project for native Hawaiian plants.
Roberson’s plant projects in Ho’okipa have won several awards, including the 2007 International Society of Arboriculture Award for Outstanding Landscape of a Public Space, the 2008 Scenic Hawaii Award for Outstanding Landscape Activities, and the Pacific Whale Foundation finalist for MauiTime’s 2009 Best Non-Profit Environment.
“The Surfrider Foundation has been an exemplary partner in the establishment and maintenance of native vegetation,” says Tamara Horcajo, Maui County Director of Parks and Recreation. “Many groups offer to plant trees or plants in our public parks, which is appreciated. However, the ongoing care and maintenance of these plants is difficult for our minimal park maintenance staff. “
Roberson was the philanthropic voice of the surfing community when the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) attempted to expand the Maalaea Small Boat Harbor, which allegedly interfered with Maui’s famous ‘Freight Train’, the fickle monster of Maui. a barrel that sinks into the shallow reef of Maalaea harbor. The spot is known by surfers as “the fastest wave in the world”.
ACE sought to improve navigation at the entrance to the port and reduce the surge by building a breaking wall that stretched 620 feet in the main direction of the Maalaea swell, threatening the wave and 11 acres of its precious coral. Thanks to a grant written by Roberson from the Ford Foundation, Surfrider hired a maritime consulting firm to review the environmental impact study for the project. The results of the company’s study contradicted ACE’s claim that the rupture wall would significantly reduce the surge. The Corps has returned to the drawing board and the freight train continues – for now.
“As late as March 2009, Ms. Roberson brought together around 30 representatives of the Maalaea community to openly share their concerns, issues and considerations about Maalaea with the Corps,” says Cindy Barger, ACE biologist and project manager. . “Sharing information in this format with the Corps allowed us to better understand the community and create a more collaborative process when developing the reassessment report. ”
Roberson’s tireless efforts continue to have an immeasurable positive impact on aina. But like any strong leader, Roberson has met his share of criticism. She is strong-minded, determined and led Surfrider according to her singular vision. At the end of 2009, she stepped down from her position as Chapter Executive Director.
According to Stuart Coleman, Hawaii coordinator for the Surfrider Foundation, Roberson “realized the chapter needed to take a new direction.” But, he adds, “she is now working with a younger generation of leaders focusing on a wider range of issues.”
“I did it to the best of my ability when no one else wanted to be a senior executive,” says Roberson, who is consulting the new board as an ex-officio.
Roberson’s plans also include starting a new nonprofit, The Friends of Ho’okipa, which will oversee fundraising and maintenance of the native plant restoration project.
The 20th anniversary of the Ho’okipa Surf Classic marked the final year of the event. Roberson ends the contest, hoping to spend more time with his four young grandsons: Justin, Eric and Steve (named in memory of the three lost surfers) and Rider Maka’i whose name roughly translates to surf rider.
But too bad for the tragic rule of the three: in 2007, famous artist and surfer from Maui, Ron Cassidy, died while surfing in Puerto Escondido in Mexico. Hauntingly, Cassidy once produced a Justin Roberson painting.
For most surfers, the only thing more sacred than the waves we ride are our relationships with the people we love. Jan Roberson says she can’t have one without the other. “I guess I’m still kind of a protective mother,” she says. “Doing my best to save these waves is the way I continue to take care of my son, and I also remember the other surfers Maui lost too soon.”
For more information on volunteers, contact Jane Roberson: [email protected]