Several young surfers are embarking today on the trip of a lifetime to the most remote archipelago in the world, thanks to the tireless work of a local man.
Bruce Hopping and a gaggle of teenagers will depart for Tahiti and later the Marquesas Islands 850 miles to the northeast, which some say are the former home of cannibals. They will be abroad until April 15.
Hopping’s one-man Kalos Kagathos Foundation has been operating for more than 50 years. It sends kids on cultural exchange trips, provides grants for documentaries and athletic research, and commissions public art and specialized trophies.
The foundation’s motto, “Physical Distinction … Nobility of Mind,” is exemplified by Hopping, who swims daily in the ocean and is a common sight around town and in civic meetings.
Born in Saigon to diplomat parents, Hopping served in World War II, where he once became separated from his ship during a typhoon and spent 34 days drifting near the Philippines.
Despite the incident, he still remains enamored of the ocean, and has taken groups of surfers to Costa Rica, New Zealand and Tahiti, among other locations.
The Marquesans have arranged banquets, school visits, temple visits and a sword ceremony for the youth surfers.
The islands are famous for being the place where Herman Melville wrote of being treated as a king by the natives, only to find that he was being fattened up for a feast.
“They like American meat,” joked Jess Johnston, a Kalos Kagathos trip veteran. “It’s nice and sugary and tender.”
Johnston participated in a 2001 trip to Tahiti and is happy to return this year as team manager for the youth. But he doesn’t take his duties lightly.
“I just want to give kids what I got,” he said.
The kids and their parents gathered Monday night to discuss last-minute logistical and financial concerns, such as how to protect cash, preventing bug bites and the ever-present need to arrange carpools.
The possibility of a $150 surcharge per surfboard per flight (many kids are planning on bringing more than one) had moms and kids swooning, but it wasn’t enough to stop anyone from attending.
The youth will stay with host families, where they will be expected to live as part of the family unit and learn about life in the host country. The islands had no telephones until about 20 years ago.
Jack London, Robert Louis Stephenson and Paul Gauguin were also drawn by the strange combination of natural beauty and native prowess, and most recently, a season of TV’s “Survivor” was filmed on the remote island.
Kids will return with a souvenir or artifact from their trip, which will be raffled off as part of their fundraising activity during a screening of a documentary the kids will produce.
“Much of our documentary will be based on the experiences that we’ll be imprinted with,” Hopping said. “It’s very important to show that we have more in our minds than going on spring break.”
Of course, much of it will show kids surfing and laughing.
In addition to the standard “hold harmless” forms, the kids are required to sign a form saying that they understand all of the implications in being a “youth ambassador,” including eating what’s served at meals, using phrases in the local language and not smoking, or using alcohol or drugs.
The exchange will be reciprocated, so those who extended hospitality to the Lagunans will be accommodated and made welcome in Laguna Beach in the future.
“I’m convinced that this is going to be a spectacular exchange,” Hopping said.