We Tried It: Nā Kama Kai Ocean Clinic

Would your keiki like to stand up paddle and ride in a canoe? See our tips for this free, monthly event.


Our children’s 7- and 10-year-old cousins ride in a canoe at Waimānalo Beach Park. Photo: Michelle Schiffl


Editor’s Note: This story was first published in 2017. The clinics restarted in August 2021 but the class size, dates and times may vary. Go to nakamakai.org for the updated information.


Who: Two families with four children, ages 4, 6, 7 and 10


What: Nā Kama Kai Ocean Clinic. A free event offering a bunch of interactive activities to teach kids 2 to 18 years old about the ocean and conservation.


Where: Held at seven beaches across Oʻahu. Between the two families, we have attended clinics at Wakīkī (Publics), Kahana Bay, ‘Ewa, Waimānalo and Kailua beach parks. They are also held at Hale‘iwa and Poka‘i Bay beach parks.


When: Two-hour clinics are held one Sunday each month between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.


Would your keiki like to ride in a canoe or stand up on a paddle board? Our boys love to swim and boogie board, but that’s the extent of the ocean equipment we have on hand. So, when we heard that Nā Kama Kai offers free ocean clinics with canoes, boards, life jackets and most importantly, experienced watermen and women, we decided to give it a try. That was about one year and four clinics ago and our kids keep asking us to sign up for more. They love it and so do we, because, in addition to having fun, kids also learn about ocean safety and conservation, which we think are important. Our keiki have also enjoyed attending the clinics with their cousins, who are 7- and 10-years-old, and with other friends. So, what can you expect if you take your kids?


Whichever beach you choose, you’ll easily spot Nā Kama Kai’s tents and dozens of volunteers in bright yellow and orange shirts. If you registered beforehand, sign in is simple. (See registration guidelines in our tips below). You’ll find your keiki’s name on a list, get them a bracelet and they’ll meet their group.


See also: ⛱️ Hawai‘i Parent Hacks: 10 Tips and Tricks for the Beach and Outdoor Adventures


Parents must stay at the beach park but are asked not to hover over their children. This is so that the kids can focus on the lessons and be more independent when it comes time to get in the canoes.


The event is broken up into several stations. First, kids learn about ancient Hawaiian navigation. Nā Kama Kai’s founder and CEO, Duane DeSoto, has sailed on the Hōkūle‘a multiple times. He and other volunteers show kids how to use the stars to find their way at sea.


Photo: Karen DB Photography


Next, kids are shown ocean safety signs and learn about currents and tides. Our 4-year-old especially likes talking about the shark and jellyfish signs.


Then, it’s time to hit the water. Life jackets go on (if parents have requested them) and they are led down to waiting canoes. The kids climb in and volunteers paddle them a couple hundred feet or more out to sea. At some beaches, including Waikīkī and ‘Ewa, they will catch waves back toward the shore. At the calm and flat Kahana Bay, they went farther out and got to see sea turtles, then jumped out into the water to swim around. Both of my kids and their 7-year-old boy cousin said riding in the canoes and catching waves were their favorite part of each Nā Kama Kai clinic.


Our 7-year-old cousin and a Nā Kama Kai volunteer get ready to stand up paddle board at Waikīkī Beach. Photo: Michelle Schiffl


Back on shore, keiki are paired up with volunteers to head back out on stand up paddle boards. Kids as young as 2 wobble on the boards, catch little waves and play around. This was the 10-year-old girl’s favorite part. She likes the challenge of standing up and especially loves paddling at Waikīkī Beach, because she can see the coral reefs below in the clear water.  Be aware if ocean conditions are too rough, this portion may be cancelled. But, we only had that happen at ‘Ewa Beach. Also, at a couple of the clinics, kids learned swimming strokes at the end of the water portion of the event.


Afterward, each keiki receives a free Jamba Juice smoothie and learns about ocean conservation, including how trash injures aquatic animals and how damaging barbed hooks can be. Children try to remove a barbed hook from a piece of leather. This challenge really sticks with the kids. After each event, our boys have talked about it all the way home.


Our Tips

1. Preregister early to reserve your time slot. Clinics are very popular, so you’ll want to reserve your time slot as soon as registration begins at 7 p.m. on the Sunday two weeks before each clinic. Staff will accommodate all children who show up on the day, but they may have to wait a couple hours for an open time lost.

2. Don’t be a no-show. If you register and need to cancel, make sure you call or email 24 hours in advance or else you will be banned from pre-registering for the rest of the year.

3. Bring beach gear for the whole family. Care givers need to stay on site, so be ready to spend a couple hours on the beach. You’ll get to watch your kids at the different stations and see them in the water. Wear sunscreen and consider bringing a beach mat, umbrella and swim wear so you can stay cool too.

4. If you’re worried, talk to the organizers. If you’re nervous about your child going in the water, talk to the volunteers. They should be able to put you and your child at ease. Then, give your keiki the space to experience the event with his or her peers while you snap pics from a distance.

5. Don’t be late. Arrive a half hour early to find parking and locate the Nā Kama Kai tents. You don’t want to miss your time slot.

6. Put swimsuits and sunscreen on at home. As soon as you sign in, kids will want to get started, so it’s easier to have them ready beforehand. Make sure you have towels, water and snacks handy too.

7. Don’t forget your camera. You’ll want to snap pics of your keiki surfing. Bring a tele photo lens if you have one. It will really help you spot them when they are farther out.

8. Have a towel ready in the middle of the clinic. Wrap up your wet keiki when he or she comes out of the water. Kids sip cold smoothies under a tent during the conservation talk, so they can get a little chilly.

9. Consider making a donation. Nā Kama Kai also usually sells shirts, towels or other merchandise at events. The non-profit organization is run by volunteers so any contribution will help.


Nā Kama Kai, (808) 864-9161, nakamakai.org