How Mauli Ola Foundation helps cystic fibrosis patients breathe a little easier

‘Mauli Ola’ is Hawaiian for ‘Breath of Life’ and there is no more fitting name for a foundation whose motto is ‘May the wave heal us all’.

Mauli Ola Foundation at the Gold Coast, Australia. Photo credit: Mauli Ola Foundation

tweet-graphic-transTweet: Mauli Ola Foundation are a California-based non-profit that uses the power of surfing and the ocean to help young patients with cystic fibrosis (CF) breathe a little easier.

Hans Hagen is one of the advocates and executive directors for the foundation. Prior to joining the organization he had an impressive career as a professional surfer. “I started competing around 1982 and turn pro in 1990,” Hans tells me over a call. He had taken what he had learnt from his surfing career and applied it to his role as an executive to establish a number of charity events and partnerships through his surfing connections.

Hans Hagen supporting the Rady Children’s Hospital. Photo credit: Mauli Ola Foundation

Humans are made up of around 60% water, so it is no surprise that we are drawn to the ocean from a cellular level.

As anyone who’s ever taken a stroll along the sand or a dip in the ocean knows, it’s difficult to resist the relaxing and rejuvenating effects of the ocean.

It was in 2007 that researchers from Sydney, Australia discovered the beneficial link between saltwater and productive coughing for CF patients. The researchers conducted a randomized-controlled trial in CF patients aged 6 years and older. They were assigned into either inhaled hypertonic (salty water) or saline (water only) inhalation therapy for 48 weeks.

Mauli Ola Foundation during a children’s hospital visit. Photo credit: Mauli Ola Foundation

Those who received the hypertonic inhalation therapy were able to forcibly exhale as much 82mL more air after taking in a deep breath as compared to the saline only group. The same group were also able to forcibly exhale as much as 68mL in one second after a normal resting breath in. The two tests are important indicators of lung function.

The hypertonic inhalation therapy group were 56 per cent less likely to have recurrences of lung infections or inflammation. That same year American brothers Charles and James Dunlop came across the landmark study which then became the catalyst them co-founding the Mauli Ola Foundation.

When those with CF breathe in saltwater vapours near the ocean it promotes productive coughing.

The coughing helps them clear their lungs of mucus that harbours bacteria that could causes infections. The high salinity in ocean water is beneficial to the children with CF even if they’re not able to surf.

The Mauli Ola Foundation now organizes a national tour of their Surf Experience Days. Hans Hagen is inspired by the consistently positive feedback from the families involved who see improvements in both their children’s mood and their lung function after an event.

An instructor guides a participant on how to surf. Photo credit: Mauli Ola Foundation

The Mauli Ola Foundation has been able to successfully take their message of the healing power of surfing by leveraging research coupled with the support of ambassadors and advocates around the world.


Was there a particularly difficult time in your life when you felt healed and renewed by being close to the ocean?


You can support the Mauli Ola Foundation in bringing surfing to more people with CF and other genetic conditions.


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