Making waves with Young Ocean Explorers

If you watch What Now? with your children, you will already know young Riley Hathaway, the bright, chatty and incredibly adventurous host of Young Ocean Explorers. Remarkably, the glue that holds the show together is the relationship between this teenage star and her father. Steve and Riley Hathaway are a dynamic team and together, they are engaging imaginations all over the country, one ocean adventure at a time.

“The idea for the show began when my dad helped me out with a school project on turtles back in 2013,” says Riley. Steve Hathaway was the perfect recruit for Riley’s project – an underwater cameraman whose work has appeared on BBC, Discovery TV and National Geographic. With some world-class footage on turtles (conveniently filmed that very week), and connections with an impressive array of marine biologists, Steve provided the expertise and Riley provided the talent. Add to that an interview with turtle expert, Dan Godoy, and Riley’s project quickly became a masterpiece. Not many 12 year olds turn in school projects that look more like award-winning nature documentaries.

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“Everyone at her school loved it!” continues Steve. “Seeing the response of the kids, my mind started reeling as I realised what a powerful tool this could be to inspire children about the magnificence of the underwater world and to get them emotionally engaged with it.” Steve had been looking for an idea for an underwater TV show for years so, when he saw the response, he thought, “This is awesome! And so much better than anything I could have come up with alone.” He asked Riley if she would like to make more of these videos, and with an enthusiastic “Yes!”, Young Ocean Explorers was born. Steve shares,”Riley asks the questions kids want answered and has the teenage ‘cred’, and I’ve got the boat and the underwater know-how. The show is all about Riley getting to go on adventures into my world. So many kids get to experience the beauty and wonder of the ocean through her eyes.”

After five minutes of chatting with these two, I was completely captivated by their sense of fun and their deep love for New Zealand, especially the 93 percent of our country that exists under the sea. With two seasons of the show already under their belts, Riley and Steve have experienced breathtaking moments – like swimming with Galapagos sharks near the Kermadec Islands (New Zealand’s northern-most territory). Riley’s answer to my question,“Weren’t you terrified?” was, “Nah, Dad was there, so I was fine. The sharks were really cruisey and just doing their own thing. I realised how cool sharks are. They are so feared, but they are actually such beautiful, awesome creatures.” Steve’s smile expanded as he proudly added, “There aren’t many 14 year olds who can say they have swum with sharks.”

Having a pretty special dad of my own, I was intrigued by the dynamics of this father-daughter duo that makes Young Ocean Explorers so unique. Seeing Steve and Riley together – whether in person or on TV – it is strikingly obvious that they have a great relationship. “Doing the show with Dad is so cool!” says Riley. “I don’t know many people who get to do this kind of thing with their dad.” Steve adds, “It’s been so much fun! We are going to look back on this year and just pinch ourselves. We’ve gone to the Kermadec Islands together, the Cook Islands together, Australia together – I’m in my happy place and I get to do this with my family! It’s amazing.”

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When Steve says ‘family’, he is not only referring to Riley. The whole Hathaway family is involved with the show. Jo (mum) works behind the scenes and five-year-old Lucas has made guest appearances on the show. “He is Riley’s succession plan”, says Steve, who is hopeful that the show has a long future. 12-year-old Dylan is often back-up cameraman, having diligently saved up to buy himself a GoPro camera, and when university holidays permit, 18-year-old Alana joins in too.

So what makes the show so compelling? Steve reckons it has a lot to do with how each episode ignites kids’ curiosity and imagination. “Instead of just focussing on issues, the show is a celebration of what’s good. We do want to educate people about how our actions affect the ocean and its creatures, but unless people feel a connection to something, they are not going to look after it. Through Riley, kids are connected with beauty that they might not know even existed. They become curious. I believe that you can change the way a nation thinks if you can engage the hearts and minds of kids and, within a generation, you can change the way we think about and treat things.”

Steve and Riley are deeply inspiring when they speak of inviting kids into their wonder-filled way of seeing the world. They want kids to become explorers, pioneers and care-takers, not simply consumers or receivers of information. More than that, the Hathaways demonstrate how you can chase a dream and live it, not just as an individual but as a whole family. There are many ways to encourage curiosity in kids, but if the idea of ocean exploring has captured your imagination (even if your kids are only old enough for rock pool adventures), why not visit a marine reserve with your family this summer? If you’d like to get your kids exploring along with Riley, visit youngoceanexplorers.co.nz.

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Shelly Neethling

Shelly hails from South Africa and has been at Parenting Place since 2015. She came on board as editor of Parenting magazine and is now the manager of the creative team.

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