A Young Hawaiian Surfer with Spirit of Old Hawaii: Kaoli Kahokuloa

HONOLULU (March 28, 2010) — With one foot in Hawaii’s past and the other in surfing’s future, 14-year-old Kaoli Kahokuloa has an opportunity to carry the ancient torch of he’e nalu forward in its true spirit and culture. Kaoli and his family embrace the blessing his talents bring, but understand it is a privilege not to be taken for granted.

“We want to do it the old style way,” says his soft-spoken father Pulani. “Always stay humble, no matter what the result, and always come out smiling.”

Kaoli has plenty of reasons to smile. He is turning heads around the world with his futuristic moves and a style that’s as fluid as the ocean itself. At 14 he’s doing well in state and national competition, and his gravity-defying aerials are gaining international recognition. (Click here to watch video of his aerial maneuver entered in the international Airstrike contest.) He recently secured a grant from the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation to support his surfing progress.
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Above: Kaoli. Photo: Bernie Baker

This is a kid who killed his pet pig Houston, turning it into pork lau lau, to sell for the money to enter his first surfing competition. He was seven then, living on Moloka’i, and determined to enter an HSA (Hawaii Surfing Association) contest on O’ahu. Seven years on, Kaoli is now a regular finalist in HSA’s Hard Rock Cafe Surf Series. This weekend he won his division at Sandy Beach.

Just a few weeks shy of his 15th birthday, Kaoli is about to hit the critical age of every young aspiring athlete. It’s make it or break it time and the quiet boy with the old-world Hawaiian style is going for it.

Kaoli is the oldest of eight children who range in age from nine months to 14 years. His father is from the “Forbidden Island” of Ni’ihau, a place where the English language is rarely, if ever spoken. His mother is from Moloka’i, which is still a world away from city lights and fast-paced living. The Kahokuloas reside on O’ahu now, but have retained the simple life.

The whole family supports Kaoli’s budding career, but Kaoli has responsibilities to the family in turn.

“He’s lucky if he gets to surf four hours a week and a lot of times the place we end up at isn’t really great for him, it’s great for them,” says his mother Elea, nodding towards the little ones.

While he waits to compete in his HSA heat, Kaoli plays around with the rest of the kids under the shade of their pop-up tent. Three of them are Kaoli’s full-blood siblings and four of them have been hanai-ed, or taken in by his parents as their own. There is no distinction. His parents ask nothing of the kids, yet they respond automatically to the needs of each other. It’s a marvelous illustration of the Polynesian family tradition: respect, heart-felt responsibility, and love.

In preparation for his next heat, Kaoli and his father discuss his approach, all in Hawaiian. Somehow it seems much more than a language. The words sound poetic, almost haunting, and bring a sense of ancient story to the situation. It’s as if the language itself is the embodiment of his ancestors and that his father is giving him all the mana he needs to go and ride the waves. It feels like he has the edge on his rivals already.

Kaoli goes on to win the final then returns to life as usual with his family. For these Hawaiians, life isn’t about surfing so much as surfing is an outlet to express and share their Hawaiian values.

Like guiding lights through the generations, spirit-filled Hawaiians such as Duke Kahanamoku and Eddie Aikau have respectfully carried forth the sport of surfing with a reverence for its regal roots and a desire to share their Hawaiian culture with people around the world. It wasn’t titles or fame that led the world to embrace Eddie and Duke, it was their Hawaiian spirit of humility and aloha, and their willingness to share it one-on-one with all whose paths they crossed.

The hope that the Kahokuloas hold for Kaoli’s surfing career is that it provide him an opportunity to share that same spirit and bring respect and understanding to his culture. If worldly success comes with that, too, it will simply be a bonus.

Ask Kaoli what he aspires to in surfing and you get a simple, satisfying answer:
“To enjoy surfing, everywhere around the world.”

To see Kaoli in action, check out the next stage of the Hard Rock Cafe Surf Series at Kaka’ako, Honolulu, April 10. Be sure to cast your vote for Kaoli in the $50,000 Kustom Airstrike contest.


Contact: Jodi Wilmott
Finalists listed in order of placing.

Boys 11 & Under:
Noa Mizuno; Finn McGill; Wyatt McHale; Christopher Bluthardt; Devin Brueggemann; Kaulana Apo
Boys 12-14: Kaoli Kahokuloa; Alex Pendleton; Thomas Williams; Kai Matsumoto; Hunter Johnson;
Elijah Gates
Menehune 1A: Wyatt McHale; Jett Lora; Heimana Reynolds; Reef Tsutsui; Hunter Lora; Estee Lora
Junior Men: Ezekiel Lau; Kylen Yamakawa; Kaito Kino; Cole Yamakawa; Taishi Kawabata; EJ
Men: Davin Jaime; Mike Rummler
Masters: Scott Shimoda; Alex da Silva; Billy Choi; Kapila Ciancio; Brice Yamashita; Colin
Senior Men: Kalani Ahina; Shannon Silva; Brook Nottage; Richard Tom; Sheldon Poirier; Robert
Grandmaster: Kal Faurot; Rodney Nakashima; Raymond Shito; Andrew Derizans; Tommy Reyes;
Gilbert Perea
Open Men: Scott Shimoda; Ezekiel Lau; Davin Jaime; Billy Choi; Keanu Bosgra; Brice Yamashita
Girls: Dax McGill; Bailey Nagy; Jenna Forti; Mahina Maeda; Malia Mizuno; Cayle Moore
Bodyboard Boys: Blake Iwamoto
Women: Hana Harrison; Stephanie da Silva; Izumi Baldwin
Bodyboard Jr Men: Joey Mueller; Boo Boo Cazimero; Sheldon Libres; Tyler Pereza
Bodyboard Men: James Clancy
Dropknee: Tyler Pereza; Sheldon Libres; Joey Mueller; Boo Boo Cazimero
Women Bodyboard: Dax McGill; Malia Mizuno;
Menehune Longboard: Keone Blomfield; Kaoli Kahokuloa; Christopher Bluthardt; Vincent Starn
Jr. Men Longboard: Colten Rivera
Open Longboard: Nelson Ahina; Laakea Davis; Sheldon Poirier; Kaoli Kahokuloa; Andre Derizans;
Gavin Hasegawa
Men Longboard: Laakea Davis; Nick Riopelle
Sr. Men Longboard: Andre Derizans; Gavin Hasegawa
Girls Longboard: Sierra Ondo; Kui Adric; Makani Adric
Legends Longboard: Warren Hoohuli; George Matsuda; Lance Ohata; Raymond Shito; Tommy
Reyes; Gilbert Perea
Women Longboard: Ashley Ahina; Izumi Baldwin; Hana Harrison
Standup Paddle: Tommy Chun Ming; Nelson Ahina; Egan Inoue; Boyd Yap