The Game is in His Blood
Ezekial Lau is sprinting uphill. It's 6 a.m. on a rainy December Monday and 18-year-old Lau is bumping The Game for his morning mile. It's too early for gangsta rap. Too wet to be working out. He's wearing high socks, compression legging and a long-sleeve dry-fit shirt, switching strides, running backward and looking more like an NFL wide receiver than a young, Hawaiian pro surfer.
Zeke knocks out a set of push-ups before his fitness coach, Kimo Middlesworth, makes it to the summit. "Uncle Kimo" has trained some of the best Hawaiian surfers for decades – most notably former world champ Sunny Garcia – with plyometric training that focuses on the muscles used in surfing. "It's the hardest run that I'll ever do and it doesn't get any easier," says Zeke as he heads to the gym with Kimo. They work on balance and legs. Brief rests. High repetition. Balance ball. Medicine ball. Air resistance machines. Quads. Hamstrings. Calves. Abs. Core. They jog to a small weight room to work with dumbbells and barbells. The workout takes 90 minutes. Zeke does it three times a week before going to school. Rain or shine. Sickness and health. Till death do them part.
By mid-morning, Zeke is back in the gym. This time he's singing. His voice harmonizes with the entire student body of the Kamehameha Schools as they celebrate the 180th birthday of the founder, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, with Hawaiian songs and chants. The high-note girls sound like Hawaiian ladies-in-waiting entertaining royalty, while Zeke and the boys rumble deep and strong like the Pacific Ocean. Like warriors after battle. In his uniform — white long-sleeve collared shirt; matching slacks; blue sash and shoes — Zeke's outfit resembles the late Eddie Aikau's on his wedding day. In the white-clad Founder's Day chorus, Zeke stands apart at 6'1" and 190 pounds, striking his own chord. "From seventh grade up till last year I was just going through the motions here," explains Zeke of attending Kamehameha. "But now, I'm looking back and it's crazy how many opportunities arise from going to this school."
The prestigious Kamehameha School's admissions policy is highly controversial, giving preference to native Hawaiian children. There is a written exam, interview process and long waiting list to get into the school. There are also a lot of rules, expectations and traditions. Zeke grew up at this school. His mom, Daina, is a middle school dorm advisor there and Zeke lives on campus with his parents and three younger sisters. Kamehameha is Zeke's childhood home and future alma mater. Kamehameha's mascot is the Warrior, and Zeke's Hawaiian name is Kekoamaikalanimai, which means "the warrior from heaven." He was born to be there.
Founder's Day is a half-day leading into winter break, so Zeke has the afternoon to surf the Country. He drives his Tacoma 90 minuntes from Town to Dave Riddle's house in Pupukea, Zeke's North Shore weekend home since gromhood. He could easily stick to his homebreak, Kewalos, or any other South Shore spot after school. He could surf the North Shore on the weekends. He could home-school, like most of his surfing peers. Anything would be easier than this uphill, cross-island sprint. "While a lot of other kids were out surfing all day," explains Riddle during a Monday Night Football commercial break, "Zeke was in school. For him to come down to the beach on a Saturday to surf a heat at shitty, sloppy Haleiwa, he was a stoked guy. You could see it.”
In 2011, Zeke appeared in three ASP Star event finals. He won in El Salvador. He won at Sunset Beach. He placed runner-up at Puerto Escondido. This is Zeke's first time competing in international pro events and it's clear he's hungry. "A world championship is everything," says Zeke, now wearing a backward fitted hat, gold chain, gold Nixon watch, diamond stud earring, tank top, shorts and Chuck Taylors. "If you want it that bad then you'll do whatever it takes to get it."
The northwest swell hasn't shown yet, so he and Riddle are watching the 49ers stomp the Steelers. Zeke's mom played volleyball at the University of Hawaii. Dad was a defensive back for the UH Rainbow Warriors. He is a pedigreed athlete. "I played a lot of other sports growing up and it's not like I sucked at all of them," says Zeke. "I just loved surfing that much more than anything else." Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws his fourth pick of the night and takes a big hit in the process. "When it comes to competitive surfing, your natural ability can only take you so far," says Zeke during a commercial break. "You need some kind of will to win. You need the mindset of a competitive athlete. One of the things my dad taught me is, "How you prepare is how you perform."
Zeke's dad is a football coach second and a nurturing father first. Zeke's will to win is internal, like lava flowing through his veins. When he loses, he erupts. The world saw it when he pounded his chest like King Kong after losing a close heat in the fourth round at Haleiwa this winter. "Zeke hates to lose," explains Riddle. "There are certain characteristics of wanting to win and working hard to win that I see in Zeke that I saw in Andy [Irons], and I don't think I can be any more complimentary than that."
The game is ending and Zeke opens a laptop. But instead of checking the wave forecast, he checks the ASP site for end-of-year ratings. "I would get bored just free surfing," Zeke says. "I need that contest mode: that feeling you get when it's game time. I love it. —Daniel Ikaika – Ito