Archie Kalepa: Waterman
By Kimberly Lehano
“Eh! You better swim cuz if gotta swim out dea and get you, you goin’ be sorry!” Young Archie Kalepa, who was 12 years old at the time, will never forget those words, spoken by the famous Eddie Aikau … not directed at him, but at another fellow beachgoers. As a youngster, Kalepa remembers catching the bus everyday to Waimea Bay on Oahu’s North Shore, to catch the waves. As Kalepa remembers, “There was a military guy out there with a broken hand, drunk, and caught in the rip currents…I’ll never forget it.” Kalepa remembers having the utmost respect for Aikau, as the military surf-hopeful, looked scared for his life; however Kalepa didn’t know if he was more fearful of drowning, or to be humbled by a big, Hawaiian lifeguard infamous for riding big waves. Memories as vivid as that one, shaped who Archie Kalepa is today. And the world thanks his memories for making him into the life-saving, big-wave riding surfer that he is today.
Maui born and raised, this 5 th generation Lahaina resident, 42-year old Archie Kalepa knows what a wave is … what its like to be on top of one, and has studied waves enough to respect, nurture, and appreciate them. Last winter, Kalepa rode a wave incomprehensible to some; a humongous, 60-foot monster. Kalepa realized that the experience was not only physically and mentally exhilarating, but hitting a high, emotionally, that few can say in a lifetime they’ve experienced, something for him that was as much of a down as it was a high, little after he rode the biggest wave of his life. He described what he realized, was depression, not because he wasn’t happy, but because he had just experienced the highest feeling a big-wave rider could experience; the euphoria of riding the biggest wave of his life. “I came out and it was so emotional I was crying … but went through a depression a month later. The emotional “come-down” was so big after riding a wave that size, nothing could come close to the feeling that ride gave me,” said Kalepa.
So riding big waves, has become a part of this Maui native’s life. Where did his ocean-savvy-ness come from? His family, Kalepa notes. Kalepa’s grandfather, Dallas Kalepa, Sr., was a very well-known fisherman in Lahaina, where every summer, Kalepa and his family would visit the elder Kalepa’s Hawaiian arts class where he would take the children in the class fishing and camping, teach them things Hawaiian and all about the ocean. “This is where my love for the ocean began,” remembers Kalepa. “My grandfather was not only a well known net fisherman but a war hero as well. To this day, I have people coming up to me who claim that my grandfather took care of him in Vietnam, and that they’d be dead right now if it weren’t for him (grandfather),” says Kalepa. It may be Kalepa’s only regret in life, not to join the armed forces, with such vibrant and important role models such as his father (who served three tours, and was the oldest enlisted person in Vietnam at age 54) and grandfather. “I regret it only because of how proud I am of my dad and grandfather; of their contributions to America and I couldn’t have any better role models than that … I feel I want to be that, and carry on the tradition,” states Kalepa. Somehow, I think that he’s made an impact on his children already, as well as much of Hawaii, without realizing. Kalepa’s future is filled with no doubt, ocean, and waves, but for now, a little more of something else.
Married to wife Alicia, Kalepa has been in the midst of experiencing another life-changing experience: fatherhood. Having recently become a father of two (twins, aged one year old), Kailie and Kayla, Kalepa’s outlook on life, and tasks, have changed a bit, but his overall appreciation for life, remains the same. Says Kalepa, “Although I find myself making bottles a lot, in fact, I’m very good at making bottles, I don’t think I’ll ever change … my biggest contribution to my family is that when my kids grow up, I can share my knowledge of the ocean with them.” He feels if he stops doing everything he is doing today (surfing, saving lives, etc.), he’ll “lose it, and become rusty.” Continues Kalepa, “I hope that I can teach them everything about the ocean, and most of their learning comes from their dad. This is who I am, I don’t want to change because my life changes. I always tell my wife, just because our lives change doesn’t mean our lifestyles have to change … we can maintain what we did in the past, and we’ll be better parents, and happier with our lives.” Happy or not, Kalepa was forced with critical decision-making, during Hurricane Iniki which hit the Hawaiian Islands in 1992. He recalls of the day like it was yesterday. Living in Kihei, Maui, at the time, he remembers waking up that morning, September 11, 1992, and looking at the waves as he was driving to Lahaina, on his way to teach a jet ski class, all the while thinking, “Wow, the waves are giant, huge.” He recalls seeing huge waves in spots where there were normally no waves at all. “Places were breaking with 20 foot waves that never even had surf on a normal day,” said Kalepa. When Kalepa arrived on lifeguard duty, surf was only at five feet or so. Then, right after he looked at the conditions, the boats, and waves, he noticed the fire department drive away. He remembers telling the fire department to return, and sure enough, the first 30 foot set came tumbling in. As Kalepa started to pull swimmers and surfers out of the violent surf, one of the firemen, named Ken Delima, began to help him, and the two are lifetime friends, ever since. The sights that day, stand out in Kalepa’s mind the most. He remembers people jumping out of their boats, and in panic mode. All of a sudden, he noticed a huge sailboat, the same sailboat that won America’s Cup that year. “It got totally demolished; I saw a 35 foot wave go over the mast, over this boat that was 50 feet long,” said Kalepa. The day was chaotic, but a very positive thing came about, in addition to the lives saved. Because of the heroic and successful efforts of Kalepa and Delima, using jetskis as rescue equipment, jetskis, as used in rescue are now looked at with much more respect. Prior to that day of numerous rescues, for various reasons, people of all backgrounds weren’t too happy with Kalepa and others riding around on, patrolling, on their jetskis. They’d receive negative yells, signs, people even showing vulgar gestures, as Kalepa and crew would ride around on them. After Iniki? Respect, and gestures, but this time, in the form of friendly waves and hellos. Jet skis are now implemented and developed into the ocean safety program with Maui county. Thus began the start of a company started collaboratively with a few friends, called Maui Water Patrol.
So what advice does this life-saving, big-wave riding Maui native have for ocean lovers out there who want to pursue what he’s done? Train. Whether its through some government agency, friends, or watermen, this is Kalepa’s advice: “Anything you can learn, to benefit your skills that will make you a better waterman, lifeguard, whatever it may be, use it … its out there, you just, as an individual, have to be willing to learn.” He says safety plays a huge factor in wave-riding, regardless of skill level. “My big thing today about riding waves is that it has definitely helped me become more well rounded and knowledgeable about a lot of other things I want to do,” says Kalepa. He explains that riding big waves is not just the act itself. “When surfing big waves, a huge percentage is knowledge, but there’s also physical fitness and safety,” says Kalepa. “A lot of people can go out and say they ride big waves, but how many of them can go out and be safe about what they do?” questions Kalepa.
So what does Kalepa do, then to mentally and physically prepare for big waves, whether in rescue or ride mode? “I have to be prepared in every aspects; to reduce the risk I do things for my spiritual and physical well-being,” says Kalepa. Trail-riding is one way Kalepa fixes the physical preparedness. “Its very physical, but very mentally physical as well; you have to pay attention, and the minute you stop paying attention, you’re in trouble, just like in surfing, its all related,” says Kalepa. He has also tried canoe surfing (which he feels has helped his surfing tremendously because of focus on lineups, and everything involved with canoe surfing), yoga, POWER90 workouts, and running. For his spiritual preparation, he has to have a clear mind and conscience. “I need the blessings from my family, my wife. I don’t want to go out on a day where you’re in an argument or something negative; you need total commitment and support from your family and loved ones; its critical,” emphasizes Kalepa. He continues,“When you are focused on the positive and not negative things, your mind is clear, and you have a better mental picture of it all, which helps you surf a lot better.” He also mentions that you need to have a good relationship with your tow partner, built on trust and communication, to successfully ride big waves.
So to sum it up? What is big wave riding, according to Kalepa? His answer: “ Its about being totally committed in the moment … and being totally focused at the time … and when you can make those two connections, the feeling you receive is totally unexplainable.”
Some fun “Archie” facts: **Lono, don’t know if you want this, but just decided to get it in case you want it!
Favorite food : Sashimi
Fave surf spot : Piahi, Honolua Bay, but Kalepa “loves Makaha because of the people I get to hang with there and the atmosphere … Makaha is my most favorite place to surf.”
On Hawaii : Water sports are really healthy and they’re a big part of Hawaii, and it’s a treasure that we have, as a community, or as a people, we have to live that life as much as we possibly can, its one of the thigns that Hawaii has to relate to the rest of the world, keeps us all healthy and smiling everyday in Hawaii …
Favorite movie : Band of Brothers
Favorite day/holiday : January 11 th ; his twins’ birthdays …
Favorite music : Israel Kamakawiwo`ole, aka “Iz”
Favorite television show : House
On Jack Johnson : “In life there is, once in awhile, a split in the road, [where] both sides of the road, both are good paths to take … and I think what decides success, regardless, [is if]you go into it wholeheartedly, you put your best into it …that it is what you love, and what you need to do, to make ends meet and do it to the best of your ability … I really love his music, his music really its very unique and its just such a pleasure to hear, warms your heart and makes your heart feel good …
On tourism in Hawaii : I think that it was inevitable, because of the beauty, everyone wants to be a part of it, and to own some of it … I’d like to see a bigger part, some sort of ocean safety awareness … some sort of funding where some monies go BACK into ocean safety programs in ALL counties. There is lots of money being made because of people coming here and if you were to interview 100 people on a plane, all 100 of them will say at least once in my Hawaii agenda, I want to put my feet in sand and go into the beach. That’s why ocean safety should be a big part of the state’s focus.