Making It Big
Molokai’s own goes pro.
By Jennifer Smith
Is there anything more pure and fantastic than a boy’s dream? How about when that dream becomes a man’s reality?
For as long as Ekolu Kalama can remember he wanted to be a professional surfer, but for almost just as long, people have told him he couldn’t do it. To those people Kalama says, "if it's your dream, it's your dream-and no one can criticize it."
After several years of hard work and trying dedication, Kalama made his dream a reality last May when he became one of the first Stand Up Paddle (SUP) surfers to receive a sponsorship.
SUPing is a newly popularized sport where surfers use elongated canoe paddles to propel themselves on longboards. The oversized surfboards allow SUPers to keep their balance and remain standing whether they’re on a wave or not.
Starboard, a famous board making company in the windsurfing industry, snatched up the Molokai born paddler and surfer in hopes that he will assist in designing a signature SUP board, and help to further popularize the sport.
To understand how a former Molokai High School graduate ended up on the beaches of Maldives testing boards and taking part in photo shoots the story needs to rewind two years.
Kalama was turning 30 in a few hours, and felt what he describes as a “mid-life crisis of sorts.” Sitting on Makaha beach, waiting for midnight to hit so he could jump in the water, he saw his friend Duane DeSoto playing with his kids.
Something about the image stuck with Kalama and while out in the water catching waves and contemplating his life, he stopped. "I said ‘this is the life I want!’"
"Everybody thought I was crazy," Kalama said, explaining how people reacted when he gave up one of the best jobs on the island, as a firefighter. Friends and family argued that the 10 day per month work requirement left him with more than enough time to surf.
But, Kalama realized he had to make sacrifices if he wanted to go all the way, and it would take nearly two years, and several tries before he would realize he made the right decision.
Broke and worn, “it didn’t seem like the doors were going to open,” Kalama said. The fire department gave him three years to go back, and every month for several months he filled out the paper work to return, but each time "it was like pulling teeth for me to go back."
Now with a sponsorship and a busy summer schedule that includes stops in Bali, England, California, Spain, and France, Kalama knows his sacrifices were worth it. "I feel like I have natural abilities God gave me," and I wasn't able to use them at the fire department.
Kalama credits his cousin Dave Kalama and infamous big-wave rider Laird Hamilton for introducing him to SUPing. "Laird gave me my first board and paddle" nearly two years ago, he said.
"I was surfing before I can even remember," Kalama said. And coming from a well-known family of canoe paddlers, "it was a common sense natural match for me."
"It's been my childhood dream to be a professional surfer," Kalama said, explaining how excited he is to be doing what he loves. His experience has taught him that you can accomplish your dreams, no matter how great, and he hopes to pass on this attitude to his two young sons.
A two-time World Paddling Champion in the Molokai-to-Oahu race, he said now he just needs to earn a surfing world title.