By Leslie and Charlie Lyon
Archie Aukai Kalepa has been making the waters of Hawaii a safer place for over a decade. Along with Brian Keaulana and Terry Ahue, he developed a rescue technique incorporating jet skis equipped with rescue sleds. He became a local hero when he and his partner, Ken Delima, saved fifteen people and one dog during Hurricane Iniki. This helped to prove the effectiveness of the new rescue technique, and helped earn him the prestigious Eddie Aikau Waterman Award. They have gone on to create a certification program to train other Hawaiian lifeguards, and have shared their knowledge with the pioneers of tow surfing developing a symbiotic relationship with the knowledge flowing both ways.
Leslie and Charlie Lyon: How are things going at Parks and Rec. these days?
Archie Kalepa: I’m really stoked to be a part of the Ocean Safety Division of Maui’s Parks and Rec. We have an outstanding chief, Marion Feenstra, who is always receptive to new ideas. Recently, we did the first jet ski certification class on Oahu with six students and three instructors. Then I taught a class with six students here. It gave us an opportunity to mold ourselves as a department. The first day, I told them to write down their roles and goals in life. I told them my goal was to break down any barriers and realize we’re a team, and we all need to work together. We did long distance swimming where everybody got in a straight line, and the last guy would have to swim to the front of the line, then the next last guy would have to swim to the front and so on. So it wasn’t one guy swimming by himself.
That worked out really well, because then all the barriers started coming down. Everyone started realizing, I cannot get from point A to point B unless all six of us end up at point B. Everybody started working together. Then I knew I was accomplishing my goal as an instructor. The highlight of the first week was making everybody swim the jet skis. We broke off into groups of three, and we had to swim towing the jet skis all the way from Three Sisters to Flemmings Beach. The highlight of the second week was when we worked out in big surf, and we rode the jet skis around the whole island. It was something that had never been done before. The main goal of this program is the Risk Management part. Anyone can drive a jet ski, but not everyone can operate a jet ski safely. I thought I was a safe driver until I went through the Risk Management course with Brian. The certification program makes you realize that the jet ski is not a toy, but a tool for us to go out and save people.
Lyon: We saw some great shots of you at Peahi (Jaws) this winter. We wish we’d had them last year for our book, Jaws Maui. How was it this winter?
Kalepa: Partnering up with Laird (Hamilton) at Peahi was a great experience last year. Laird shared his knowledge, and I shared the rescue techniques with them (Strapped Inc.). For the first year, I just practiced getting up on the tow board. I never really surfed, I just practiced getting up and riding the tow board. I started going faster and faster with the guys towing me, getting up quicker and turning harder. That’s all I did for a whole year. This winter, I teamed up with Matt Schweitzer from the West Side, and Matt towed me into some of the best waves I’ve ever ridden in my whole life. Not the big kine stuff like those guys were riding, but twenty feet. I felt comfortable and confident out there this year for the first time. I could really feel my surfing progress. On the other hand, there’s dealing with the paparazzi. I was riding this wave at Peahi, a perfect wave, so smooth, and I went up to the top, came back down, went back up and the helicopter was right in front of me. I’m looking through this helicopter, looking at the pilot and the cameraman, looking down at them. I could feel the wind from the helicopter hitting the water and lifting my board. That was a heavy experience.
To be honest, we know that there are a lot of personalities to be dealt with when you go out there. You’re dealing with extreme people in an extreme situation. I just want to go out there and enjoy the place. If they (Strapped Inc.) say, it’s a little too dangerous today, maybe you guys shouldn’t surf, I’m not going to question them because they know the place better than anybody else. I appreciate that because they’re looking out for me. Those guys have so much knowledge. Dave (Kalama) and Laird have been really helpful to me and Matt whenever they see we’re having trouble. Being able to share my knowledge with those guys and visa versa is a good, healthy feeling.
This story originally ran in MauiTime’s May 12, 1998 issue.
Photos: Jody Connolly, Erik Aeder Photography and Charlie Lyon