The fountain of youth is alive and flowing on Maui. This week I had a chance to speak with one of the few who are blessed with endless youth. As I pulled into Ilima Kalama’s sanctuary on the beach, I realized I had entered into a world filled with history and dreams, embraced by heritage.
Ilima is pure Hawaiian; his mother is from Kipahulu and his father from Kaupo. His roots run very deep in the islands. The Kalama name has been traced back almost 300 years, with family on Oahu and Maui.
Born and raised in Honolulu, he would only get to see his family on Maui on rare occasions. His grandmother had 21 children, and his grandfather was an engineer who built the first federal building in Honolulu. Ilima is the youngest of nine children. Like his grandfather, his dad was a builder and all-around waterman. The family’s surfing history began long ago; always living near the beach facilitated surfing. His father worked very hard, yet his philosophy was that when the surf is up, “Everybody goes.” Living life on the islands is a blessing for everyone lucky enough to be here. Respect is what he feels has been passed down through generations.
At 16, Ilima left his family and friends and moved to Newport Beach, California. His father was influential in bringing the sport of Hawaiian outrigger canoeing to the mainland, and Ilima became actively involved in the sport. Making the transition from Hawaii to California was easy; surfing was a natural way to adapt to the environment. Throughout the years, he also became involved in snow skiing and worked for the ski patrol, which he feels is like being a lifeguard on the mountain.
In 1961, Ilima began surfing in contests. His first year, he was rated number four on the West Coast; this opened many doors for him. He was sponsored by Hobie and Hang Ten. In 1962, he surfed against Micky Munoz, Mike Doyle and Rusty Miller in the finals of the U.S. Championship, and won.
At the young age of 54, Ilima is ready to try tow-in surfing in big waves, he feels he’s making up for lost time on the mainland and pursuing his greatest love: big wave riding. At an age where most men start slowing down in their sport, he is just beginning.
Ilima talks like a proud father when discussing tow-in surfing; his happiness equals his passion in talking about his son Dave, Laird Hamilton, and the rest of the boys; those who are creating the sport. He watched from the boat as they rode twenty five foot waves for the first time. While watching his son, he could only wish that he would one day ride these monsters, and he eagerly anticipates this winter.
When not surfing, he carries on the Hawaiian tradition of canoe paddling. He feels that to enjoy life, you need to see through eyes of youth. It’s his mental and physical states that keeps him young and fit. He recently paddled in the Molokai-Oahu canoe race for the All-Maui team, joining the ranks of international athletes and competitors.
He also shares a sadness when talking about how his family once owned a large portion of the west side of the island. On paper it belongs to someone else, but in his heart he knows it still belongs to the Hawaiian people.
As a father, Ilima thought after Dave he would never have another child. Thirty two years later, he feels God has given him another chance at fatherhood. His eyes sparkle when talking about his new wife, Isabelle, and his one year old daughter, Lehua.
Ilima Kalama is a true Hawaiian waterman, his love of life and love for the sea is evident through the way he moves and every smile he gives. Sharing the ocean with friends and family is what life is all about for this man, as is preserving the harmony of the Hawaiian islands. It couldn’t be more obvious that living Maui Time is living aloha.
Maui Time would like to thank Ilima for setting the example and giving us the inspiration and wisdom that comes with maturity blended with youth.
This story originally ran in MauiTime’s October 28, 1997 issue.
Photos courtesy Isabelle Kalama and Erik Aeder Photography