Like Morse code, Hawai‘i’s surf beats out a message—one that reaches surprisingly far. Meet some global citizens who heeded this call.
By Philip Thurston, photography by Hesham
“Most locals cannot locate my country on a map,” says Ihan Lam, an 11-year resident of Honolulu from Macau, a former Portuguese colony located on China’s southeast coast. After receiving a degree in clinical psychology from the University of Hawai‘i, Lam stayed here for the Island waves. “If the waves were gone, I would be, too,” says the avid surfer.
With $500 in his pocket, Zoltan “Tony” Fekete traded the ghettoes and goulash of Hungary in 2003 for a chance to become a big-wave surfer. “I woke one morning with a vision of riding a 30-foot monster,” he says, and bought a one-way ticket to Hawai‘i. At tow-in competitions, Fekete now charges waves with the likes of Kelly Slater.
Murad Khalliev came to America to study under the U.S. Freedom Support Act. The plan was he’d return to Turkmenistan to plant seeds of democracy. Instead, he settled in Idaho and worked as an interpreter. On his honeymoon, he learned to surf in Waikiki, and he and his Ukrainian wife quickly moved here. He now teaches and surfs on the South Shore.
As a child in Jamaica, Gordon Walker “was in the water more than the fish,” he says. Now living in Hawai‘i, he competes in open-water swimming races. Kama‘aina are surprised when they do not hear the famous Jamaican patois coming out of his mouth, but he assures us that he can turn it on at will, especially during calls with friends and relatives back home.