10 Amazing Island Stories

Next time you’re out in public, take a look around. The person next to you may have saved a life. Or won a million dollars. You wouldn’t know just by looking at them, you’d have to ask. So we did. Here are some Islanders who have experienced the unusual, done the extraordinary, from the sublime achievement of reclaiming a once nearly extinct language to the wacky experience of winning a musubi eating contest.


(page 4 of 5)

Photo By: Ryan Siphers

Dave Kalama

wipes out at Jaws.

On New Year’s Day 2000, the tow-in pioneer gets buried alive not just once, but three times.

I was with Mark Angulo. He was towing me into the third wave of the day. It had a 35-foot face and I was setting up for a nice tube. Just when the wave was about to throw over me, I hit a bump, got knocked off my board and started sliding down the face of the wave on my back. I kept thinking, “This can’t be happening.”

After a second or two I stopped sliding and penetrated the surface. Then I realized I was about to get sucked over the falls and land back down with the lip.

I knew I had to get a breath of air. I took about three kicks and strokes as fast as I could. I saw the surface of the water an inch from my lips. And right then, the lights go out and it’s as if I’m a rag doll in a pit bull’s mouth. I’m getting torn apart. I curl up into a ball so that my arms and legs won’t get separated from me. From the pressure on my ears I could tell I was pretty deep, 25, maybe 30 feet. The wave eventually stopped. When I broke the surface I was looking right down the barrel of the next wave.

In between the wave and me is Mark on the jet ski. I jumped on the rescue sled and, within a second, we get steamrolled by 25-foot white water. We are totally engulfed and we’re bouncing around. I’m holding on with a death grip. I’m starting to get my hopes up that we might pull this off. Right then, I fall into a big cavern, a giant turbine of air and water that sucks you under. I’m even deeper than I was on the first wave. It finally releases me and I start swimming.

About two or three strokes in, my body goes into these huge convulsions. I can’t figure out what’s happening. I literally lost control of my body. (Later I found out that it was because of the lack of oxygen.) After three of them, they stop. I’m still deep underwater. It’s been about 10 to 15 seconds. It’s pitch black. I get this burst of strength and start swimming. When I break the surface, it’s the exact carbon copy of the situation that just happened.

My friend Brett Lickle is on the second jet ski and there’s another white water bearing down on him. He’s going to get hit no matter what. This time I know that if I lose my grip on the rescue sled I’ll probably die. We get slammed and start tumbling and rolling. After 8 to 10 seconds underwater with the jet ski we pop to the surface. We look at each other and I just say, “Thank you. I love you. You just saved my life.” The next thing I said: “Get me on another wave.” I knew that if I didn’t get back on a wave in the next minute I might not ever surf again.


Photo by: Olivier Koning

Angie Chinen

lifts 15,000-pound loads in a big yellow construction crane.

After two decades as a carpenter, Chinen switched unions and became a crane operator. Her first job was The Watermark condominium, and she’s currently working on a new judiciary building in Kapolei.

Cranes look really big and strong—and they are. But they’re not rigid. You pick up a 15,000-pound load, and your whole cab pitches forward as the crane bends. It takes getting used to. It can get really hairy, too, when you’re operating in 30 mph winds. The whole crane rocks back and forth; your load whips around in the wind.

People think that when you get up there that it’s quiet, it’s secluded. Not even close. The crane makes noise, the motors make noise. I hear all the noise from the construction site, equipment backup alarms, forklifts, grinders, chippers, everything.

The only thing I can’t hear is people talking. All I know is what they tell me on the radio. It was very difficult on me at first, because I had been so much a part of everything when I was a carpenter, talking with the electricians, the plumbers, the iron workers. I was always in constant contact with people; I knew what was going on. Once I got up in the crane, nothing. I see people talking on the deck, and I just want to know what they’re saying. It took a while to get over that and be OK in my new role.

I don’t come down for lunch. Lunch is 30 minutes. It takes me about five minutes to get down, 10 minutes to climb back up. Might as well just stay up.

Sometimes the work is non-stop. Trucks need to be unloaded, move this here, go there. Other jobs, there’s a lot of time between picks, and so I’m just sitting up there. Some operators read books or newspapers. I have my camera, my binoculars. I knit. Right now I’m making a dress for my granddaughter. None of it interferes with my work, of course. Call me on the radio and I’m ready and on the controls.

Because you can’t lose focus. It’s a stressful job in that respect. This is a huge machine, and these are huge loads—one mistake, one miscommunication, and someone can get knocked against a wall. It’s always on my mind.


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