In this exclusive interview with the WSL, waterman Kurtis Chong Kee walks us through his personal life growing up on Maui, how exactly his team rescues surfers in critical moments, and some of the greatest challenges he and his team face at Jaws.
He focuses mainly on the misconception surfers have when they arrive at Pe'ahi. Many assume that the water safety are just Maui lifeguards, when in reality, they're booked well in advance by surfers who prepare for the swell and train with them in water safety techniques and strategies.
Chong Kee explains that many members of the water safety crew do this as a side gig or passion project. They have normal jobs like everyone else, but when the waves get massive, they're out there risking their own lives for the surfers.
Growing up in Haliimaile, Maui, where he spent his free time diving and fishing, Chong Kee went to school with big wave surfer Ian Walsh, who has been one of the most elite big wave surfers on the planet for more than a decade.
After the loss of a mutual friend, Chong Kee was inspired to take up water safety at Pe'ahi. At the time, he was driving filmers out to the wave to capture footage of big wave surfers pushing their limits. Ultimately, he had a new perspective of the realities of surfing Jaws and made the move to play a role in saving lives.
For more on the recent swell at Jaws, click here.