Thunder cracked and lightning struck, heralding the birth of a crying infant. The exhausted new mother gazed down at her baby boy that tumultuous, stormy night in November 1758. Little did she know, she was cradling a future warring unifier, a ruthless and strategic fighter, who would ultimately achieve what all leaders before him had failed to achieve: the ultimate unification of all eight Hawaiian Islands.
Kamehameha the Great, who's legacy in Hawaii is celebrated June 11, guided his people through pandemics, politics, Westernization, and eventually achieved his ultimate goal as the final seven years of his life were spent reveling in the success of his reign over the newly formed Kingdom of Hawaii. He died in May of 1819, his burial site remains unknown.
Kamehameha's impact is woven into the fabric of today's Hawaii. His legacy is honored as an official state holiday and celebrated with parades, lei, hula competitions, music, races and town fairs. His likeness stands proudly in front of the palace in Honolulu, Hilo and Kapaau, in museums statewide and in Washington, DC.
Kamehameha is also reported to have enjoyed surfing on both boards and outrigger canoes. He's lent his name, and that of the following generations of rulers until the U.S. annexation, to things across his former kingdom. If you have visited the Seven Mile Miracle, you've driven on Kamehameha Highway, the only road that connects Pipe, Sunset, Velzyland and the other legendary breaks on the North Shore.
Ezekiel Lau and Cliff Kapono are both graduates of the prestigious Kamehameha Schools, a competitive institute for students of provable Hawaiian heritage -- started by one of Kamehameha the great's granddaughters.
"That's where I actually first met Zeke when he still had silver teeth and skateboarding," remembers Kapono. "We all wanted to surf with him because he was so good quickly!"
Kapono credits the Kamehameha educational legacy to providing him with the science background that allowed him to earn is PhD.
It is clear that Lau, too, has grown up with a strong sense of cultural identity and pride that extends beyond his time at Kamehameha School. The kākau that runs down his leg is a traditional Hawaiian tap tattoo performed by an ordained practitioner using the original hammered bone and carbon manner.
"My genealogy stretches back all the way, as far as you can go...They originally came from the Big Island and migrated to Maui and now we're on Oahu," Lau explains. "Each design stands for each place that my family traveled to."
And thanks to the school, both Lau and Kapono speak the Hawaiian language.
Seth Moniz, another native Hawaiian representing surfing on an international platform, is doing his best to learn Hawaiian.
"My girlfriend sends me new words every day," he said over the phone between heats during the Australia leg of the Tour.
There, he said he found a special connection with the indigenous peoples of Australia, bonding through mutual respect and appreciation of their Polynesian cultural roots. Growing up, he didn't realize that his surf-centric upbringing was also an expression of his culture, but now he views the sport as a significant point of his Hawaiian heritage and is proud to share it with others, unifying
Despite the celebrations of Kamehameha Day, Moniz and Kapono both note they have a spirit of cultural celebration and pride unbound by a single commemorative day.
"We definitely celebrate Kamehameha Day," says Kapono, who lists parades and royal court reenactments as among their way of honoring the iconic leader. But he goes on to say that he and his family commemorate Hawaiian Independence Day on November 28 and Captain Cook's defeat on February 14. He differentiates though, saying that, unlike Kamehameha Day, these are days of commemoration and honor, and don't hold that same celebratory spirit that accompanies the music and parades of Kamehameha Day. These lesser-known days still serve the same purpose.
"To remember the history of our kingdom, you know?" he says, his pride in his cultural identity evident.
For non-Hawaiians, Kamehameha Day is an opportunity for to learn more about the history of the islands and the Kingdom of Hawaii. Kamehameha Day is an invitation to discover for ourselves the tales and traditions of Hawaiian history unifying us all through the Sport of the Kings -- surfing.