Kamu Davis was raised on Oahu’s North Shore, so learning to surf was only natural. In fact, he’s been riding the waves since he was about 3 years old.
Now he helps others experience the joy—or, as he puts it, the “stoke factor”—of surfing through his involvement with Surfers Healing, a nonprofit surf camp for kids with autism.
When he’s not traveling for events with Surfers Healing, Davis works as a lifeguard back on Oahu. We turned to Davis to learn more about the power of surfing and to get his expert tips and favorite surf spots.
This is the first of our three-part series of interviews with ambassadors of OluKai, whose Hawaiian-inspired footwear spreads the spirit of Aloha.
When and why did you first start surfing?
I started surfing when I was about 3, and I still remember moments of happiness whenever my grandfather would take me surfing. I feel that if you grow up in Hawaii, surfing is almost like a religion in so many ways and goes hand in hand with our culture. Surfing is just something that you do!
Tell us about the organization Surfers Healing. What spurred you to get involved?
Surfers Healing is a non-profit co-founded by Izzy Paskowitz, a former pro surfer who has an autistic son named Isaiah. The foundation is based out of California, but works with autistic children around the globe. I was very fortunate to be able to get involved through a really good friend who lifeguards with me here in Hawaii. Not knowing what to expect and what I was getting into then, I can say now that I'm happy that I got involved—I’ve been hooked thanks to those kids’ smiles that light up wave after wave!
What’s so powerful about the experience of surfing?
It’s that same stoke factor that you'll get out of anything you're passionate about, whether it's snowboarding, skating, dirt biking. It's reaching that state where you're completely blown away by the level of excitement.
I feel like everyone compares the world of surfing to surfing in Hawaii because of the size of waves we have during our winter season. What people don't understand is that the same joy I get surfing big waves here with my closest friends is the exact same joy I get when taking these kids surfing on waves that are no bigger than themselves.... that's how powerful the experience can be!
Surfers Healing certainly makes an impact on the kids you work with. How has it affected you?
Surfers Healing has affected me in such a great way that it’s really hard to put into words. It has made me appreciate many things that we may or may not take for granted in our own lives. I feel like these trips that we take a handful of times throughout the year with this foundation are good for the soul—one of those "feel good" experiences in life.
What tips or encouragement do you have for beginner surfers?
I'd say the best advice I could give to someone learning to surf is to start from the bottom and work your way up. Learn the basics by riding bigger boards in smaller waves to get the feel of things—and the fundamentals of balancing and timing before anything else. Surfing is all about positioning! What's interesting is that, today, everyone wants to ride what the pros are riding but they aren't nearly close to that level. It's equivalent to that saying: "You gotta learn how to crawl before you can walk."
What are some of your favorite places to surf in Hawaii?
Queens Surf Beach, Ala Moana Bowls, Off-The-Wall—just to name a few of my favorites here on Oahu. But typically, my favorite spot is wherever the swell direction is focusing on the most. There are so many great waves to choose from when these elements come together, and they make for those memorable surf sessions all across the state.
You primarily make a living as a lifeguard, protecting some of Hawaii’s most dangerous beaches. What’s that like?
I've been lifeguarding for the city and county of Honolulu since 2005 and have been working and living on the North Shore of Oahu since the winter of 2008. Although we don't make a lot of money lifeguarding and probably won't get rich off of doing so, the active lifestyle that we live outweighs our salary by a huge margin, and we feel as though we're getting richer in other ways. Not to mention the beneficial opportunities I’ve had from lifeguarding, such as being a part of the OluKai family.
I could tell you stories for days about how crazy things can get in a blink of an eye. However, of all the rescues and close calls that were made while on duty, the only ones that are embedded in my brain are the ones I had hands on that not only didn't make it due to the wrath of mother nature. That's something hard to wrap your head around and that you have to live with forever.
What do you like most about OluKai?
What I love about OluKai is that they are always interested in visions or ideas that we as ambassadors may have—anything from improving product based upon our feedback to having a say in design ideas that may enhance the performance of a particular item.