The fountain of youth is alive and flowing over Maui. This week I had the chance to speak with one of the lucky few who are blessed with endless youth. As I entered the Ilima Kalama shrine on the beach, I realized that I had entered a world filled with history and dreams, embraced by the legacy.
Ilima is purely Hawaiian; his mother is from Kipahulu and his father is from Kaupo. Its roots are very deep in the islands. Kalama’s name dates back almost 300 years, with a family in Oahu and Maui.
Born and raised in Honolulu, he was only able to see his family in Maui on rare occasions. Her grandmother had 21 children and her grandfather was an engineer who built the first federal building in Honolulu. Ilima is the youngest of nine children. Like his grandfather, his father was a builder and a versatile waterman. The family’s surf history began a long time ago; still living near the beach facilitates surfing. His dad worked really hard, but his philosophy was that when the surf is up, “Everyone goes.” Living life on the islands is a blessing to anyone lucky enough to be here. Respect is what he thinks has been passed down from generation to generation.
At 16, Ilima left family and friends and moved to Newport Beach, California. His father was instrumental in bringing the sport of Hawaiian outrigger canoeing to the mainland, and Ilima was actively involved in the sport. Making the transition from Hawaii to California was easy; surfing was a natural way to adapt to the environment. Over the years he also got involved in snow skiing and worked for the ski patrol, which he considers a mountain lifeguard.
In 1961, Ilima began to surf competitively. His freshman year, he was ranked number four on the West Coast; it opened many doors for him. He was sponsored by Hobie and Hang Ten. In 1962, he surfed against Micky Munoz, Mike Doyle and Rusty Miller in the final of the American championship, and won.
At 54 years old, Ilima is ready to try his hand at towed surfing in big waves, he feels he is making up for lost time on the continent and pursuing his greatest love: surfing big waves. At an age when most men are starting to slow down in their sport, it is only just beginning.
Ilima speaks like a proud father when he talks about towed surfing; his happiness equals his passion to talk about his son Dave, Laird Hamilton and the rest of the boys; those who create sport. He watched them from the boat as they rode twenty-five foot waves for the first time. Looking at his son, he could only wish he would one day ride these monsters, and he is looking forward to this winter.
When he’s not surfing, he’s carrying on the Hawaiian canoe-kayaking tradition. He thinks that to enjoy life, you have to see through the eyes of young people. It is his mental and physical state that keeps him young and fit. He recently paddled in the Molokai-Oahu canoe race for Team All-Maui, joining the ranks of international athletes and competitors.
He also shares a sadness when talking about how his family once owned much of the west side of the island. On paper, he belongs to someone else, but in his heart he knows he still belongs to the Hawaiian people.
As a father, Ilima believed that after Dave he would never have another child. Thirty-two years later, he feels that God has given him another chance at fatherhood. His eyes sparkle as he speaks of his new wife, Isabelle, and one-year-old daughter, Lehua.
Ilima Kalama is a true Hawaiian waterman, his love for life and love for the sea is evident in the way he moves and every smile he gives. Sharing the ocean with friends and family is the essence of this man’s life, as is preserving the harmony of the Hawaiian Islands. It couldn’t be more obvious that living Maui Time is living aloha.
maui time I want to thank Ilima for leading by example and giving us the inspiration and wisdom that comes with mixed maturity with youth.
This story first took place in MauiTime’s October 28, 1997 issue.
Photos courtesy of Isabelle Kalama and Erik Aeder Photography