Real adventurers earn their photos. From running the cliffs of the Grand Canyon, to kayaking the whitewater of the remote Nachvak River, and taking selfies atop the Seven Summits, we found the folks pushing the limits of photography and adventure.
Born and raised on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai, Kamalei Alexander is the physical embodiment of the aloha spirit. Respected around the world for his positive attitude and hard-charging skills riding big waves on the North Shore, Kamalei has made a name for himself as an ultra-stylish tube rider whose calm demeanor during even the most intense moments sets him apart. When he’s not surfing, he works closely with brands like GoPro, Channel Island Surfboards, VISSLA, and Shade Sunscreen to support his young family, and fights tirelessly to protect Hawaiian native lands and culture.
What things make Hawaii such a special and magical place for you?
Hawaii for me is my home. It’s where I came into this world and became who I am today. Hawaii is also the place of fire and ice. It is one of the most isolated landmasses in the world, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. The nearest land mass is two thousand miles away. Today, there is snow atop Mauna Kea as well as lava flowing down near Kalapana. Anybody who’s been to Hawaii has witnessed and felt its magic and mana, life-force and energy.
For me, Hawaii is where my direct connection to this earth is rooted. It’s the foundation of all the emotions that surge through my veins, a culmination of decades of fear, love, and loss. I consider myself merely a reflection of the past.
Can you describe the word Mana and what it means to native Hawaiians?
The indescribable, intangible feeling of great strength and energy attained through proper protocol. Mana is a life force inside everyone and everything. Mana is the deep understanding and respect for oneself as well as Mother Nature. A simple song or even a meal can either have good or bad Mana. When a person lives a life of pono and puts nothing but good energy and intentions into their farming or fishing, then the fish will have great Mana — as well as the person who consumes them.
Tell us about a typical day for you at home on the North Shore of Oahu?
I was born and raised on the Island of Kauai. My family and I just recently moved full time to the North Shore, so I’m still sort of feeling it all out. Kauai is still home, but I like it here on the North Shore. I go to sleep early, my wife and I have a little girl, so we’re all up pretty darn early. I make a healthy smoothie or shake, have coffee, and always check the waves. Surfing is what it’s all about here on the North Shore. If there are waves, I surf, if it’s flat, I’ll try to get some sort of workout in. I do a lot of plyometric and bodyweight stuff to stay fit. After that I’ll usually check in with my sponsors over here. I work as a rep for Channel Islands Surfboards and Shade Sunscreen, so I usually have some work to do with that stuff as well. All my surf sponsors rent houses for the winter, so it’s great to be close to them. Other than that, it’s all about spending time my wife and daughter.
What’s your favorite wave on the North Shore?
Definitely Pipeline. It’s probably the same wave every other guy who lives here will say, but it’s true. It’s so dramatic, breaks so close to the shore, and is just this crazy shallow, hollow, perfect barrel. It always reminds me of riding through a cave. Plus, with the right backdoor, it has so much variety, so many moods and faces. You could surf it every day for your whole life and it would still blow your mind sometimes. For me, surfing is all about getting barreled. There’s just nothing else like it, and a barrel at Pipeline is hard to get, so it makes the whole experience that much more intense. You gotta really earn it.
How has technology changed what you do and how you do it?
Surfing-wise, I have some goals with the new technology available, like GoPro and Instagram. I want to capture what I’m doing on a daily basis and bring people into my world by sharing it. Nowadays, it really helps with keeping my sponsors happy and increasing my stock, you know? Living this lifestyle is my dream, and that means I’m going to work my ass off to keep making it happen. I also want to be honest and real and share things that really matter to me, like all this stuff about what’s happening on Mauna Kea. Hawaii is a magical place, full of Mana, and we as Native Hawaiians have to stand up and fight to protect it. For this, I think Instagram can be a powerful tool: to inform and organize people, to spread the word about what’s happening, and inspire people to stand up and fight.
Tell us a little bit about the controversy going on right now on Mauna Kea.
Right now there is a huge line being drawn in the dust atop Mauna Kea between building these massive man-made telescopes atop ancient burial grounds. Here’s the deal: The University of Hawaii has a lease of one dollar a year for the whole mountaintop. In return they lease the land out to foreign countries and universities for hundreds of millions of dollars so they can build the telescopes. The money then goes to California universities because of their ties with the telescopes. Currently half of the 12 telescopes don’t even work and none of them were ever welcomed or sanctioned by the native people.
Our point is, Mauna Kea is a sacred place, the mother of our islands and a burial site for our ancestors. The TMT telescope is set to be built on what is the holiest of holies to the Polynesian people.
What role does Mauna Kea play in Hawaiian culture?
The northern plateau of Mauna Kea is considered the most sacred place in all of Polynesia. The body of a deceased family member would be cremated and the I’wi (bones) would be brought to the top of the summit where a burial protocol would follow. Natives would do all of this with the goal of putting their family member as close to the heavens and its gods as possible. Not to mention the fact that Mauna Kea has the largest aquifer for fresh water in the Kingdom of Hawaii.
What can people do to help?
Right now, people can help by sharing the message of what’s really happening on Mauna Kea. Getting the word out about this horrible project of mass greed taking place on the mountain. There are places to donate like the Protect Mauna Kea Facebook Page. There are also a few feeds you can follow on Instagram and keep up with all the events. Check them out and repost and help us spread the word.