Legendary watermen paddle, bike from Big Island to Kaua‘i

NAWILIWILI — After paddling for 19 1/2 hours straight from O‘ahu to Kaua‘i, Laird Hamilton stood at the water’s edge holding his 16-foot paddle board above his shoulder and looking into the blinding glow of camera lights.

He squinted and scanned the crowd until he spotted his two primary sources of inspiration that helped keep him through the 500-mile paddling and biking journey from the Big Island to Kaua‘i.

“There are the two people who I really want to see,” Hamilton said as he focused on his wife Gabrielle and his daughter Reese standing in the crowd. “That was my driving force, knowing you guys were here.”

Hamilton made the grueling trip from the southern tip of the Big Island to Kaua‘i with his big-wave tow-in partner and good friend Dave Kalama.

Both men have histories crammed with heroic feats, so adding one more accomplishment to an otherwise long list of amazing physical challenges would seem like a cinch. But according to Hamilton and Kalama, crossing the Hawaiian Islands ranks No. 1 in terms of difficulty.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I won’t forget this anytime soon,” Kalama said. “It was a serious gut check. I’m so glad to be on land right now.”

Hamilton managed a bit of humor in his response, acknowledging his daughter and wife again. “Besides being her father and her husband,” Hamilton said while sitting on his board with a celebratory beer, “this is definitely the most challenging thing I’ve ever done.”

Yesterday’s paddle was the longest stretch of open ocean the two had to endure.

“That’s some big water out there,” said Hamilton. “It makes you feel really small. It’s humbling for sure.”

When finished, the entire trip will comprise nine separate legs: Bike across the Big Island; paddle the Alenuihaha Channel to Maui; bike across Maui; paddle the Pailolo Channel to Moloka‘i; bike across Moloka‘i; paddle the Ka‘iwi Channel to O‘ahu; bike across O‘ahu; paddle the Kaieiewaho Channel to Kaui‘i; bike to Kilauea Lighthouse.

Everything was running smooth for Hamilton and Kalama until the lack of tradewinds slowed their pace on the paddle leg from Moloka‘i to O‘ahu. They would have delayed the remaining crossings until optimal conditions returned, but their schedule didn’t permit any long waiting periods.

The situation forced them to brave head-on Kona winds and intermittent storm squalls in the Kaieiewaho Channel en route to the harbor in Nawiliwili where they finally came ashore.

“It was a battle of the wills out there,” said Hamilton. “We fought the wind the whole way for 79 miles.”

Although they faced enormous adversity on land and in the water, the entire passage is dedicated to a cause close to both men’s hearts.

Hamilton and Kalama have a long-standing relationship with world-class Hawaiian filmmaker Don King, whose son Beau was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at the age of 2. The purpose of their trek is to raise money and awareness for a new nonprofit documentary film directed and produced by King and his wife, Julianne.

The film, “Beautiful Son,” traces their personal experiences in dealing with the debilitating disorder and explores the possible effects increased pollution levels may have on the recent explosion of ASD cases.

“It’s a great opportunity to bring awareness and hopefully raise funding for Don’s film about healing autism,” Hamilton said. “I am honored to have the opportunity to help Don.”

In May 2006, Hamilton made a 426 kilometer crossing between London and Paris also to encourage support of King’s film.

Hamilton and Kalama will finish the remaining leg of the crossing from Nawiliwili to the Kilauea Lighthouse beginning at 10 a.m. at the Nawiliwili beach park.

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