Ray Duarte fixes Dwayne Johnson’s shoes

  • Caleb Loehrer/The Garden Island

    Ray Duarte fixes a wetsuit at his old sewing machine behind the counter of The Shoe Repair Shop on Hardy Street in Lihue.

LIHUE — The Rock had a problem. His calves were too big.

Last year, Dwayne Johnson was on Kauai shooting a movie called “Jungle Cruise,” set to premier July 24, 2020.

The knee-length leather boots he had to wear during filming had been tailor-fit to his size 15 feet, but costume designers hadn’t taken into account that The Rock has humongous legs.

So, unable to squeeze his Samoan calves into the Hollywood boots, The Rock did what movie stars on Kauai have been doing for decades. He sent his supposedly custom-made, form fitting shoes to Ray Duarte.

“That’s why the shoe repair business is doing good. I correct a lotta people’s mistakes,” Ray said, standing behind the counter of The Shoe Repair Shop on Hardy Street in Lihue.

Since 1976, Ray has made a living fixing pretty much anything made of fabric, rubber or leather. Works in progress — slippas and dog collars and purses and luggage and belts and wallets — hang all over his workshop.

He made the shoes he stands on — thick, rubber-soled sandals with a wide strap of leather over the middle of the foot and a fat loop over the big toe. For about $95 you can get a pair just like them fitted to your feet.

Most of his business comes from the locals, who feed him with a steady supply of worn out leather and rubber. But every once in a while, he gets a famous customer.

“I fix a lot of celebrities’ boots,” Ray said. “I fix with Johnny Depp and all those guys.”

Some of the scenes in Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides were filmed on Kauai back in 2010. Johnny Depp’s pirate boots were too high, so Ray had to cut down the length. He once did work for a cast member on the movie Airplane. One of his regular customers was Hal Williams, an actor who co-starred in a Goldie Hawn movie and later moved to Kauai in the late 1990s.

“I fixed shoes for him, cause he had one foot a little shorter than the other side,” he said.

But The Rock was a different kind of customer. Ray said, none of his famous clients had ever given him an autograph picture or any token of appreciation.

But when The Rock’s assistant picked up the altered boots, Ray said the guy told him: ‘Don’t worry. The Rock is gonna give you something.’

“So when they were finished with the movie, he came in special and gave me that,” he said pointing to a personalized autograph picture on his counter.

The Rock’s boots had two problems. They were skinny and slippery.

“His calf was too fat, so I had to adjust it. And the soles were all leather, so I had to put some good rubber to give them some traction. Or else they would be sliding all over the place,” Ray said.

“I fixed a lotta stuff for the movie too,” he said. “Even for the main actress, I fixed her shoes for the movie. I don’t know what her name was.”

Her name was Emily Blunt.

“It was part of the wardrobe, so it was an older shoe. So I brought it back to life. I changed the soles, and conditioned it, dyed it, to make it look nice — make it solid. Cause ‘lotta the old shoes, the leather is all brittle, uh? So I perfectly rebuilt the shoes for her.”

Ray begrudgingly consented to being interviewed and allowed TGI to take photos of his shop, but when asked for a close-up shot of The Rock’s autograph, he paused.

“Naw, I don’t wanna show off that. I’d rather not,” he said after a moment. “That’s for me. That’s not for the world, you know what I mean. But the story is for the world.”

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