Some people are wired different from others. Some candles burn brighter. Some people are larger than life. Archie Kalepa is such a person.
Archie was the lifeguard chief in Maui, Hawaii, for quite awhile. We are the same age and knew each other originally through the United States Lifesaving Association and forged a friendship through the years. Archie recently retired from his position to become the primary ambassador for Olukai sandals and to pursue other interests.
Visiting Archie in Maui is like visiting a prince. Driving through Lahaina with him in his giant monster truck pulling a boat or with an assortment of boards and water toys is almost impossible because of all the people waving, honking, flagging him down, asking favors or just wanting to chat. But all the attention doesn’t seem to get to him.
He stays focused, stays humble and shows respect to each and every one. He knows every kid that waves as they see him and smiles, yelling “Uncle Archie!”
Surfing with him is even better. In a place known for fierce localism, ultracompetitive world-class surfing and an overabundance of testosterone in the lineup, you’d expect trouble. But paddling out with Archie gives you a magic shield. Guys that would terrify you in an alley are all smiles and “Your wave, bruddas.”
This attention has been earned not just by being a nice guy. Archie is a true legend who earned respect in a world full of very accomplished lifeguards, surfers and athletes by becoming one of the most accomplished watermen on the planet.
His pedigree is impeccable, and he comes from a long line of Hawaiian legends. But he carved his own way.
Archie first became a local hero when he saved 15 people and one dog during Hurricane Iniki. He was one of the original pioneers in rescue with a personal water craft. In fact, the watercraft rescue program we have here is based on training and materials he, Brian Keaulana and a handful of others provided us.
Outside of lifesaving, he is known as a legendary big-wave surfer. He has performed stunts for Hollywood movies, traveled extensively sharing his knowledge of water rescue and is one of the few people in existence comfortable riding the monster waves of the infamous Maui break “Jaws.” And by monster, I mean eight-story waves!
He also is one of a handful of people who pioneered the use of the surf foil and one of the surfers who renewed interest in riding and paddling the stand up paddleboard, the use of which is sweeping the world now.
As a member of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, Archie has traveled to Tahiti on both the Hokulea and the Hawaiiloa traditional voyaging canoes and is dedicated to resurrecting interest in the traditional Hawaiian sport of canoe surfing.
You can meet Archie this Sunday. Around 5 p.m., Strictly Hardcore Surf Specialties and Olukai Sandals are sponsoring an intimate meet-and-greet followed by live music at the Beach Hut, 731 Seawall Blvd., in Galveston.
See you there!