Issue 18.2: April/May 2015
Native Intelligence: O`ahu

The Paddler of Pōka‘ī

Story by Kelly Owens. Photos by Dana Edmunds.

“I try to create balance and find quiet,” says George Kalilikane. You need the first and you get the second when you go stand up paddling, a sport that Uncle George, as he’s called in Wai‘anae, knows intimately. “I was the little kid that tucked his board under his arm, grabbed his bike and went off to the beach,” he says. “I knew that if I just got on the water, I’d be all right.”

That turned out to be more true than young George could have predicted. In 2009, at age 49, doctors told Uncle George that his weight issues would eventually lead to diabetes. Worse, his sleep apnea was so bad he might suffocate in his sleep. Just as he’d done as a child, George headed for the ocean. He convalesced by paddling his SUP around Pōka‘ī bay on leeward O‘ahu; paddling, he says, saved his life. Inspired, Uncle George decided to share the medicine. He took some boards down to the beach and welcomed anyone who wanted to learn, no charge. Thus was Bay of Dreams born.

Now, four years and six thousand visitors later, Uncle George transports a trailer full of boards for his free weekly “Day of SUP” at Pōka‘ī. But before anyone paddles out, Uncle George holds a talk story circle in which he emphasizes the importance of quiet time in nature—one key to his own recovery. “People have to be shown the value of quietness,” he says. “If you get that opportunity for ‘me’ time, that ‘me’ time will bring quality to the rest of the time.” Uncle George then teaches a lesson on the sand after which participants are free to paddle out. Uncle George also hosts movie nights at the bay and offers private SUP sessions, SUP yoga classes, summer camp programs and SUP activities for military personnel. Working with a nonprofit surfing organization, Uncle George recently helped foster children from San Diego to find quiet and balance out on the bay.

“My slogan is, ‘Building dreams one stroke at a time,’” says Uncle George. “When you finally get that first stroke and are moving, you’ve built confidence. Once you’ve achieved success, it’s hard to deny success in the rest your life.”

Story by Kelly Owens. Photos by Dana Edmunds