CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Don King, with his 6-year-old son Beau on Saturday, is raising funds for a movie called "Beautiful Son" that focuses on Beau's autism and the family's struggles.
2 surfers paddle to Kauai from Oahu in 19 hours
The effort is part of an autism project fundraiser
NAWILIWILI, Kauai » Kaimana McDermott, an autistic child and the son of Laird Hamilton's high school classmate, was the first to spot the lights accompanying the stand-up paddlers outside the breakwall at Nawiliwili Harbor.
It's fitting since big-wave surfers Dave Kalama and Hamilton were paddling from Oahu to Kauai to promote awareness of the struggles that autism brings to a family.
While McDermott, an eighth-grader at Kapaa Middle School, could not contain his excitement, grabbing at friends and strangers alike and pointing to the light far in the distance, his mother, Leona, was excited for another reason -- that these two men would try to help her son.
Hamilton and Kalama stand-up paddled from Oahu's North Shore to Kauai, finishing the journey in over 19 hours and covering 78 miles.
Both agreed it was, by far, the hardest leg in a journey that started at South Point on the Big Island last Wednesday. The last leg is today, a 26-mile bike ride from Nawiliwili to the Kilauea Lighthouse on Kauai's north shore, capping a 430-mile trip.
The two said the grueling trek was worth doing for kids like McDermott and Beau King, the son of friend Don King.
TOM FINNEGAN / TFINNEGAN@STARBULLETIN.COM
Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama, left, were greeted yesterday on Kauai after finishing a 19-hour paddle from Oahu.
King, a cinematographer, has produced "Beautiful Son," a film about their family's struggles with Beau's autism. Hamilton has said he hopes to raise money to distribute the movie to a greater audience.
An exhausted Kalama said the paddle "was the hardest thing I've ever done" and a "serious gut check."
The two encountered some bad luck, in the form of Kona winds and rain squalls, so heavy at times that the two had to paddle on their stomachs to keep their balance. Visibility was near nil around 2 a.m., when the heaviest showers moved in, Hamilton said.
"It makes you feel very small," Hamilton said. "It's very humbling."
The two were greeted at Kalapaki Beach in Nawiliwili shortly after sunset by a few dozen well-wishers, including a number of autistic kids who are benefiting from the trip.
Hamilton's wife, Gabrielle Reece, former volleyball star and supermodel, and their daughter, Viola, were also on hand to greet the weary surfers.
Never one to miss a swell, Hamilton asked her to bring along his regular 12-foot paddle board to catch some waves after the bike ride today, Reece said.
While it marks the end of a huge journey, today "is just the start" of what is hopefully a breakthrough of autism awareness in the islands, Leona McDermott said.
"We (have) all these agencies, all these politicians," she said. "This is two guys on surfboards. If this don't wake them up, I don't know what will."