KIRK AEDER / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
Professional Big Island surfer C.J. Kanuha rides his stand-up paddle surfboard off the Big Island's southeastern coast where lava was hitting the ocean in April. Pictures of the feat were published in Outside Magazine.
Surfer paddles with Pele
C.J. Kanuha brings cultural respect to his ride near the lava
HILO » When professional Big Island surfer C.J. Kanuha paddled within a few yards of lava flowing into the ocean on the island's southeastern coast, he did it with culturally appropriate respect, he says.
Kanuha, 24, from Kailua-Kona, does not think anyone should try to copy the feat. "No, I would not recommend it," he said.
But he also said the surfboard ride to within 20 feet of the lava, with boiling water crashing onshore, was the emotional equivalent of surfing the biggest wave he has ever ridden.
"You know there are consequences involved," he said.
The exploit was little noticed when Kanuha did it in April at Waikupanaha, just west of Kalapana in the Puna district, but it has boiled up into worldwide notice in the past few days following the recent publication of pictures of the adventure by photographer Kirk Aeder in Outside Magazine.
Now Kanuha has been interviewed by ABC's "Good Morning America" and the British Broadcasting Corp., and he is popping up in news media around the world.
What viewers do not see is Kanuha's years of Hawaiian cultural background and the careful planning he put into his visit with volcano goddess Pele.
Kanuha's Hawaiian father, Clement Kanuha Jr., is a retired fisherman who teaches Hawaiian language in immersion schools.
Kanuha sailed along the Kalapana Coast south of Hilo in his childhood with his father, fishing, learning currents and meeting relatives on shore.
Several months ago, Aeder recalled that a windsurfer approached a lava entry point in the 1990s, and the idea for the fresh expedition was born.
Kanuha paddled an 11-foot-6-inch board using a 6-foot-5-inch paddle.
A cousin accompanied him two miles down the coast in a kayak. A friend followed on a Jet Ski. Aeder was overhead in a helicopter.
When Kanuha reached the area of the lava, he went ashore on a newly formed black sand beach. He said a prayer to Pele and offered ho'okupu, a gift of respect. Frothy lava rock was floating onto the beach and crumbling into sand, he said.
Authorities repeatedly warn the public not to go on such beaches because they can collapse into the depths without warning. Fumes also can be dangerous.
"That's really not smart," said county Civil Defense Director Quince Mento. "I'm not going to get in the way of one's religious practices, but nature is nature," he said.
Kanuha paddled until he was directly offshore from the lava. "You could hear it crackling and exploding," he said.
He tried to stay in areas where cool currents welled up, but he saw spots 40 feet across where the water was boiling, he said.
Kanuha said he might go back someday but not soon. "You've got to have respect," he said.