Ola Pono Series Part 2: Ocean Safety
Brian Keaulana and his daughter, Ha`a Keaulana, take you on a journey exploring Hawaii's rich history and powerful connection to the ocean.
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Ocean Safety Q&A with Brian Keaulana
What are some of the elements to be aware of in and around the ocean, especially for a first-time visitor?
Sometimes visitors to Hawaii overlook the dangers associated with this special place, and focus on the natural beauty alone. It’s important to prioritize needs versus wants as we aim to prosper and thrive with family, friendship and fellowship. Water is a different type of entity, it’s dynamic and really moves. Your best resource is that local on the beach, or the lifeguards on duty – go up to them and ask questions, ask the professionals and get the right answers.
You mention that unique bond between humans and the ocean. How would you explain the importance of respecting and co-existing with the “playground” of the sea?
People come here and enjoy Hawaii, and it changes their whole life. People fly to Hawaii and see the swaying palm trees, ocean and blue skies, but they don’t see the beasts – the hazards, the dangers. The ocean can be heavy and consequential, it can take your life if you don’t know what you’re dealing with.
What do you tell those seeking adventure in the ocean about fulfilling fantasies without getting “whacked by reality?”
The biggest rescue is educating and empowering those entering the water with knowledge. It’s about remaining calm, knowing what to do and coexisting with the factors of winds, tides, currents, surf, and understanding what to watch for. Safety can be attained by education, but it’s also important to enjoy the experience and have fun. My father (surfing legend Richard "Buffalo" Keaulana) always taught us to co-exist with the water, it’s our playground.
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Exploring and Documenting Hawaii
How important was it for you to encourage your daughter Ha‘a to balance her love for the ocean with getting a quality education?
We live in perfect balance because of our strong values from our culture to communities, and from our families and friendships. This is what grounds us. We have one foot planted firmly in the knowledge of our past and our other foot is always adapting to the future, which truly balances us in the present.
For those looking to take underwater photos and video, what are some tips for remaining safe while enjoying the experience?
Ha‘a says she hopes to inspire people to be themselves and enjoy gathering photos and videos in the ocean. She notes that on a typical day shooting on the ocean, “I have an (internal) battle of: do I want to surf it, or shoot it? When the lighting is perfect, I can’t miss that opportunity, and it’s so much fun. When it’s calm, you’re one with the water. And, when it’s rough or chaotic, and there are waves and energy, there’s no space in your mind to think of all the crazy stuff happening in everyday life.”
With your experience in lifeguarding, both in front of the lens and behind the scenes in multiple photos, television shows and feature films, how rewarding is it to see your work and experience captured for the world to see and learn from?
It’s important to remember our kuleana (responsibility) to one another and the ocean, and live pono – the value of integrity, righteousness and balance. As my work in the media and films brings attention to ocean sports and safety, I remain committed to the Hawaiian value of lōkahi – balance, collaboration and cooperation – as we strive for po‘okela (excellence).
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What is the ahupua‘a system and its importance in Native Hawaiian society?
The ocean and land provide us with knowledge, and give us opportunities to be in sync with nature. Thinking back to how the Hawaiians used to live, it was such a clean life. Old Hawaii was subdivided into valley-regions known as ahupua‘a, which ran from the mountains all the way to and into the sea. Hawaiians would congregate around fresh water, which we call wai, and it would flow until it reached the ocean, which we call kai. When things were harmonious, people were considered waiwai (balance, pureness and wealth).
As the world modernizes, how are you helping to preserve the Native Hawaiian culture including the importance of water in sustaining life?
As the world changes, it’s important to remember the concept of stewardship versus ownership: we need to mālama (take care of) the ‘āina (land) and kai (ocean) for future generations to enjoy and perpetuate. In the Hawaiian culture, the water and land own you; you’re caretakers of those resources. This includes protecting and maintaining the health of our springs, streams and rivers, which run throughout ahupua‘a before meeting the ocean.
What is your kuleana (responsibility) when it comes to stewarding the land and ocean for future generations to come, and how do you remain true to your culture and roots as a modern-day waterman?
Just like when you’re in a canoe, it’s not just about one man or woman, it’s all the people dividing the responsibilities; this is how the ahupuaʻa system thrived as not only an environmental concept, but as a way to live. When I look at our past, I pull important words from our many Hawaiian values, including alaka‘i (leadership), aloha (love), ha‘aha‘a (humility), ho‘omana (spirituality) and ho‘ohana (working with intent and purpose). It is those lessons that tell me I’ll be forever learning because I’ll be forever giving.
About Brian Keaulana
Brian Keaulana serves as one of the world’s preeminent watermen after spending his days in the water as a keiki (youth) and building a professional career swimming, surfing and protecting beachgoers as a lifeguard.
Keaulana has helped revolutionize the approach to ocean and water safety by utilizing the jetski as an efficient tool amongst the waves, developing an ocean risk-management program and devising underwater defense training. Local lifeguards and allies abroad have followed Keaulana’s expertise, including the Navy SEALS, police and firefighters. He currently works as a stuntman and director in films made in Hawaii and extending around the globe to Europe. He has performed and coordinated stunts in numerous blockbusters including, "50 First Dates," "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," "Jurassic World" and "Point Break."
As the son of legendary surfer Richard “Buffalo” Keaulana, Brian continues to carry on the family legacy, which extends to his son Chad and daughter Ha‘a, who is featured in and lends her mana‘o and ‘ike (beliefs and knowledge) in this video series.