Kamu Davis just picked up his coffee from Coffee Bean in the Foodland parking lot on the North Shore, and he’s headed to Waimea for a morning workout. He shows me a sunrise shell that he found on the beach and was excited to give to his lady. “These shells are special. People say that they find you. You don’t find them.”
The ocean is dead flat, because it’s June. But he knows the beast is just taking a nap. It’ll be roaring in a few months, and as a protector of lives on the North Shore, he needs to stay sharp.
We meet Archie Kalepa on the soft sand of Waimea Beach Park, and they proceed to burn through a workout that includes underwater rock runs, plyometric circuits, and beach runs. You know, “the usual stuff,” he laughs. Kamu Davis has been a lifeguard in Hawaii since 2005. He’s the first line of defense from an ocean with limitless power.
“From someone who’s never seen the ocean before to the best in the world, we’re the guys there that are just constantly monitoring and pointing out things that we see throughout the day that helps us be accustomed to when the so-called shit hits the fan,” says Davis.
From drownings on the beach to unthinkably gory hiking injuries, he’s assisted and saved lives in many horrific scenarios. He’s seen ugly stuff reserved for ER rooms, horror movies, and the deepest pit of our imaginations. As expected, it’s an occupational hazard.
“My headspace is just realizing the reality of what I have to face in that day and doing what needs to be done to prevent the worst from happening,” says Davis. “You go home walking away knowing you did everything you could, and Mother Nature always wins. She doesn’t discriminate at all.”
Kamu is one of the many North Shore lifeguards who, despite a reversal to Senate Bill 562, which stripped immunity from lifeguards, leaving them personally exposed to lawsuits, commits to protecting beachgoers around Hawaii. He was our tour guide over the summer when we connected as many lifeguards as we could to get a sense of their day-to-day and their commitment to keeping the beach a safe place to enjoy. It’s no small task. When it comes to the ocean, the chips are stacked against you. Especially on the North Shore.
Which is why Davis’ excitement about that sunrise shell is especially poignant. When shit hits the fan, he (and lifeguards on the North Shore) find you.
Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for our upcoming short film Like Water presented by OluKai. The film features Archie Kalepa, Brian Keaulana, Mark Cunningham, Mark Healey, and Kamu Davis and pays homage to the bravery of lifeguards in Hawaii (and the world over). Their dedication to keeping surfers and beach visitors safe, despite an adjustment to Senate Bill 562 that makes them personally liable for many ocean-related hazards. Their commitment is commendable and deserves our attention. We’ll be premiering Like Water at Turtle Bay on Dec. 7th and at The Board Club in Newport Beach on Dec. 14. We’ll keep you posted on additional premieres. This project was made possible through the support of our friends at OluKai who keep the Hawaiian lifeguards’ feet super comfy.
Video shot by Gabe Reuben and edited by Alex Smolowe.