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The Inertia

In 2013, when he was 16 years old, Jimmy “Uluboi” Napeahi was attacked by a tiger shark. He was surfing at Pohoiki on Hawaii’s Big Island when it occurred, and it changed his life. “I got hit, and then I got bit,” he said from the hospital just after the attack. “Then I started punching the shark. By the time I could see it, it bit my leash off, went straight down, and I hopped on my board. When I ran up the rocks, I felt the back of my leg and my hand just sunk into the back of my thigh. That’s when I knew it was over, so I walked and just fell face first on the rocks.”

Now, five years later, Uluboi sees things in a different light. He surfs for the love of surfing. He feels a deep connection with the ocean and with his Hawaiian roots. “The way I see it,” he said, “I owe that shark my deepest gratitude because it gave me a second chance at life. And to this day, I am continually being blessed. Now that the past is behind me, I want to be known as a good son, a good brother, a good friend, and over all, a good surfer.”

Clearly, surfing an alaia is a very different kind of surfing. “You’re not surfing the wave,” he says. “You’re sliding across the wave. You become one with the wave. It’s a feeling like no other. “To me, it is probably the most spiritually connected feeling ever.”

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For Uluboi, surfing an alaia like his ancestors did half a century ago is the purest form of surfing. “It means a lot to me,” he says. “For one, it’s my little way of finding peace in the surfing world… I’m just really thankful I had this passed on for generations and generations until today. To be able to ride the same boards that my ancestors once did—it’s a really special feeling.”