In my early twenties, I went to San Diego to help my cousin. He was a general contractor; we’d build houses by day and then in the evening go out to Oceanside and surf. On weekends, we’d jump in a truck and drive to Mexico to check out different surf spots. I loved surfing.
But I stopped surfing for almost 20 years due to health and weight issues. At my church’s annual camp at Nānākuli Beach Park years ago, every time I would get hot, I’d walk to the shower to cool off because it was too far to go down to the ocean and back—that’s how out of shape I was. My love for surfing had come from when I was a little kid but now my body was too big for it. I thought I would never find a board that could get me onto a wave again. But one day during camp, I saw some stand-up paddle boards in the sand. I thought, “That could carry my 300 pounds.” That’s how I got into stand-up paddling.
In the beginning there were challenges, especially with balance. Born and raised in Wai‘anae, you know the situation at Pōka‘i Bay: I know people, people know me. But I was smart enough to go forty-five minutes before sunrise and set up all the way in the corner. I wasn’t going to splish-splash in front of the world! So I did it in the dark until I figured it out. By the time the sun came up, I was circling around the bay.
Once I got to the waves I was literally in a dream world, a kid in a candy store. The joy of being in the surf and feeling the energy and riding a swell after twenty years was just tremendous. Later on, when I went to the doctor he said, “Man, what have you been doing?” I said, “I just bought a paddle board.” I was unconsciously exercising— huffing and puffing but still having so much fun. One time I was paddling on my board with my head down and this little kid was like, “Uncle, are you ok?” I said, “No, Uncle jus’ tired!” That’s how out of shape I was but also how much I was willing to push it because I was having so much fun. I got great results because I was just so jazzed.
People come to Bay of Dreams to hear my story. I like to hear their stories too. I give free lessons because I value relationships and connections. Short term, I know I’m making an impact on people because of the hugs I’m given afterwards: When people are out on the water paddling around, it’s like quiet time for them. It’s really special. Long term, I know I’m making an impact because they return with friends and family. I like to think that God gave me the gift of finding stand up paddling. With gifts like these, you can’t just keep it for yourself. You have to give it away too.
George Kalilikane, better known as “Uncle George,” has been offering free standup paddling lessons for nearly a decade at Pōka‘i Bay.