All Stripped Down: The Pure Essence of Waveriding with Sean Enoka
Kaha Nalu team rider Keali'i Punley at Backdoor, photo by Amar Thejas
Sean Enoka loves bodysurfing. About six months ago he founded Kaha Nalu, a brand built on his passion and drive for riding waves (Kaha Nalu means “bodysurfing” in Hawaiian), and a celebration of his Hawaiian roots. We caught up over the phone—his stoke and spirit of Aloha were palpable.
Jamie: Tell me about Kaha Nalu.
Sean: For bodysurfing there’s nothing really out there. It’s such a good sport, such a popular sport, with no brand representation, so we decided to start one. I started bodysurfing when I was a kid. I got into it real heavily back in 2006. Sandy Beach and Makapu’u are easy places to go all year round—you can always get good bodysurfing waves there. So what we have right now, Kaha Nalu, is our surf brand. I started it through crowd funding, started the website, got the business going, got an inventory. I’m introducing Birdwells to the next generation. My uncle is like a diehard Birdwells fan; he’s been buying Birdwells for like thirty years. So I’ve known about the shorts for a long time. In Hawaii there are two schools of sorts. Some of the guys wear Speedos, and if you didn’t wear Speedos you wore Birdwells. In the ‘80s and ‘90s everyone wore Birdwells. Guys would wear the shorts till they’d literally fall apart. Birdwells are a big thing in Hawaiian bodysurfing.
Jamie: What do you like most about bodysurfing?
Sean: I like the freedom and the challenge and being different. Because everybody surfs. And surfing is kind of an expensive sport; you need a five- or six-hundred dollar board. Well, bodysurfing is free. One of the things that I love most is I’m ready to surf at any time because my fins travel with me everywhere I go.
Jamie: Do you use hand planes?
Sean: I actually make hand planes. With this company we’re kind of all-encompassing. We make hand planes, I collect fins… Anything bodysurfing, I’m kind of a historian.
Jamie: And you act as a kind of ambassador, yes?
Sean: Three years ago I started a contest that was only for kids. What I do at the beach is I talk to kids. We have a following on Instagram and when people come down, from California or wherever, we meet with them, surf with them, and kind of spread the Aloha.
Sean Enoka looking right at home at Point Panic
Jamie: What advice would you give to a novice bodysurfer?
Sean: The first advice is about safety, dealing with the water. For me, there’s two types of bodysurfing. There’s whomp, or shorebreak; and then there’s riding, there’s outside reef breaks, or actually riding a wave at some place like Makaha. So whomp is your first stage, and that’s where you introduce people to the safety factor of the currents, sand, going over the falls, diving into barrels, always keeping your eye on the horizon. When we bodysurf new places we always check in with the lifeguards first. I think you’ve got to study the wave more with bodysurfing than with surfing. A lot goes into catching a wave bodysurfing, a lot of thought.
Jamie: And then there are those great heightened moments—a three-second ride bodysurfing is like a fifteen-second ride surfing.
Sean: Yeah! And your waves per minute with bodysurfing is super high. Much more than with surfing.
Jamie: Best wave you can remember?
Sean: I would consider Point Panic my home break, that’s my favorite place to bodysurf. It’s one of the few places on earth where you can approach riding the wave like you would surfing. You can pull into these barrels like it was Pipeline. You can drop into a barrel and get spit out fifty yards down the line. That’s the ultimate in bodysurfing.
Fins and a pair of Birdwells: a bodysurfer's tools. Sean Enoka checking the lineup.