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By In essay, Mixed Martial Arts

Something in the Water: The Past and Present of Hawaii’s Warrior Spirit

“It’s in the water. It’s in the Hawaiian water.” — former EliteXC champion K.J. Noons
A faint glow pulses in liquid darkness like the first heartbeat in a mother’s womb. Ever rising, it reveals itself to be lava leaking upwards from beneath the Earth’s crust. Its searing heat clashes with water cold enough to freeze if not for its salinity. Solid earth forms and pushes upward. Miles of black, cold ocean weigh on it heavily, but it continues to ascend until it pierces open air.

Solid land stretches out on top of the ocean surface. Powerful waves rear up and sculpt the shoreline. Distinct islands drift away from each other, netting floating debris and hosting seabirds for brief rests along their transcontinental flights. Seeds nestle into the nutrient-rich volcanic soil, sprouting into a diverse, pullulating oasis, more untouched and isolated than anywhere else on the planet. The islands settle into their edges and wait. Seafaring Polynesians arrive, pragmatic with details and romantic with ambition, brave brilliant and foolish enough to voyage into the distant horizon with little more than their knowledge of submarine rivers and extraterrestrial bodies. They bring more animals and plants with them, and a new set of life takes root. They are the first to cultivate civilization from the naked, Edenic land.

Communities across the islands grow into large, independent societies.They remain divided until European explorers drop anchor. Armed with superior technology, a renowned warrior and son of a nobleman conquers and unites the islands. The Kingdom of Hawaiʻi breathes its first breath. Waves of immigration from Europe and America crash ashore, bringing with them a new religion and way of life. The new residents start plantations, businesses that require labor, prompting more immigration from Japan, China and the Philippines.

The Kingdom thrives, so much so that a group of businessmen backed by the United States military lock Queen Liliuʻokalani in her palace and institute their own government. This government, absent any Hawaiians, opts to become a U.S. territory and eventually the 50th state of America. She is the last monarch of her country, unceremoniously under house arrest while her nation slips away into foreign hands.

From Hawaiʻi’s underwater inception to its birth as a modern metropolis, the pacific waters, like an amniotic ocean, carried with them the physical struggle for new life. As that life has been created and recreated over time, the confluence of opposites — darkness and light, hot and cold, ocean and land, native and foreigner, struggle and survival — has defined the Hawaiian identity. Hawaiʻi is and always has been a land of conflict…

 

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By In essay, surfing

John John Florence and Surfing’s Hawaiian Homecoming

“The Banzai Pipeline is a beautiful and horrific confluence of oceanographic features, the sum of which is one of the most dangerous waves on the planet. Considered unsurfable until the 1960s, the wave has killed dozens of surfers and photographers and injured countless more. The size of the average wave is scary enough—it’s about the height of a basketball hoop and wide enough to park a small car into, if you’re wondering—but even more intimidating is its steep drop, which makes the initial takeoff a split-second, do-or-die decision. If you make it, you have to snake around the rolling crowds of bodies duck-diving around you and the all-too-common surfboard shrapnel—boards ditched by their owners in a moment of fight-or-flight instinct—that can shoot out at you like flying fiberglass guillotines as they crash down the lip of the wave. If you don’t make the drop, you get slammed into the three feet of water between you and lava rock reef. All this for the chance at a few moments of getting barreled.

Pipe has been and still is considered the ultimate proving ground for surfers, professional and amateur alike. For decades, local and international gnar-dogs have flocked to its peak winter swells to test their mettle against one of the most respected and feared waves on Earth.

John John Florence started surfing it when he was eight years old…”

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By In basketball, essay

Away Games

“I’m not from a place where cold things happen without consent, but I live in one now. I am lucky, for that reason and others, to know Jay—that’s the Englishified version of Jong Il (yes, like Kim Jong Il)—and that Jay is sympathetic to the plight of a warm-weather waygook (foreigner) living in a blustery Asian city. I’m luckier still that he’s a basketball fan, and that he was willing to scoop me up from work to watch the showdown between Anyang KGC and the SK Knights in the Korean Basketball League. I hadn’t seen a live basketball game of any sort since college, but it is winter and Seoul is cold.

Inside the arena, starting small forward Yang Hee Jong stared at me from a phalanx of shiny pillars that greeted us, the faces and names of Anyang KGC players plastered across them in a Mercator distortion. I stared back at him, feeling a strange and sudden urge to bow. I was less sure how to engage with the pillar of foreign import Mario Little; the reflection of the bright lights in the room made it look like he was dribbling between his legs somewhere across the cosmos. For all I knew, that’s what it feels like for a former Kansas Jayhawk playing halfway across the world.

Up an escalator and outside the snack stand and gift shop, beside the gymnasium doors, was the pillar of Lee Jung Hyun. “He’s the ace,” Jay told me as we stopped to admire. Unlike the rest of the team, Lee Jung Hyun’s picture was all upper body, and his hand was propped up under his chin like a model. I bought myself a Lee jersey, because why wouldn’t you, and some fried chicken, because that always seems like the right thing to do. We went inside and found our seats. The game was about to begin…”

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By In education, essay

Numbers and Letters: A Day in the Life of a Special Education Teacher

“Two years.

It’s January 2014, and that statistic echoes around my head as I arrive at work. Two years is the average shelf life of a special-education teacher in Hawaii.

I’ve made it a year and a half at this middle school, but it’s felt a lot longer than that. I’ve worked during every break teaching ESY (Extra School Year) in the FSC (Fully Self-Contained classroom), and that’s to say nothing of the part-time job and full-time grad school schedule I’ve also been juggling.

I turn the engine off and sit inside my car for a few minutes to gather myself. I try to rub the exhaustion off my face, but it feels like I’m only spreading it around, like how a child attempts to clean up spilled juice with a paper towel. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere about feeling like a child when I’m here at work, but I let it go and heave myself out of the car. I try not to look at the gas meter…”

 

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By In essay

What I’ve Learned About Being Local

“Before I left home last year to move to Korea, my nostalgic flashbacks to my life in Hawaii became particularly acute.

My parents still live close to my elementary school in Aikahi, and I remember how stoked everyone in the neighborhood was when the new playground was built — and how terrified we were when it almost burned down.

I would get out early on Wednesdays and go to Dave’s Ice Cream with my dad and my brother. I remember the liberation I felt when I got my first bus pass. I remember it all: There was the beach park where I got in my first fight, and the fence my friends and I used to hop over in middle school to smoke in secrecy…”

 

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