Nearly four decades ago, veteran Maui lifeguard and Waterman Hall of Famer, Archie Kalepa saw the legendary Eddie Aikau in action—feats of selfless courage so formative that Kalepa knew he’d someday join that brotherhood of elite Hawaiian life savers. “We perform unrecognized heroic acts everyday,” says Kalepa with disarming humility. He and the 450+ guards of the Hawaiian Lifeguard Association each proudly wear OluKai footwear as they patrol the rocky cliffs and rip tide ravaged shores of the islands.
The Kia‘i Trainer, Kamiki and Kia‘i sandal are part of their uniform, “part of our tool chest,” says Kalepa. This is rugged footwear for rugged terrain—the day-to-day demands of the HLA have tested these shoes and sandals for the needs of a true waterman. Simply put: “It’s a shoe that works,” says Kalepa. He and the rest of the HLA put these shoes to the test far before they find their way to the shelves. From the fit and overall performance to breathability and traction, the HLA take these shoes through real field research—the actual gauntlet of lifeguarding. Hawaiian lifeguards provide recommendations and suggestions to properly shape footbeds and increase traction—it is this kind of rigorous testing that vastly improves final design of the product. These shoes are not just inspired by Hawaiian lifeguards, they’re thoughtfully constructed specifically to meet their needs from the slick rocky outcropping around Hanauma Bay, to the 25 foot swells of the storied North Shore.
Hawaiian lifeguarding is a proud and vital tradition, the highest standard to which guards in other coastal communities aspire. OluKai is humbled to play a significant role in nurturing that tradition through the Ama OluKai Foundation. A portion of the proceeds from these shoes supports Hawaii’s Junior Lifeguard Program, inspiring and training the next generation of Kalepas and Aikaus. “No matter what anyone says, if you put your mind to it, you can do it,” Kalepa tell these Junior Guards. “I know it’s true because I did it. Stay focused, stay healthy, stay fit, and keep your integrity. Those are things that we need to build, not just lifeguards but great leaders in the community.”