Talking Story With Jimmy (Ulu Boi) Napeahi

We met with Jimmy (Ulu Boi) Napeahi at the famous Hurley house, on the North Shore of Oahu. It was past midday and waves were crashing on the sandy beach outside. Ulu greeted us out front, refreshed from a nap, and gave us a quick tour of the house. We spent the afternoon talking story and playing in the foamy surf.

HAWAIIAN OLA: Aloha Ulu, thank you so much for taking some time out this afternoon to meet with us and talk story.
ULU BOI: Thank you, it’s really great to meet more of the Hawaiian Ola team. I’m glad we were able to meet here on the North Shore. The surf is crazy today.
Hawaiian Ola: I was thinking to start off it would be great if you could you give us a little bit of background on you and what you do—a little history?
ULU BOI: Well, I started surfing when I was four years old on the east side of the Big Island. I never really thought much of it. I was never the best surfer. I just love to surf and love the ocean and that just kind of grew.
After a while, I came to a point where I realized, wow, I’m pretty good at this. I started taking surfing more seriously. Surfed the amateur ranks. I Really took it one step at a time.
My whole heart and soul was into it. It’s what I love to do. I did the junior thing. Eventually I got the blessings to come to the North Shore of Oahu and travel all over the world and surf. It’s been amazing.
Now that I’m 18 years old, I’m a young professional surfer and my career has just started. Now, y’know, it’s the wintertime—its pipeline, and this is where it all starts.
HAWAIIAN OLA: That’s really exciting. You’re so young, Ulu! (laughs)

 
 

HAWAIIAN OLA: Can you talk a little about your upbringing and some important lessons that you’ve learned?

ULU BOI: My upbringing, well, what I remember is that it was full of love. I got to grow up around my great grandmother—my Tutu and my Mom and my Family. We were just so tight. We were so tied in together in our relationship, which was really good.

I grew up taking care of my Tutu…She told me to always follow my dreams and never give up.

I grew up taking care of my Tutu and my grandmothers. A lot of the goodness that’s instilled in me definitely came from the ones that passed it down to me: my Mom and my Tutu, especially. I learned so much from them.

As far as me and my siblings go; we were really blessed to know my great grandmother. She was everything to us. I really think that’s why I am the way that I am today. She told me to always follow my dreams and never give up. She supported me so much. Her and my family believed in me one hundred percent.

I grew up just like a normal local kid, running on the rocks. I didn’t have much at all. I never had fancy things. We had the ocean, you know? We turned to the ocean as a safe haven. It was a place for me to go to stay out of trouble. It’s what my family knew. We worked in the ocean. We played in the ocean. We lived by the ocean. That’s what we had.

HAWAIIAN OLA: So, living by the ocean and learning from your family sounds like a really beautiful way to grow up. Can you tell us some ways that you’re applying some of those lessons in your life right now. Maybe, sharing something about your stance on volunteer and community work?

ULU BOI: My mom started an organization called Basic Image on the Big Island of Hawaii and our main key point was the restoration and beautification of beach parks. We would go to places that were overgrown or destroyed—places that were vandalized and places that were no longer public friendly.

I’d go to the beach. I would clean up…and then I’d go surfing. At the end of the day I’d eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and I’d be just fine.

As a little kid that’s all I knew. I went to the beach and I cleaned. Before surfing I had to clean the park. Whether it was raking, pulling weeds, or weed eating, that’s what I did. I didn’t know that I was working. I didn’t know that it was part of a non-profit organization. I just thought that was my life and that was fun for me. I’d go to the beach. I would clean up—me and my friends and my siblings, and then I’d go surfing. At the end of the day I’d eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and I’d be just fine. (Ulu laughs)

Doing things like that from a young age—it definitely affected the kind of person that I am today. If I’m going to give, I give all of me. I’m the kind of person that will give you the shirt off my back if you need it. I definitely don’t take care of myself as much as I like to see other people taken care of.

As far as non-profit work that I’m doing now, I’ve been getting my hands in all kinds of places.Waves For Water has been great to work with. I’ve also been working for the Mauli Ola Foundation for quite a while. I’m trying to help people and give back in any way that I can because—I come from the big island of Hawaii, from Kalapana, where it’s rough living you know. Being on the north shore of Oahu, is very different. I have a beautiful house to stay in, a beautiful hot shower. It’s a dream and it’s kind of hard for me because everyday I think about my family back home and how my living environment there isn’t so easy. I’m here, though, because I know that if I do well I can support my family.

By doing well in surfing, I can make them happy. That’s a big part of why I do it. For me, surfing has been such a great thing—it’s been such a blessing.

HAWAIIAN OLA: It’s so great that you can work within the surfing community to give back to different organizations that you support. Is the organization that your mom started still active?

ULU BOI: It’s still happening. A new leader took over from the big island. Right now he’s the one being active and making sure everything the organization is responsible for happens. We’ve kind of stepped back from it. When it first started, though, it was just my family.

 
 

HAWAIIAN OLA: What are your views on living healthy; not just eating and nutrition but holistically—an overall philosophy for how we live.

ULU BOI: My whole thing is respect everyone and everything. That’s what I try to go by; it’s the spirit of Aloha. I mean, I think everything comes around. People ask, what is aloha? Aloha is not something that you can describe. It’s not easy to convey verbally—it’s the things that you do, and how you do them. I say that being a good person, having positive energy, and making a positive impact on your friends and your family—that’s important.

HAWAIIAN OLA: I watched a clip of you online where you were walking through a garden near your house. You were naming plants and it was pretty obvious that you and your family had a good relationship with plants and farming. I’ve seen that you grow your own food and that’s beautiful.

A hundred years ago, ninety percent of all the food eaten in Hawaii was grown in Hawaii. Today eighty percent of the food that’s eaten in Hawaii is shipped in. We know that growing local growing food is important and it’s great to see people doing it. Do you want to talk at all about your family and your relationship with gardening and growing food?

ULU BOI: Yea, my family and I live in a little shack in the middle of the woods, kind of far away from any civilization, stores, or anything. We were blessed enough to have land in my families name. We have always been in love with nature. For my parents—that was their thing. My mom was always into farming; my dad was always into farming. It was just passed on, you know.

Being raised in the country, you’re just brought up with farming and growing your own fruits and vegetables.

I guess when you grown up around something so much you can’t help but know it. Just like being on an island, you’re taught to swim and play in the ocean. Being raised in the country, you’re just brought up with farming and growing your own fruits and vegetables. On the big island, farming is so accessible. We have the land to do it and we do it, partly, because everything is so lush and green—everything grows. I mean, where I’m from, you can throw anything in the ground and it’ll grow. It’s amazing. I love it.

HAWAIIAN OLA: Can you talk about any interesting experiences you remember growing up withNoni Fruit on the big island?

ULU BOI: I know that Noni is good for things like cuts and it’s super healthy. I remember when was a little kid; my mom literally scrubbed me head to toe with noni. I was probably like four years old or something. I hated it. I don’t know what that was all about. (Ulu laughs)

*Among many other things, Noni is often used in traditional Hawaiian and Polynesian medicine as a topical analgesic and antiseptic.

HAWAIIAN OLA: Ok, this might sound silly and I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but it’s still a curious thing for me. As a person with a very novice understanding of surfing, I feel like it’s a pretty small portion of surfers that get to experience a moment in a barrel—surfing through a tunnel of water, and being spit out at high speeds. Can you describe what that’s like—how it makes you feel?

ULU BOI: For me surfing, is so spiritual. Its the thing I love to do most. People say that getting barreled is like the best thing that you could possibly do in surfing. i mean, for me, just being in the water calms my nerves; that’s where I belong.

I see the ocean as my home. I just have such a spiritual connection there. Surfing is a way of life. People who surf know what I’m talking about. It’s really hard to describe. Basically, If there wasn’t a barrel I probably wouldn’t surf. Honest truth. (Ulu Smiles)

 
 

HAWAIIAN OLA: what makes you laugh, Ulu?

ULU BOI: What makes me laugh? (haha) That’s so hard. I mean—I have a lot if funny friends that make me laugh. But I think the time that I’m laughing the most is when the waves are really good. I have an uncontrollable joy within me.

I’m super bad. When it comes to being at the beach or around the surf I’m definitely the loudest person in the water. I sing I laugh. I pick on people; I just have a good time.

HAWAIIAN OLA: That’s awesome, Ulu.

Be a good person and carry on with the spirit of aloha and you’d be amazed with what it brings.

HAWAIIAN OLA: Y’know something about being a professional athlete and someone who’s interviewed and speaks to the public is—well—you’ve talked about people you looked up to in surfing and how you listened very closely to what they were saying and how they said it. Being successful at what you do means that you’re that next guy, you know—That the people will be listening to. Young people in the surfing community, especially. Do you have any kind of message or an idea that you want to make sure comes across throughout your career to people.

The only thing that I’d like to say to everyone, especially the up and coming people, is respect everyone and everything and have an understanding of the concept of pure Aloha and what it brings. Be a good person and carry on with the spirit of aloha and you’d be amazed with what it brings.

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Chris Whidden