He's done it all to surf his dreams
By Linda Tagawa
Special to The Advertiser
By Linda Tagawa
I first met Karim Hammani in Waikiki early one Sunday morning as I struggled to carry my surfboard down Kalakaua Avenue. By the time I arrived near the showers, my arthritic fingers were throbbing with pain. I winced as I stroked them. Hammani saw me and walked over.
"Have you ever tried using a Board Buddy?" He reached under the bench and pulled out an odd-looking contraption. "I slip this under my board. It makes it so much easier to carry." Hammani continued, "And if you go to City Mill, you can wrap some pipe insulation around the plastic so the Board Buddy won't bang against your board."
I was impressed with his helpfulness, and I watched him as he made his way to the shoreline and began patiently teaching his two young sons to surf. After an hour, he loaded his family back into his car. He told me he had a surfboard shop, and it was time for him to open it for the day. "If you drove to the corner of King Street and University Avenue, you'd see a yellow surfboard sign. ... It reads, 'Aloha Board Shop.' I hung the sign myself this year," he said, smiling with pride.
Over time, I would see Hammani on the beach and at his shop. He seemed to be happy with the way his life was going: married with three wonderful children, homeowner and business owner. But things weren't always this way. The decision to open the surfboard shop came only after many years of struggle and hard work.
Hammani told me, "I was born in France and grew up in an orphanage. In those days I had no money, and it was obvious that it was up to me to find ways to earn money. So, at age 10, I went to the shopping streets and found odd jobs setting up and breaking down stands for peddlers after school and on weekends. I also mowed lawns and did other odd jobs. It was hard work, but I wasn't afraid of work. I even began to weave my own macrame hangings and sold them in the marketplace. While working in the shopping streets, I'd rummage through travel magazines searching for the tiny specks on maps, called the Hawaiian Islands. It became my ultimate dream to one day go to this exotic place and surf.
"Day in and day out, I put aside money so that one day I could go to Hawai'i. Then, in 1984, at age 18, I took my entire savings, bought a ticket, and left my home country."
When Hammani came to Hawai'i, he had just a dream and a few dollars in his pocket. And with no job or place to stay, and speaking no English, he had to depend on his own ingenuity and resources, just as he had done all his life.
In Waikiki, he found work as a board boy, picking up surfboards. "It wasn't much money, but enough for my meals and other necessities," he said. He never stopped searching for new opportunities. He picked up English, and eventually taught surf lessons.
A catamaran owner was impressed with Hammani's reputation as a hard worker who could be trusted to do more than was expected. He hired Hammani, then suggested Hammani obtain a captain's license. Hammani said, "I figured that after paying rent, buying my food and other necessities, I would have just enough left to pay for the class, so I signed up."
After a long day of teaching surfing lessons and working on the catamaran, Hammani rode his bike from Waikiki to town for his nightly classes. It was nearly midnight when he returned home to eat his dinner. A year later, he took the test, received his license, and became the captain of the catamaran.
Hammani eventually bought that catamaran and started a scuba diving school. With his dive boat, business boomed, leaving him no time for anything but work for almost 10 years. He reminisced about the time when he lived in France and dreamed of surfing in Hawai'i. He shook his head. "Here I was finally in Hawai'i but had absolutely no time to surf." So, he made another life-changing decision: "I sold my boat, van, diving gear and business, and used the proceeds of the sale to open this surf shop. I met my wife, Kyoko, got married, had three children —Issei, Genta, and Naya — and bought a home."
Now, Hammani says, his surfboard business is thriving. I believe that's not only due to his hard work, but also because of his interest in helping others. For instance, just the other day, I walked into Hammani's shop to find him building board racks. "During winter or summer break, UH students must vacate their dormitories, leaving them with no place to store their surfboards. I've been thinking about their problem and came up with an idea," he said. "I decided to lease the empty room above my shop and rent the space."
Hammani's life has changed radically over the past 21 years. And he attributes his success to hard work.
Dreams do come true. Through hard work and his never-give-up attitude, Hammani got more than he ever dreamed of ... a family, home, and a thriving business. He's grateful for each day.
Linda Tagawa is a surfer who teaches at Aliamanu Middle School and writes monologues for Honolulu Theatre for Youth.