The Red Bull Wa'a is an outrigger canoe team from Kona, HI. Meet the guys, read their stories, share yours, and get to know the Red Bull Wa'a team firsthand.
Keakua Nolan grew up in Kailua-Kona, part of a multi-generational Hawaiian family. Life hasn’t always been easy for Kua, as he goes by. He dropped out of school at age 16 to help his parents pay bills and he lived in foster care with his grandmother for much of his childhood. He now has three kids of his own and he helps care for a disabled cousin. “It’s been a struggle my whole life,” he says. “I’ve been working so my family could have a roof over their heads.” He also helps care for his teammates on the water. Kua is a captain of the Red Bull Wa’a team and his teammates call him one of the team’s top dogs. In addition to his prowess in the canoe, he’s also a highly ranked beach volleyball player.
Born and raised in Kailua-Kona, Kainoa Tanoai is one of the youngest stars of the Red Bull Wa’a team. His father, Mesepa, is one of the team’s coaches. Kainoa started paddling around age 7 — his dad was his first coach — but then he left paddling for years to focus on school. He returned to the sport at age 17 and now calls it his number-one-priority. “I’d like to be solo world champion one day,” says Kainoa, who also loves to surf, bodyboard and stand up paddleboard. “I’ve always told myself to dream big and never let anyone tell you you can’t do something.”
Born in the state of Virginia as Earl Linwood Cox III, Trey, as he goes by, moved with his family to the Big Island when he was around 19. Trey discovered paddling soon after moving to Hawaii and became entrenched in the culture. “My coach instilled the paddling life in me. Everyone is like family, so it’s hard to leave once you’re in it,” he says. “It takes up all your time. You have to be in the water every day. You have to sacrifice everything.” Well, not everything. Trey recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Hawaii and just bought a house with his soon-to-be-wife on the Big Island. He says his teammates are like his brothers. “You’ll be in the middle of the ocean in unreal conditions that people would never think about going into,” says Trey. “You lay it on the line with your brothers.”
DANIEL KEKUA CHUN
A Kona native, Daniel Kekua Chun is the Red Bull Wa’a team’s current steersman, an integral player in the six-man canoe. He’s been spearfishing since he was 10 years old and also practiced the martial art of jiu-jitsu for many years. But eventually, a friend introduced him to outrigger canoe paddling, and there was no turning back after that. “I love being out there in the ocean, in the elements,” Daniel says. “It’s always different out there, with the swells, the wind, the currents. You never know what you’re going to see.” The father to two children, Daniel serves as a beach captain and boat captain for Kukio Golf & Beach Club.
One of the oldest and most veteran paddlers on the Red Bull Wa’a team, Ikaika Hauanio grew up on Oahu and moved to Kona in 1998. He started canoe paddling not long after moving to the Big Island. “I always dive head first into new things,” says Ikaika. “I never do things just 80 percent.” Case in point: Ikaika earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and an MBA in finance from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and he now works as a wealth management advisor for Merrill Lynch. When he’s not advising people on their financial futures or spending time with his wife and two children, you’ll find Ikaika stroking in the number-one-seat in the boat. “Just to be out in the ocean with a good group of guys, that’s what inspires me most,” he says. “For me, getting into the ocean gives me balance. It allows me to function at a higher level.”
Always one of the smaller guys in the boat, Chevise Conte more than makes up for that with his powerful force and constant energy in the ocean. A Kona native whose family hails from Honolulu, Chevise started paddling in 2008 and is now one of the best in his field. “My mind was my biggest challenge, just thinking I’m not good enough or not strong enough. I was doubting myself,” says Chevise, who works as a house painter. “But I kept pushing forward and I didn’t give up chasing my dream.” Although he’s done long-distance solo races, it’s the team aspect that he connects to the most. “I love the brotherhood and being with your friends,” he says of being in the six-man canoe. “Just being out in the ocean, getting away from it all, it puts everything in perspective.”