UTAH (ABC4) – Polynesian-Utahn director Isaac Halasima’s new documentary “Waterman” drops April 8, 2022, spreading the aloha spirit. The film tells the story of Native Hawaiian Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, an acclaimed athlete who popularized surfing around the world despite historic racism and prejudice. It is narrated by Hollywood’s Jason Momoa, a native Hawaiian himself.
Born in Hawaii in 1890, Duke Kahanamoku was one of the first non-white US Olympic athletes, and is largely credited for making surfing a world-recognized activity and piece of Hawaiian culture. Halasima’s documentary, however, uses a more intimate lens to tell Duke’s story.
Halasima, through many interviews of those involved in Kahanamoku’s history—and Jason Momoa’s excellent, baritone narration—focuses on Duke’s journey to become a “Waterman.” According to Halasima, a “waterman” is more than a person who swims and surfs to pass time, but is an essential part of the traditional Hawaiian community’s material, cultural, and spiritual wellbeing.
Halasima told ABC4 that a waterman “protects people in the water so they can enjoy it,” and that he was pleased to work with Momoa who is a self-proclaimed waterman himself.
Coinciding with the US government’s annexation of Hawaii in 1898, Duke’s athletic skill as a Hawaiian waterman was quickly commodified and exploited by mainland American interests. Despite this and other adversities, he became a world-renown icon for Hawaiian culture and representation of Indigenous people. Duke’s success in Olympic swimming was the beginning of a long tradition of American excellence in the sport.
Halasima’s goal in telling Duke’s story is “threefold.” First, he detailed his personal connection to Duke; his recently passed uncle carved the famous statue of Duke in Waikiki, and encouraged him to pursue the story. Second, Duke, who Halasima referred to as “his guy,” is his personal hero. He hopes that “Waterman” will give Duke his rightful place among other historical athletes of color that made a big impact.
Finally, Halasima stated that the documentary is the first attempt to tell Duke’s story in its entirety, from start to finish. It was this chronological, comprehensive approach that made him realize that the one can’t “talk about Duke without talking about the power and spirit of aloha,” which is far more than just a salutation for Native Hawaiians.
When asked why Utahns should care about the film, Halasima commented that “Utah and the LDS faith have an unbelievably strong connection to Hawaii.” He argued that “Duke’s teachings are Utah’s teachings,” going on to explain how Duke’s mission was to encounter everyone in his life with love and humility.
On working with Jason Momoa, Halasima mentioned that meeting the Hawaiian Hollywood star was like “running into family” or “a brother of mine.” He said that even in his fame, Momoa has a “deep love and passion for Hawaii” that is audible in his narration of the film.
“Waterman” has already won several accolades in a variety of small film festivals, and comes out April 8th, 2022. Halasima mentioned thanking his production team at Sidewinder Films for letting him run with such a personal subject.