Inside the danger, drama and adventure of kayak fishing in Hawaii
Sharks, the open ocean, fishing for some of the sea’s most sought-after game fish from the seat of a kayak, all are elements in the Discovery Channel’s latest dive into reality television, Pacific Warriors, a new take on Hawaiian ocean adventure.
Over the past decade, kayak fishing has seen an explosion in popularity, from the U.S. mainland to Hawaii to South Africa, mostly because of the ease of entry. Kayaks are much cheaper than boats and require little maintenance or upkeep. Tim Niemeyer started making his fiberglass “Scuppers” in Malibu, Calif., in the early 1970s, where he was using them to fish, crab and even surf. His sit-on-tops became Ocean Kayak, a brand still around today.
Needless to say, information was limited in the sport’s early days. “I started on some pretty crappy gear,” says David Elgas, known as Boogie-D in fishing circles and a star of Pacific Warriors. Elgas started one of the first kayak fishing tournaments to offer a cash prize, the Paddler’s Papio Open. “There was no information and most of us are self taught. We were really just trying to gather info. When we started there was one website. Twelve years later, there are several big forums around the world with any information you could possibly need.”
Seemingly created for the adventure-loving amongst us, Pacific Warriors is set in the Hawaiian Islands—some would argue the birthplace of kayak fishing—and each island is represented by different personalities: Boogie-D is based on Oahu’s North Shore, a California transplant passing on his knowledge of the ocean to a rookie angler; Maui is represented by “Captain Jon Jon,” looking to catch a world-record Marlin to amp his guiding business, while the Big Island gives us Andy Cho and Rob Wong Yuen, two fisherman who lend the show a dose of reality as they try to catch fish strictly for commercial sale to feed their families. And all that male energy is offset by Kimi Werner, the show’s lone woman, who presents a softer side to all the male-hunter ethos. Viewers might actually find her more hardcore than the rest of the crew as she free dives for up to four minutes while using just her spear to hunt massive fish.
“I did wonder how I was going to fit into the show,” Werner says. “But it fits in so naturally. The world that we live in, we’re all doing the same thing, just using different techniques to do it. We’re paddling our butts off to get to our fishing grounds. I serve as the eyes. The guys are pulling up fish from the deep. Having me in the water, [the viewer] gets to see what’s going on below. It really ties in well. I literally give it a deeper perspective.”
The show’s premise seems a reach at first—brightly colored, bulbous plastic kayaks chasing enormous fish on impossibly large seas might leave some wondering, well, 'Why?' But the show works, as each character chases fish with authentic passion and the viewer gets a sense of each paddler’s spiritual connection to the sea. During one scene in the season’s first episode, the Big Island’s Wong Yuen catches his first tuna of the year—and promptly cuts out the beating heart of the 90-pound beast, eating it raw, on camera, in a show of respect for the animal feeding his family.
Similarly, Werner, after catching an eight-pound octopus, bites it between its eyes to end its life. “You feel a wide range of emotions,” she says about killing the fish that make up the bulk of her diet. “Everything from extreme happiness to ‘I’m sorry.’ The more connected you are to that, the more honest of a life you live.”
And the whole show is shot brilliantly by a camera crew that worked on both Deadliest Catch and Life Below Zero. Overhead drone shots follow kayaks as anglers are dragged across the water by fish on “Hawaiian sleigh rides,” while underwater photography is used to capture gorgeous video of circling sharks or Werner’s elegant underwater dance as she freedives with her spear gun.
“The guys [on the film crew] were getting sick and hurling, they couldn’t handle how rough it was,” says Boogie-D. “[The Discovery Channel] brought some of the best dudes over and they were telling us it was one of the hardest jobs ever and they’ve been in some rough conditions. And if it’s that hard in a boat, imagine how hard it is for us in kayaks.”
Pacific Warriors debuts on the Discovery Channel on Friday, Oct. 23 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.