ZEKE LAU: WHAT THE "STAB" COMMENTS DON'T SAY
Who’s Zeke? Answer: Just look for the bald kid. The answer to that question sill stands and has stood since he was little, chasing a soccer ball around the field, sweating out the very salt water whose blessing would give him the chance to finally grow out a few centimeters of hair. Zeke’s father saw every other kid his son surfed with and/or against. They flaunted ehu brown or golden, high-noon sunshine infused, salty locks that glossed the surface of the water with every stroke on the paddle out to the break at Kewalo’s. “No, we’re not doing that, we’re going to be different,” Zeke’s father said to him as he began the process of shaving his son’s head daily in spite of his protests. 9th grade... after years and years of placing second in surf contest after surf contest, Zeke won Nationals. His end of the bargain with his father was finally fulfilled. But by then, it didn’t matter. It was who he was, Zeke identified with bald and he didn't need hair to tell him he belonged in this world.
Everything his father told him, the lectures about what he could’ve done differently during a game or heat on the car ride home, the lickings, running hills on Kamehameha’s campus till he wanted to collapse, the time that his third place trophy was hurled into the bushes at Makaha for an amateur contest put on by the HSA (Hawaii Surfing Association) as the chanting of Matt Costa’s name taunted him, “MATT-Y! MATT-Y! MATT-Y!”, have all steered Zeke to hail his differences with newfound acceptance. Surfing as a grom for him never involved cutting class on the biggest swells or simply heading down to Sandy’s with the boys as soon as the school bell tolled for the day. For Zeke, though he had been sponsored by Volcom since he was nine, surfing was a reward.
Sliding off his soccer socks then drenched with the sweat of repetitious passing drills and a lack of water breaks, he quickly shoved the funk wafting from his shinguards into his backpack, trading them for board-shorts and what was left of his wax. His dad was waiting for him in the parking lot with two boards in the back of the car. The sun was beginning to droop towards the southern hemisphere bringing with it a pastel painted sky and fractured light that defused at the horizon’s last juncture. He just wanted to be in the water, even if it was for just 30 minutes. The joy he felt with this reunion was surely the same his peers felt but for Zeke it meant he had done something right but also definitively had something to prove. The water lapped at his ankles as he first pushed his board out onto the ocean’s surface before he launched himself onto it and began to paddle… paddle… paddle. “For me, I played soccer, went to school, went to soccer practice, if there was time after all that, my dad would take me right before dark to just jump in the water. So in High School, it came to the point where it was like we gotta find out what I’m gonna do; am I gonna play sports and go to college? Or are we gonna try to pursue this surfing career?”, Zeke said remembering as he looked out onto the very hills he used to sprint up on a hot, June afternoon.
It wasn’t until his junior year of high school when he won his first professional surf contest, the Quiksilver Pro, a 4-Star WQS in El Salvador, that he had proven himself, that he and his family felt that this was something he could do and make a living doing it. But this didn’t signify simplicity and a bed of roses for Zeke to roll around in. For the last six months of his career he was without a sponsor and his boards no longer bore the Volcom stone on their noses. “At first I was almost excited because something new was about to happen and I felt like I was taking a next step into my career. And then, two months, there months go by and it’s just like okay, let’s hurry this process up, like when am I gonna get a sponsor?!”, he told us just a few weeks after he was signed with Quiksilver, the new face that would adorn his quiver.
Rewinding to this past winter season of 2014-2015 all the way through this spring, Zeke would wake up to thoughts of panic; thoughts of maybe having to work at McDonalds or the realization that if he had to get a “real job” he might not be qualified to do so. He didn’t go to college, full rotations and bucket-throwing laybacks were his only qualifications. After splashing some water on his face and taking a good look in the mirror he’d get on the phone, log into his email and talk—to team managers, industry leaders and those who worked on the inside of everything he had based his future on. Three or four hours later he’d walk out of his house, sometimes in his jesus sandals with a board under each arm and wave-hunt in his truck with Drake bumpin’. Without any calls from a team manager or the knowledge that he was getting paid to surf, the act took him back to the days when he wasn’t so tatted up, to being a grom, to being psyched on just being able to go to the beach and what he was doing; for himself, by himself. “I felt alone almost. I had no backing, it was just me and my family pretty much so it was very humbling and it made me really want it. If I wanted to get it done, I was gonna have to do it myself and I gotta motivate myself,” Zeke said in hindsight. It was his competitive drive harnessed through his father’s adamant belief that “it wasn’t good enough”, his athletic background in various land sports and the attitude bred through his Hawaiian roots and the tattoos of King Kamehameha and Duke Kahanamoku which bore into his side and mark him as their own, that has allowed him to get back on board, making his way towards qualifying for the WSL’S World Championship Tour.
With Quiksilver as his stage and the surfing world craning their necks back around to see what @haynsupahman is about to reveal in the next round of contests and back at home come this winter, Zeke’s surfing for more than just a world title. He’s slowly growing into his tattoos (of Duke and King Kamehameha I) as he becomes an ambassador of surfing, his people and what he calls Hawaii’s gift to the world. “At the end of the day whether I have a sponsor, whether I don’t have a sponsor, whether I’m on tour or just free-surfing that’s all I wanna do, represent Hawaii as best as I can. I feel like, there’s been like a lull or like a gap in real, Hawaiian blooded surfers and Native Hawaiians that really have made an impact on the surfing world since the last one was Sunny Garcia. In our industry and our world it’s hard, it’s hard to be a surfer that’s Hawaiian because we have this whole punk reputation of fights and drama outside of surfing that people don’t like to deal with or whatever it may be. Me and my parents our whole goal is to kind of change that whole face and we want to be the face of this new crop of Hawaiian surfers,” said Zeke. This crop will be educated, will have graduated from high school, maybe not with a 4.0 but they will be aware of what’s going on in their community in regards to their culture and why they must represent Hawaii in the way that they do. While blonde-haired, fair-skinned surfers born and bred on the islands are deemed “Hawaiian” it’s not in their blood though the industry markets them on billboards and in two-page spread’s as if they were. Though Zeke shows his respect, loves and appreciates his friends who fall into this category, he shared this:
“I want it to be known that it’s different to have the Hawaiian blood and that ancestry of those ali’i that started this sport and that I carry that in my DNA. I want to make that known that it’s different to be a Hawaiian surfer that lives in Hawaii that has Native Hawaiian ancestry because a lot of it gets mixed up; that this whole industry, that these kids that have blonde hair and blue eyes, that they’re Hawaiian, and it’s just like it’s hard, it’s hard to take that because you know they’re not Hawaiian, they’re just from Hawaii.”
The position that Zeke is now in as he has come of age is one that involves a balancing act between identity and career, of being Hawaiian and a pro-surfer. Though many might say that he has “chip on his shoulder” he literally wears his heart on his sleeve, in his tattooed sleeve, in the epidermis embedded ink that he admits he almost cried getting at 15. So besides the Stab comments and his sometimes unapproachable demeanor as he pulls up to a spot, what Zeke has been through and is going through is a testimony to the fact that he’s got something to prove. By making himself “irresistible” to the industry and letting his surfing do the talking, Zeke’s going to change our conceptions of what it means to be a Hawaiian surfer today. Stay tuned to see if Duke rolls over in his grave and throws Zeke a shaka.