Big Man With A Big Heart
As right on as life is for Kaui Kauhi as a businessman, athlete and actor, his real treasure is found in the communities he helps to uplift, particularly his beloved Waimānalo.
Some people shy away from challenges. Kaui Kauhi runs to them.
“I’m very driven,” he says. “I like to be challenged. I like when people tell me, ‘You can’t do it,’ because I’m going to do it.”
That determination has never been more evident than in how he approaches community work. Twenty years ago, Kauhi first embraced the challenge of lifting the spirits of many — specifically, those individuals and families living at shelters and homeless camps from Wai‘anae to Waikīkī.
But about a decade ago, he decided to focus his compassionate efforts on his hometown of Waimānalo. In recalling what led him to narrow his reach, he explains, “One Christmas, I was sitting down in my living room and I saw this homeless family walking. They had about six kids and out of the six kids, I only saw one kid with a bike.”
The scene did not sit right with Kauhi. In response, he began to organize an event that would cater to the needs of underprivileged children. The result was Mālama Da Keiki, a popular affair that has been going on for the past 10 years and serves around 1,000 youth annually.
“I have a lot of my friends and entrepreneurs and mentors that donate to Mālama Da Keiki,” explains the man who was named grand marshal of the Waimānalo parade in 2018. “We have entertainment, we have food and we actually do a lot of giveaways of toys like bikes, surfboards, footballs, basketballs. You name it, anything to do with kids.”
And because of the event’s continued success, this very large man (he stands 6 feet 6) with equally big ideas believed he could get back to helping other communities while remaining true to his beloved Waimānalo. Last Christmas, he did just that by taking Mālama Da Keiki to four different public housing areas on O‘ahu: Kamehameha Homes, Kūhiō Park Terrace, Mayor Wright Homes and Ka‘ahumanu Housing.
Suffice to say, the events were well-received based on the holiday cheer they brought to these underserved communities.
“When I went to those housing (areas), they needed it more than anybody on the island. That’s just what I saw,” he explains.
Remarkably, the 45-year-old Kauhi is probably recognized more for his work as an actor and stuntman — not to mention his impressive résumé that includes being a champion bodyboarder, title-holding bodybuilder, model and boxer — than he is for his altruistic pursuits.
He’s even had notable achievements as an entrepreneur. Aside from being the founder of Aloha Alkaline, Micronan Inc. and Honua Renewable, he also co-founded Aloha O Vitamin Water and Kanaka Pride aloha shirts. Additionally, he’s a part-owner of Wai Koko Coconut Water.
At the start of the pandemic, Kauhi donated water from Aloha Alkaline and Wai Koko to first responders from hospitals to those within the Honolulu Police and Honolulu Fire departments. More recently, he’s done the same for families impacted by the U.S. Navy’s Red Hill contamination issues.
In recent years, he also helped donate to children, teachers and faculty at Wai‘anae and Mākaha elementary schools in desperate need of air conditioning units.
Despite being a man of varied talents, it’s still charity work that tugs on his heartstrings and brings him the most joy.
“Doing all these different things, from being a professional athlete, boogie boarding, modeling, acting, working with The Rock (Dwayne Johnson), being an entrepreneur, riding private jets, it’s all great. It’s a good memory,” he admits. “But nothing sticks to my heart more than Mālama Da Keiki.”
On March 10, Kauhi’s Four One Boxing club turns 1. He established the club to help troubled youth not only learn athletic skills, but develop a positive attitude in life. Just last month, he threw a huge, festive Super Bowl party at his Waimānalo home to raise funds for the club.
“We won six tournaments, collecting seven belts, six silver medals, one team trophy and a second place-overall boxer award,” he says in highlighting the club’s accomplishments in its first season. “So in a short period of time, we accomplished a lot.”
Kauhi says the concept for the club came after one of his daughters, Tanaiah, asked the former pugilist to teach her how to box.
“For some reason she felt like she had to learn how to protect herself. She thought she was going to get bullied going into high school,” explains Kauhi, who along with wife Kahea have two other children, Teah and Tanoah.
The club currently trains about 25 youngsters and Kauhi says about half of the participants are experiencing varying degrees of difficulty in school or at home.
“They just had trouble in certain areas of their lives. And that’s why I said I wanted to make it a troubled youth program, because boxing is more about life lessons than actually boxing to really be honest. (I’m) just trying to mentor them to do the right things in life, to make the right choices in life and always be honest with yourself and also with me,” he emphasizes.
Kauhi points out that he can relate to many of his troubled boxers because he, too, struggled through a challenging childhood. His father was in prison for most of his life while his mother basically left him and his brothers when they were still young. Thankfully, their grandparents were around to raise them.
“My childhood growing up was very hard and difficult. My grandpa and grandma raised me with about 25 family members in one house. Being on welfare, it was very hard and we were a struggling family,” he remembers.
“I was a really rascal kid growing up. I didn’t have much, but I was real naughty. I mean, I didn’t listen to teachers … just because I didn’t have guidance at home … and that’s why I think I can relate to all the kids that’s in my (boxing) program,” he says.
Despite his academic challenges, Kauhi discovered a passion for athletics at a young age.
“As a kid, I enjoyed all the sports. At the age of 15, I fell in love with body boarding … winning multiple state and national titles within three years.”
“In 1999-2001 is when Baywatch: Hawai‘i was starting filming and I got picked to be an original Hawaiian lifeguard on the show with Brian Keaulana. And then, after that, I went into my career of being a model, being in local calendars,” says Kauhi, who enjoyed roles in several Hollywood productions that include the first two Jumanji movies, as well as Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.
In the early 2000s, he also branched out into the world of fitness and bodybuilding. It culminated with him being crowned Mr. Hawaiian Islands in 2008.
For as much aloha as he shows to others, Kauhi is always grateful when he witnesses others giving back, too. He mentions one particular special family member who has helped him reinvest in his businesses and run his boxing program.
“My auntie Sophie Kauhi, I thank her. She gave me an opportunity to move in with her family on Hawaiian homestead lands. I take care of the bills and her. She helped me and my family survive,” he adds.
In a moment of reflection, Kauhi says he is motivated in all of his endeavors by a deep-seated aloha spirit that has been passed down from generation to generation.
“If you’re a pure Hawaiian like my grandfather, he told me this: ‘Aloha is just a word. You either have it in you, or you don’t. You cannot teach the word ‘aloha,’” says Kauhi. “He told me that a long time ago and that always sticked to me.
“For me, that’s something that I love to spread, in anything I do.”