More Than Meets The Eye

She’s the next face of Kaua’i, and so much more than just another pretty one. Lei U’i Kaholokula, Miss Kaua’i 2012, is about as down-home a girl as you can get. She loves Harry Potter books, spends much of her free time chilling with her brother and calls Jesus her homeboy. But she’s got her eyes on making an even bigger name for herself, and has already appeared on Hawaii News Now.

“There are so many things I want to be able to do and experience, now more than ever,” she says. “I’m very optimistic about my future.”

Following graduation from Chaminade University with a degree in mass communications and a minor in Hawaiian studies, Kaholokula says her next hope is to intern at KGMB on the set of Sunrise, she says. “It’s been a long-time dream to become a news personality, and from the Miss Hawaii experience I had the opportunity to network with lots of great people in this area.”

It won’t be all work and no play, she adds. After all, she’s only 20. “Before I do that, I’m going to travel.” she says. “I love traveling, especially because I get to experience new cultures and in turn, share mine.”

The Kapa’a High School graduate and daughter of Robbie and Pua, Kaholokula comes from a family of talented performers. Dad is a musician, Mom a kumu hula who still runs a hula halau. Kaholokula considers herself blessed by all the inspiration that surrounds her.

“At home my mom is the greatest influence. She’s beautiful in every aspect and is the strongest woman I know.” Grateful to her mom’s hula students and hula aunties, along with former kumu Leialoha Sanchez, Kaholokula says throughout her life, they’ve stood behind her. “I consider them more than aunties, they’re pretty much moms to me. It’s awesome.”

Having her own slate of powerhouse aunties certainly helped her along in her successes, especially as they include County communications director Beth Tokioka and Kaua’i Visitors Bureau executive director Sue Kanoho.

“Hands down, it was quite an intimidating experience to undergo a mock interview with such an established group of people,” Kaholokula says, adding that it may have been harder to perform for them because she wanted to make them proud.

“Because I knew most of them, I was making myself nervous not wanting to ‘flop’ and be seen as a disappointing representative of Kaua’i,” she says. “What I tried to avoid ended up happening. My first mock was a disaster, but the mana’o I gained from the judges was so rewarding. It was very reassuring to know that the judges weren’t there to make me feel less of myself, but rather to support, encourage, direct and motivate me. They left me with some pointers to consider, and I came back the very next week with a new perspective and positive outlook. I had such a good time during the second interview, we almost lost track of time.”

Tokioka recalls the mock interviews with a sense of pride for Kaholokula. “She was incredibly composed and received our constructive criticism very well. It was a tough panel posing some tough questions,” says says, adding, “her presence literally lights up the room.”

It wasn’t just the aunties who have helped her get to where she is today, however.

“I have support in every corner of my life,” she says, which includes the support of her father and brother Baron, with whom she is very close.

“Our relationship in our younger days was like any other brother and sister. We fought, we got along, we fought, we got along. Typical siblings. It wasn’t until Baron went off to Kamehameha his seventh grade year that I really started to miss having a friend around 24/7,” she says.

Family as a priority is something her parents always emphasized.

“From when I can remember, my parents have always stressed the value and importance of ‘ohana. We are a close-knit family so whatever we do, we try to do together,” she says.

That bond still remains strong between Kaholokula and Baron. Both are students at Chaminade, and Baron was her talent coach at the recent Miss Hawaii Pageant.

“He was with me all day during rehearsals from start to finish. I think it’s pretty cool that my brother got to experience the journey with me from beginning to end,” she says.

It’s not only her sense of family and community that makes the stun-ner the quintessential girl next door. It’s also her wide range of skills, from having a broad knowledge of Hawaiian culture to being an all-around athlete. The former middle blocker and captain of the Lady Warriors Volleyball team also was the recipient of the Most Motivating Volleyball Player of the Year Award, and in addition to participating in track and field and dancing hula, was an honor student.

Always one to take on a lot, she’s certainly no quitter. Having just represented Kaua’i in June when going for the Miss Hawaii title, and she hopes to “go” for the title again.

“I was so fortunate to have competed at Miss Hawaii with a tremendous group of young women,” she says. “It was a great honor to take home the congeniality award (back to Kaua’i) for a second time in a row, the first by Kona-Kai Wilson. It just goes to show that the people of Kaua’i are filled with the aloha spirit.”

Never having imagined herself as competing for any title, Kaholokula says she didn’t really think she fit the profile of a “Miss” anything.

“The topic about running was brought up several times at home and I always shrugged it off, until one day at hula practice we were talking about scholarship opportunities and running for Miss Kaua’i came up in the conversation,” she says. “Before I could change the subject, they had given me the whole spiel almost as if it was rehearsed.”

Grateful for being “sold” on the idea, Kaholokula says if it weren’t for her aunties she wouldn’t have been blessed with the opportunity to represent Kaua’i.

“I’ve learned so much about myself and about the position of being a title holder, have met new people, serviced the community, and gotten to be an ambassador for the island,” she says.

Not one to pontificate or provide saccharine answers about how we need “world peace,” when asked what her hopes are for the future of Kaua’i, Kaholokula shows she knows the island and the issues it faces.

“The best hope I have for Kaua’i is a stabilized economy,” she says. “From a balance in economic growth, so many possibilities and opportunities can flourish for its people.”

As for what her favorite aspect of the Garden Island is, Kaholokula says it’s the beauty of its residents. “Everywhere you go, you’re greeted with a quick ‘howzit,’ a pleasant honi and hug, an energetic shaka or even just a simple head nod.

Going away, you realize and appreciate how friendly we are as a people,” she says. “On Kaua’i, the spirit of aloha can be found everywhere.”

That aloha spirit also can be found in Kaholokula herself, Tokioka says.

“She is an incredibly bright, beautiful, charismatic young lady, and I think she would be an outstanding Miss Hawaii. I hope she will continue to pursue her dream.”