The sun is bright over the Waimanalo Polo fields as the first round of play gets underway. It’s day one of the tournament, and the fields are alive with ultimate despite the previous night’s party ending only hours ago. The King looks out over the fields, nestled at the foothills of the Ko’olau range, as a Japanese team celebrates a score with an elaborate cheer. On the next field over, a player wearing ski goggles and a Speedo makes a huge layout block. Tucked in a corner field, the local women’s team starts off their tournament experience with a topless point. Stragglers make their way to the fields from camping at Waimanalo Bay, still with sand and salt water in their hair. Welcome to Kaimana. As he scans this epic scene, the King thinks back to how it all started.
“I still remember my first Kaimana… I was young and clueless and thus booked a flight that got in way too late Friday night. Somehow I found my friend and her tent and promptly fell asleep to the sound of the wind and the waves. It wasn’t until I awoke the next morning to find the sun shining, the sand warming, the sea gleaming and the mountains standing tall in the background that I fully grasped the scope of amazingness that is Kaimana. Not to mention the people, the parties and the Hawaii Spirit. All of this wrapped into a perfect weekend of ultimate. What I learned that first year: don’t sell yourself short and just go for the earlier flight on Friday, or better yet Thursday if you can swing it.”
– Alex Snyder
“There’s no other tournament where you feel like you’re truly away on vacation. Kaimana makes it so easy to play frisbee, party, hang out and/or just be yourself. Civilization doesn’t have to exist in your world for those three days.”
– Tyler Grant
The beginning was back in 1988. In those days, the Hawaii ultimate community was small. It was difficult for local players to get to the mainland to compete in tournaments. That year, the very first Kaimana Klassik (so named for its original location, across from Kaimana beach) afforded local players a way to share the unique culture of Hawaii ultimate with mainland players and compete at a higher level of ultimate. Kaimana was made possible in large part due to the efforts of two players: Charles Shaffer and Ken Gayley. Ken served as the first Kaimana Tournament Director while Charles promoted the tournament on the mainland and facilitated travel arrangements for players to get to Honolulu. The first year, Kaimana featured only four teams and games were played at a local high school. The party was a backyard BBQ at a player’s home. Most notable to those who were present was a match-up between local player Johnny “99” Holzach and well-known mainland talent Brent Russell from the team Gang of Haoles.
“It was inspiring for the local community to see that we could compete with the mainland players. These two battled hard on the field, but once the game was over that’s where it was left. We all went to the party and had a great time afterward. The level of camaraderie at this tournament was amazing.”
– Mark “Merk” Gilbert
“After 30 years of playing ultimate I can comfortably say the Kaimana experience goes down as one of the best. Epic memories that I’ll certainly never forget. It’s hard to believe it’s been so long as it seems like yesterday I was chasing Johnny ’99’ around and then sharing a smile and a beer with him afterwards. I remember thinking how happy all the locals were to play against someone other than themselves!”
Word quickly spread from the small island of Oahu to the mainland. Kaimana steadily grew each year and flourished as a result of the spirited atmosphere, competitive play, and substantial effort of the volunteers who worked to keep it going. Today, Kaimana Klassik is a premier destination tournament and attracts a wide range of participants across 32 teams in the open and women’s divisions, from international teams to nationals level talent. While being located in paradise, providing playing fields with a picturesque backdrop, and including camping on the top rated beach in the world doesn’t hurt, there’s something else that makes Kaimana Klassik special; put simply, it’s the “Aloha Spirit”.
As defined by the Hawaii State Legislature, “Aloha Spirit” is the coordination of mind and heart within each person. “Aloha” is more than a word of greeting or farewell or a salutation; it means mutual regard and affection and extends warmth in caring with no obligation in return. “Aloha” is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence.
Keeping with the spirit of aloha, every year at Kaimana, one or more individuals are inducted into the Hawaii Ultimate League Association (HULA) Hall of Fame. These Hall of Famers are the people who work tirelessly to promote ultimate in Hawaii, further the community, and make the tournament a success for no compensation whatsoever other than the satisfaction of providing an exceptional experience for all. One of the very first inductees into the hall of fame, Mondo Chun, earned the designation of “King of Kaimana” in 2000 in recognition of the fact that he has participated in and been an integral part of each and every Kaimana Klassik – twenty-nine years all told – and is the only person who can make such a claim. The King has served as Kaimana Tournament Director, Master of Ceremonies, and continues in his perpetual role as Kaimana Guru and all-around HULA legend. As a result of his selfless dedication to Kaimana, a new award was initiated in 2015: the Mondo Chun Spirit Award, an exclusive designation reserved for those who embody the spirit of Kaimana. In its inaugural year, the award went to Mark “Merk” Gilbert, a staple of the community who works tirelessly behind the scenes to support Hawaii ultimate and its semi-annual tournaments.
“What makes Kaimana Klassik the best ultimate tournament I’ve experienced in 22 years of playing ultimate? The backdrop of majestical green mountains. The poke. The POG. The warm waters. Camping on the beach. The music, the dancing! The amazing smiles from the organizers at the greeting table. The volunteers who’ve poured their hearts into creating good times. All in the setting of playing the sport that I love. Kaimana Klassik is my heaven. Year after year after year.”
– Dominique Fontenette
While the local community plays a huge role, visitors to Kaimana each year happily jump right in, contributing where they can and doing it with a smile on their faces. It seems Aloha Spirit is contagious. In 2005, Hawaii was subjected to biblical levels of rain for 40 days and 40 nights, torrents of water streamed through the fields and tent, folks were wondering if they should evacuate, and yet teams made the most of it.
“One of my favorite memories of Kaimana was the night the Doughboys, an Australian men’s team, started a chair racing game through the flooded area under the tent. They walked on chairs from one side of the tent to the other and even got our security guard to join in on the fun as a line judge. Much of the entertainment occurred off the fields that year.”
– Jena Kline
Many visitors have now become part of the Hawaii ohana, traveling back year after year. Stanford teams have been attending since year three, and have developed a few interesting traditions along the way. Other visitors have gone as far as moving to Hawaii, while some have found their life partners. Some couples have even held their commitment ceremonies at the tournament itself.
“Kaimana stands alone as the best grass tournament in the world. It’s the Hogwarts of Ultimate. All inclusive camping, food, parties, and friendship. Oh, and ultimate. The people with whom I’m closest in our community are the people I’ve met and played with and danced with and laughed with at Kaimana. My strongest connection to playing women’s ultimate is getting to play each year with Hot Lava.”
– Remy Schor
The King’s eyes sparkle when asked what he is most proud of after 29 years of Kaimana. “How far we have come from our humble beginnings to a tournament which strikes the perfect balance between spirit and competitive play. Kaimana has always been about spirit from day one. Returnees to the tournament exemplify this and the younger players have picked up on it and continue the legacy,” he replies. When asked why he thinks the tournament continues to be a success, a slightly mischievous grin replaces his stoic look. “Register and come find out,” he quips.
Those yet unfamiliar are encouraged to take the King’s advice. There is nothing like the spirit present on the fields at the start of each Kaimana, watching friends and mainland ohana arrive, old and new, and giving those you meet a hug and kiss in the spirit of aloha. You may have traveled, you may have been to tournaments, and you may have even been to an international tournament or two, but if you haven’t been to Kaimana, you’re missing out on paradise.