A sit down, and shred, with KJ Nakanelua


KJ gets air off a halfpipe

By James Meaney, Staff Writer

A jocular KJ Nakanelua sits and plays “Skate 3” on the Xbox and performs his favorite trick, the front slide 360, as we discuss his astoundingly beautiful Arbor Raw-Run Video and how he worked on becoming one of the world’s best downhill skaters.

Hawaii is the state where board sports roam victorious. It’s the epicenter of surfing, and houses the best surfers in the world. Hawaii’s rugged mountain peaks and deep valleys also breed’s some of the world’s greatest downhill skaters, and that’s exactly what KJ Nakanelua is. The 22-year old skater from Kailua, if you haven’t already seen the video, is a privilege to watch.

The forever humble and modest Nakanelua creates a smile wherever he goes; whether he’s climbing trees, bodyboarding or skating. He is one of the world’s most talented downhill skateboarders, and if you’re lucky you might spot him skating his favorite run, Tantalus. The three mile steep downhill road see’s Nakanelua compete against limitless sharp turns, endless potholes and oncoming traffic. It takes a very skilled individual to skate the road but Nakanelua executes it playfully and often flawlessly.

“I probably tried to skate Tantalus at 15 for the first time,” Nakanelua said. “Both sides of the hill have a different spectrum of skating to teach you. I learned a lot from them two hills. Tantalus is really playful and it’s my favorite hill to skate; in terms of difficulty, it’s probably around a 6 out of 10. It’s really playful and you can really challenge yourself by trying new things.”

KJ rapidly became a major skater in the Hawaiian downhill skating scene. He funded his own way to events and travelled to North America to participate and get involved in downhill events just to skate with people who he’d met once or twice. The backbone and tenacity shown to become a major part of the skating scene is not to be taken lightly; Nakanelua time and again risks serious injury to skate every hill as fast as he possibly can.

“It’s every little kids dream to get picked up by a company, and have access to companies and being a part of the scene instead of just following it,” Nakanelua said. “Slowly I got to the point where I was just known in the downhill scene through my own videos made here in Hawaii, so when I got to the events people could see the person behind the videos. People liked them a lot; I edited them myself. Arbor skateboards picked me up and I became a professional downhill skater. The skating lifestyle is amazing, it’s very laid back but crazy harsh.”

Arbor skateboards sponsors Nakanelua and enables him to tour all over the country and compete in a variety of downhill events. When he isn’t competing professionally, he loves finding new spots and is always looking for that perfect run.

To keep composure Nakanelua often sings when he is skating down hills, whether leisurely or professionally. The relation between the board and your body is the most important thing when skating. Nakanelua’s vibrant and positive outlook on life reflects in his song choice, he’s current favorite song to sing while skating is “Escape” otherwise known as the Pina Colada song; insisting it’s “the most beautiful love story ever told.”

“I’ve always sung songs in my head when skating,” he said. “My music I would use in my old videos are often songs I would sing while skating. You can’t be thinking about the negative, you need to be composed, thinking about how your body and the board work together. At this point for me it’s so muscle memory that I know how to avoid speed wobbles.”

Gerrit Deweese is a CUH student who has had the privilege of watching Nakanelua skate down Tantalus on more than one occasion. “It makes me have so much respect for him and for the local boys who skate that hill,” He said. “He has to be so calm and comfortable to get into those situations and kill it like he does. He’s so humble and you would have no idea of what he can do on a board. He is really cool guy.”