A pre-eminent waterman and itinerant adventurer, Aka Hemmings spent his last years helping wounded warriors and other physically, mentally and emotionally challenged individuals build strength and confidence through ocean recreation.
Hemmings, 59, died Friday morning following an extended illness.
“He was a very unique human being, not by what he said, but by his deeds and the way he lived his life,” said brother Fred Hemmings, the former state senator.
Aka Hemmings’ ocean exploits were the stuff of local legend. He and the late Tommy Holmes once paddled one-man canoes from Molokai to Oahu, completing the journey in just nine hours. (Hemmings had previously been part of a team that won the 1968 Molokai-to-Oahu paddling race.)
In 1980, Hemmings and Holmes joined fellow paddler Dale Hope for one of Hawaii’s most notorious paddling feats, riding a 22-foot Hawaiian surfing canoe down a 25-foot wave at the appropriately named Avalanche surf spot on the North Shore. While the ensuing wipeout left Hemmings and Holmes shaken and Hope nursing a broken arm, photos and video of the historic attempt still circulate among the surfing and paddling communities.
Fred Hemmings said his brother spent several months each year living alone and with modest provisions in remote Wailau Valley on the north side of Molokai.
“The first time I went to north Molokai, we spent a week going from Halawa Valley to Kalaupapa,” Hemmings recalled. “It was amazing to spend time in a place where only 10 or 15 people go each year.”
Hemmings remembered his brother as strong-willed and quiet, but with a loving and generous nature. The latter was apparent in Aka Hemmings’ work as executive director for Project Pure Light, a program initiated by Kailua Community Church that provides ocean recreation instruction to people with disabilities. As part of his duties, Hemmings coached the Pure Light racing team, which has participated in paddling competitions around the world.
Hemmings is survived by brothers Mark and Fred; sisters Maria and Heidi; and several nieces and nephews.