WATCH: Hawaii Man Surfs Drainage Canal 'Like Ninja Turtles' After Record Rainfall

Aug 27, 2018
Originally published on August 28, 2018 7:25 am

As Hurricane Lane approached Hawaii's big island, it dumped record amounts of rain on the city of Hilo, on the island's eastern coast, causing flooding, landslides, and damage to homes.

But as all that water began draining out to sea, it also created the perfect conditions for Shawn Pila to grab his surfboard and jump into the concrete drainage canal near his home.

When it rains hard, Pila said, the torrential flow interacts with the shape of the canal to create a standing wave, "and we found out that we could surf it, so when it rains like this we're surfing the trench like Ninja Turtles."

Pila said the wave he rode on Saturday was the largest he'd ever surfed in the canal. The perils are many: the river carries logs and debris; after a fall, it's easy to get carried out to sea; and then there are the police, who threatened to arrest him.

"They're just doing their job," Pila said after a police officer made him get out. But he's been surfing that little wave during hard rain for almost 20 years, and said he doesn't plan to stop now.

Watch Pila surfing here:

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Hurricane Lane brought record rainfall to the Big Island of Hawaii. Officials warned residents to stay inside and out of the water. But NPR's Adrian Florido came across plenty of people over the weekend who just could not resist.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Driving around the city of Hilo, I noticed a little crowd of people pointing cameras down into a drainage canal. I figured they were just filming the torrent of water flowing out to sea. But when I joined them, I saw something amazing. That raging water had created a perfect little wave right in the middle of the drainage canal, and there was a man surfing it. I waited till he came out.

SHAWN PILA: What happens is because it's a perfectly crafted concrete canal, the hydro force from the water builds up in certain areas.

FLORIDO: This is Shawn Pila, 33, born and raised in Hilo.

PILA: So where we were is the hydro force building up. And it creates a standing wave, and we've found out that we can surf it. So when it rains like this, we're surfing the trench like Ninja Turtles.

FLORIDO: Hurricane Lane dumped more water in less time than Hilo had ever seen before.

PILA: So the wave is actually the biggest we've ever surfed it since I can remember.

FLORIDO: What - how does that change the experience?

PILA: There's more logs coming down. We get swept down to the ocean a lot faster. And it's just a lot more energy and exhilaration. So it's more scary for sure (laughter).

FLORIDO: Pila says he gets antsy staying inside during storms. He doesn't care about the warnings from officials when a hurricane comes. He's got to get in the water, even if it's a drainage canal.

PILA: A cop just actually pulled up now and gave us a warning. He's just doing his job.

FLORIDO: He kicked you out.

PILA: He kicked us out. He said next time we do this, he's going to arrest us. So we might have to wait a few hours.

FLORIDO: Pila wasn't the only one out for some fun.


FLORIDO: At nearby Carvalho Park, an adjacent river had overflowed, creating a current of water across an open field, perfect for three young men with boogie boards - Kapono Ka'aihue, Buddy Betts and Unko Koa.

KAPONO KA'AIHUE: We're just shredding some waves.

BUDDY BETTS: (Laughter) Shredding some river, dog. Raining, so river water coming through - Carvalho Park in action, cuz.

FLORIDO: Has it flooded before?

UNKO KOA: Not like this. But we go wherever there's water. Because right now, they're telling us we got to stay inside the house. We cannot have fun because it's raining. But we're Hawaiian, and we know how to have fun in the rain (laughter).

FLORIDO: And they were off to have more fun. Adrian Florido, NPR News, Hilo, Hawaii.