VIDEO: Hana honors, celebrates life of Isaiah Pu-Akima
HANA – East Maui grieved, then celebrated as one Friday night.
Members of the unbeaten Hana High School boys volleyball team brought this remote community together in the Parley J. Kanakaole Gym on the school’s campus as they collectively marked the life of Isaiah Pu-Akima, a 17-year-old senior outside hitter who died after a vehicle he was driving went over a guardrail on Hana Highway and down a 300-foot cliff in Keanae early Thursday.
Friends and family members said Pu-Akima was on his way to go pig hunting when the accident occurred.
Friday was a senior night like few others for a high school with 83 students. The Dragons’ 25-18, 25-15, 26-24 win over the defending champion Seabury Hall Spartans seemed almost predestined.
The Dragons wore pink socks, the favorite color of Pu-Akima and Hunter Perry, the only other 12th-grader on the roster.
“It’s for him and for me,” Perry said before the match. “It is our senior night and something special to us. It’s our favorite color. We never thought this kind of stuff could happen.”
The Spartans wore green socks to support the green-and-yellow-clad Dragons and their fallen teammate.
The shock and sorrow wore off early in a gym packed to more than its 500 capacity – several of Pu-Akima’s teammates fought off tears in pre-match introductions before a moment of silence. The collective spirits turned bright after a simple team cheer of “Isaiah” from all of the Dragons.
The school’s softball team, including Pu-Akima’s younger sister Isley and girlfriend Jaynalee Hoopai, listened to the pre-match festivities via phone on Molokai, where it is playing in the Maui Interscholastic League Division II softball tournament.
Teammates said they felt Pu-Akima’s presence.
“He was a good leader, he always was correcting everybody and keeping everybody’s spirits up, like, ‘Come on, come on, let’s go,’ ” Hana sophomore Shaka Kalalau said. “He was always just the uplifter of the emotions – 100 percent, 110 percent, he will be with us the whole game.”
Kalalau said Friday’s match was like no other he has ever played.
“This is a big puzzle, and he is one of the big pieces missing,” Kalalau said. “We are going to do it not only for us, but for him.”
The Dragons finished the MIL season 11-0 and can wrap up the league’s single state berth by winning the league tournament next week or in a playoff against the tournament winner. The Dragons have won just three MIL volleyball titles ever.
“Way more emotions, our adrenaline is just pumping two times as fast,” Kalalau said. “His dream was to go undefeated through the MILs, and we are going to do it for him.”
Kalalau said that he knew the gym would be packed.
“Not one seat is going to be empty,” he said. “It’s going to be pretty crazy.”
Kalalau was right, as the crowd flowed around the gym and out the door, where youngsters frolicked in the moonlight.
Kalalau has lived in Hana for four years after being born on Oahu, and he said that the community embraced Pu-Akima.
“It’s laid-back, hardworking, one big family,” Kalalau said. “From when I first came, he was one of the first people I met. He introduced himself to me and from that point we were just really close. He was like a brother to me. He took care of me, he made sure that I was all right. He gave me a ride home every day after practice. During football, he gave me a ride home after practice.”
Hana Athletic Director Fou Moeai said family members have told him that Pu-Akima fell asleep at the wheel. The helpful teen is someone who Moeai said he will never forget.
“He lit up the room,” said Moeai, who is a father of seven. “I have a son who never played volleyball before. He came home every day and said, ‘Dad, Isaiah is the man, he helps me.’ So, he was real supportive. He wants everyone to to be good and he will put everything on the floor. He’s real respectful to his coaches, to his elders.”
Pu-Akima was a starter for the volleyball team and an MIL All-Star in eight-player football for the Dragons. He also played on the Hana soccer team, which was coached by his uncle Vance Pu.
“He is going to be missed a lot in everything that he has done – family, this team. He is going to be missed a lot. He was involved in everything,” Moeai said. “It’s tough right now…. The people are going to feel his absence and then his presence. The boys are going to pick up the slack that is absent from Isaiah, I really feel so.”
An 18-year-old passenger in the car with Pu-Akima – Sam Keohuhu – survived the accident. The tragedy is something Moeai has never dealt with.
“Never,” he said. “Not as a teacher, not as a coach, not as an administrator, and that is why it’s so painful. The love that everyone had for that kid, for him to be gone, everyone going through this, it’s painful. It is one of those stories that you don’t want to read. You don’t want to read about the kid from the great family who left us too early.”
Freshman teammate Tryston-Prince Beck said that he can’t imagine that Pu-Akima is gone.
“I have known him since I was born,” Beck said. “He is going to be missed by everybody, his family, this team, everybody…. We play for him tonight, that’s all. Always.”
Perry said he feels like Pu-Akima will somehow be back with his team.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Perry said. “I feel like he is just going to come down the hill to practice. It’s hard. Hard times.”
Leinaala Perry, Hunter Perry’s mother, said that a rosary at the Pu-Akima residence Thursday night drew more than 200 people.
“The whole community pulled together,” she said. “It was unique. We live five houses down from each other and Isaiah is like a son to me. (The rosary) was beautiful, over 200 people came. That is the uniqueness of Hana. If we’re blood related or we live together, we all respect each other like family. The outpour of love was just remarkable.”
Pastor John Kahalehoe of In His House of Restoration Church spoke for the family.
“Anything like this happens, it really touches everybody,” Kahalehoe said. “Everybody knows everybody in Hana and when a tragedy like this happens, everybody comes together. Everybody has been helping out tremendously with (Pu-Akima’s parents) Edwina and Eddie and their family.”
Kahalehoe confirmed that Pu-Akima was headed on a pig-hunting trip.
“Isaiah loved to hunt,” Kahalehoe said. “If he could hunt, he could walk and Isaiah loved to walk. He loves to hunt, he loves to fish, he loves to do everything outdoors. He learned how to hunt, how to shoot, how to skin and bring home the meat to help the family eat.”
Kahalehoe said that Pu-Akima always stepped up for the church.
“Isaiah was one of my strongest soldiers in the church,” he said. “He would do whatever was asked of him in the church – to feed the people, help feed the kupuna. Whatever was asked.”
Krystal Kaiwi, the Hana student body president, said that her senior classmate will never be forgotten.
“It hit the community big time, just because he is so young and he is still in high school and we are almost finished,” Kaiwi said. “For this to happen it kind of just comes in and takes your breath away.”
The night ended with Pu-Akima’s younger brother Irie wearing his jersey No. 2 in a lap with the team around the court.
Kaiwi perhaps summed up the evening.
“For me, this will never sink in,” she said. “We just saw him on Wednesday catching the bus home after practice and then the next day we heard about all this and we couldn’t really believe it.”
Robert Collias can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.