“Almost a year ago, over waffles, Alex was explaining one of the many translations for the name Nanakuli” Littleton said. “Nanakuli means to look blind. Alex joked about getting a one-eyed orange cat and naming him just that.”
Not long after that fateful breakfast conversation, Littleton and Gomez, who are roommates and special-education teachers on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, found a kitten that fit this description through nonprofit CatFriends. The 3-month-old kitty had been found in an area of Oahu named Nanakuli and was about to have an eye removed due to infection.
Naturally, Littleton and Gomez adopted the tiny kitten — who weighed in at just under a pound — and named him Nanakuli, or Kuli for short.
Kuli had been found on the street and was extremely malnourished, so it took him a while to recover from his infection.
“In the first month we were concerned that our new friend was not going to make it,” Littleton said. “We think part of the reason Kuli is so tolerant of water is because he had to have frequent baths due to his messy health issues.”
Once Kuli was recovering, Littleton and Gomez slowly began integrating Kuli into their active island lifestyle.
Before letting him leave the house though, they first trained him to walk on a leash and then moved on to short walks around the neighborhood. Once he was comfortable exploring the outside world in his harness, it was time for Kuli to see the ocean.
“As his health improved we regularly took him to a quiet secret beach in an animal carrier,” Gomez said. “We always left the door of the carrier open for him to decide when was ready to come out and explore or when he needed to go back in for a safe place to regroup.”
Because Kuli was already pretty comfortable in water, Littleton and Gomez decided to introduce him to the ocean. They fitted him with a lifejacket and placed him atop a surfboard.
“His first time in the water we just let him float on the board by himself near the shoreline,” Gomez said. “Each time after I paddled around with him, not yet in search of waves. Before we knew it we were paddling out to actual surf breaks in Waikiki.”
Littleton says her favorite memory of Kuli is the time he rode his first wave.
“We had been having so much fun playing around in the ocean and training him. Our hopes were really high that he would like surfing, and we really got lucky because he just lays right on the nose of the board with his paws hanging ten.”
For a while, Kuli accompanied Gomez on 9-foot to 10-foot longboards, but when she realized that Kuli likes the spongey material of boogie boards, she purchased an 8-foot wavestorm foam board.
Now, Kuli joins Gomez and Littleton on almost all their outdoor excursions, whether they’re surfing, hiking or simply cruising around the island.
“As soon as you grab the leash you can hear him purr,” Gomez said. “He usually shows he is ready to go when he climbs into the beach bag.”
When they arrive at the beach, Kuli does about an hour of surfing training with Gomez, and Littleton comes along to document Kuli’s pawsome surf skills.
“I am not great at surfing, so I spend more time with some fins on and swimming around with my GoPro to try and photograph all of Kuli’s adventures,” she said. “I have always loved photography, and naturally, Kuli is a lot of fun to take photos of, especially in the water.”
But even though Kuli is now an experienced feline surfer, Gomez says safety is always a priority.
“Before Kuli could confidently swim on his own, he always wore a life jacket. He still wears a life jacket from time to time, depending on the conditions. For his safety, we are cautious to only take him out when we know it will not be too hot, too windy, or the water is too rough. Fortunately in Hawaii the conditions are usually in our favor.”
Want to teach your kitty to surf?
After reading Kuli’s story and seeing Littleton’s meownificent photos, you, too, might be considering purchasing a surfboard and moving to the Aloha State. (I know I am.)
However, Gomez and Littleton urge ocean-loving cat owners to take things slow and let the cat set the pace.
“The important thing is to allow space for the cat to decide what he is comfortable with and be mindful of his stress level,” Gomez said. “The secret to training Kuli is consistently exposing him to people and new environments in small increments.”
Before you take your cat outside, please familiarize yourself with these adventuring best practices.
Scroll through the gallery above to get a glimpse of Kuli’s island life. You can keep up with all his surfing adventures on Instagram.
All photos are courtesy of Alex Gomez and Krista Littleton.