Story and photos by Aukai Ng

There have been many surfers over the years who had humble beginnings. They start off in places where the surf is small or they are from a small corner of the world. These athletes also saw a need to improve on their surfing to maintain the same level as their peers. One young surfer who entered this humble class is North Shore local, Luke Tema. Being close to 6 feet tall and having a long stride, this 16 year old is still making a name for himself, but for everyone in the Hawaiian surf community, Luke is well known. Even though Luke grew up in the epicenter of surfing, he was still patient making his way up to the center of the lineup and earning respect.

At a young age, Luke Tema lived on the South Shore and learned to surf from his father Eric Tema. “I remember that it was my dad teaching me when I was 4 or 5 and I didn’t really like it that much, but he kind of just forced me to surf, haha, and then eventually I learned to like it.”

Later in the years, Luke would take after school trips up to the North Shore to learn more about these lineups. But going to the North Shore to surf and living right out near the 7 mile miracle are two different things. It makes a huge difference when you live right outside Pipe or Rockies if one wants to commit to surfing world class waves. When Luke was 13, his parents moved the whole family to the North Shore. At that point, Luke needed to switch his mentality to surfing soft waves of Honolulu to the power of Northern Swells on a consistent level. Their new home was right outside V-land, making it the perfect first spot to this new chapter in life.

“I love Surfing V-Land and that was kinda where I started to learn to surf on the North Shore, it’s kind of the most mellow wave to surf to learn on.” But a mellow 3-4 foot swell at V-land was just not enough, he needed to put himself in bigger and gnarly conditions.

“I just adapted to bigger waves from just living here on the North Shore. You just surf more of these big waves all the time and there’s so many swells out here, so you get pretty used to it. And also just my friends pushed me to go on bigger waves and I just wanted to get better ones than them.”

Luke kept going out into 4 foot to 6 foot V-land, then moving down the beach to Sunset and Rockies. But the real test came down to surfing the infamous Banzai Pipeline. At the start, Luke had to paddle out to Pipe with his dad so he would be well advised and protected. Overtime, it was time to take the training wheels off. At age 13, he went out there on his own.

“I mean, it’s always scary. I could go out on any day but it’s more about going on the waves and there’s definitely very scary waves out there. I was pretty scared but after about like an hour in the lineup, I was kinda sitting in the channel at first and then I couldn’t watch any more waves go by without me going on ’em. So I just went and I just slowly got more comfortable and then when I started wearing a helmet, it boosted my confidence even more and that helped.”

What a great attitude. This kind of mentality Luke has to want to push himself to the limits just shows how serious he is on becoming a professional surfer. But just paddling out in heavy surf and catching barrels wasn’t enough. He needed to get to a level where he was a great all around surfer.

“I was always kind of like barrel riding came easy to me, but everything else I had to work a lot on and I felt like I was not as good as some of the other kids back then, but I’ve kinda gotten closer to their level now because I’ve been working on my turns and stuff. I used to only get barreled.”

Luke is excellent in the barrel and he can thank his father and Doug Silva who helped him on those skills. But now it was time for him to get to that level, so Luke started taking one-on-one lessons with Kid Peligro, one of the North Shore’s finest Jiu-Jitsu trainers. With Kid’s help, Luke got into Gymnastica, a training route where one focuses on agility. Recently, Luke went through an interesting and awkward growth spurt, making it a difficult one moving with good flexibility. This type of surf trainer really heightened his flexibility and coordination making it much easier to move with flow and style.

“I’ve gotten better at Haleiwa for sure. Haleiwa and Sunset, those two waves were pretty hard for me. Just doing those turns on bigger waves was difficult but now I feel like I’ve found the right boards for those waves and also just grown a little bit more to where I can be able to do those turns on those bigger waves.”

Luke has indeed made progress over the last few years since working with Peligro. You can definitely tell when Luke puts so much effort and heart in his maneuvers, especially from his facial expressions. With a long wingspan, Luke really uses them to draw out his line when going into a major move. When going into his cutbacks or layback hacks, so much spray is released in the air. Now moving with much more speed, he also wants to take it to the air and punts it as high as he can. Now being an all around surfer in the freesurf is great, but how is it when it comes to competition?

Luke started his competitive career when he was only 5 years old and making pretty good results over the years. But it wasn’t until these last couple years where everything started to click for Luke. Since his specialty is big waves, head to overhead high competition is something he excelled in. His air, rail, and barrel game are absolutely on point. His best results include his victories at big Kewalos for the Rip Curl Grom Search in the 16u for 2 consecutive years and two more victories at Honolua Legends of the Bay between 15-16. A win he is most proud of is the NSSA Nationals at Huntington Beach for the Open Juniors. Other great achievements he still enjoyed was getting the gold in the Hawai’i Surf Team in the most recent ISA games in El Salvador and getting Bronze for the 16u division. Like any competitive surfer, there are always some ups and downs, but in these victories are more confidence boosters and just more motivation to keep going.

Surfers definitely have to start somewhere if they want to make it to the top. Sometimes egos can get in the way of one’s reality. But it’s great how Luke was able to step back and really analyze his surfing. A person would just say “my surfing is just on point or the rest will come to them eventually.” But Luke is different. He saw his skills to be, “Hey, I’m great in the barrel, but I recognize I need to work on my turns, or my air. What can I do to get better?” What humility? He made the effort to go above and beyond what was necessary to get to a great point in his surfing. It’s always hard to admit it, but getting to that point is a great growth in one’s character. Luke has come a long way to get to where he is now and there is definitely a lot to look forward to if you are a Luke Tema fan. Just try to spot out the 6 foot 16 year old with long arms in the lineup and you’ll see Luke tearing it up.

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