Photo: Illustration of the proposed 19.4-acre Honokea Surf Village project
An artist's rendering of the proposed 19.4-acre Honokea Surf Village project in Kapolei. The project is centered around a 5.5-acre high-performance wave pool. The site is less than half a mile from the ocean. - Photo: Honokea West

A new Kapolei development project centered around a 5.5-acre high-performance surf pool facility is generating waves in the community.

Honokea Surf Village is being co-developed by professional waterman Brian Keaulana and business partner and fellow surfer Kenan “Keno” Knieriem Jr., of locally based HK Management which has partnered with Ohio-based real estate fundraising and investment firm, Rhove.

The $106 million Honokea development project is proposed for 19.4 acres of state land owned by the Hawaiʻi Community Development Authority (HCDA) near the east end of Kalaeloa Airport, part of the former Barbers Point Naval Air Station.

In addition to the surf pool, Honokea would feature 50 boutique bungalows for rent, a private bar, a business center and function room, 7,000 square feet of retail space, 5,000 square feet of restaurant space, and other recreational attractions including a rock-climbing wall, a skate park, a BMX track, a ropes course, beach volleyball courts, a dive tank, an aquatic film studio, a surfboard and fin design and testing facility, a lazy river, a training center for eight Olympic sports, and a surf history museum.

HCDA gave HK Management preliminary permission to look at the feasibility of constructing the surf village in 2020.

An Archaeological Reconnaissance Survey of the project parcel, conducted in December 2021, concluded that the project will not impact any significant archaeological sites. An Environmental Assessment (EA) in 2023 gave the project a “finding of no significant impact.”

In 2021, amidst the pandemic, the Hawaiʻi State Senate passed Bill 1412 permitting special purpose revenue bonds for the Honokea Surf Village project which allows for tax-free financing.

Supporters of Honokea claim that the project incorporates Hawaiian values, safeguards water and cultural resources, and would employ up to 200 full-time employees. They estimate that the surf village will attract some 300,000-400,000 annual visitors (both locals and tourists), film projects and world-class athletes, and that the revenues from Honokea will feed into the local economy.

According to Honokea’s website, the facility will be carbon neutral, implement strict water conservation measures to reduce water demand to 30-40% of a typical water park, and provide “areas for Hawaiian cultural practices.”

Photo: Community members protest the proposed Honokea Surf Village in Kapolei
Community members protest the proposed Honokea Surf Village in Kapolei.- Courtesy Photo

However, many Leeward coast community members, Native Hawaiian water protectors, and environmental groups have grave concerns about the project. Community members on social media question the need for a second surf park. Wai Kai at Hoakalei, a 9-acre “waterfront recreation and lifestyle venue” in ʻEwa, recently opened just a few miles away from the proposed Honokea site. Wai Kai also has a wave pool and uses an estimated 1.7 million gallons of freshwater annually.

Residents also worry about the continued gentrification of the west side and about being priced out of the area. “I think the idea of the surf village is great especially if Native Hawaiians and people with a handicap could have free access. But that isn’t the case. So, who benefits? Developers always say, it’s for us, but it isn’t for us in the community. It’s always for tourists,” said Kalae Campbell, a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner from ‘Ewa Village.

“Tourism exploits our culture and generates money for the state and the developers but not for us, the Indigenous people. We’ve got to think about the people first and their needs.”

One Native Hawaiian water protector group, Nā Kiaʻi o Wai Hā, is currently in litigation to stop the Honokea Surf Village Project. Healani Sonoda-Pale, a water protector and member of Nā Kiaʻi o Wai Hā, notes that, “There are known burials at the proposed surf park. There is a burial mound on the site that will be impacted.”

“They [Honokea] also plan to use injection wells which would put used water back underground threatening our aquifer, limu beds, and fisheries. And they plan to use seven million gallons of fresh water for their surf pool in the middle of a water crisis on Oʻahu,” Sonoda-Pale said, referring to the closure of the Hālawa Shaft, ʻAiea Well and Hālawa Well by the Board of Water Supply after water contamination resulting from a leak from the US Navy’s Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility sickened thousands of Oʻahu residents in November 2021.

“Just a couple miles from the proposed [Honokea] site is Kapilina Estates, a housing project whose residents still do not have reliable access to clean drinking water,” Sonoda-Pale added.

Wally Ito, retired Limu Hui coordinator for Kuaʻaina Ulu ʻAuamo, expresses similar concerns. “Some of the water from the injection wells will discharge into the ocean impacting limu (seaweed). But also, using water in this way, like the surf park, is sacrilegious.”

“Imagine that at one time, from the mouth of Pearl Harbor to Barberʻs Point, limu grew two feet high. But you walk the shoreline today, no more limu,” Ito said. “ʻEwa Beach used to be known as the ʻhouse of limu.’ So for me, [the decrease] of limu occurred as the ma uka ʻEwa plains transitioned from sugar cane to urbanization. There are still some pockets of limu, which is associated with good ground water – water that has the nutrients that limu requires.

“My major concerns for the project are the use of the water and the quality of the water, and what [impact] that will have on the limu population. We don’t want the limu to deteriorate even more. Limu is the base of the marine food chain. To me, when we talk about restoring fisheries, it starts with limu. If you [want to increase the number of] fish, what are they going to eat? Limu.”

Sen. Maile Shimabukuro, one of the sponsors of Senate Bill 1412 declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. She suggested contacting Donalyn Dela Cruz, whose firm is handling the public relations for Honokea. Dela Cruz did not respond to requests for an interview.