Football’s island charm | Brian Ching, Oahu and how Hawai‘i gained a World Cup spot

Hanauma Bay, Oahu, 24 April 2006. Football in this setting might seem like a needless distraction or an aesthetic overdose.

Haleiwa, Hawai‘i | He spent part of one summer planting birds of paradise while working 8½-hour shifts on one of Oahu’s “plantations,” surfed, and played soccer at Kamehameha High School. Brian Ching, a forward for the U.S. national team that enters its fifth straight World Cup finals, recalls watching the 1994 event when he was 16. He remembers being excited when the U.S. defeated Colombia—the first U.S. victory in a finals since 1950—yet feels compelled to add, “Overall, though, I think at the time I was more concerned with how the waves were.”

While U.S. defender Frankie Hejduk goes by the moniker “surfer dude,” Ching seems to have stronger credentials. To the Boston Globe in 2004, Ching described his childhood as “amphibious.” The first native Hawaiian to play internationally for the United States—and, to our knowledge, the first Hawaiian on a World Cup roster—Ching represents the spread of soccer beyond the U.S. mainland. We spent part of our formative years in Oahu rambling around a U.S. Army installation, Schofield Barracks, but at the same time as Pelé and Carlos Alberto helped guide Brazilian football to new heights in Mexico City, one was more likely to spot a snow goose than a soccer ball.

All this has changed.

The sign serves as a landmark at a crossing in Haleiwa Surfer-dude crossing

Ching’s hometown, Haleiwa, exists far from the urban centers on the archipelago’s most populated island, yet by the time he was 7 he could join a youth team, with his mother coaching. In high school, he graduated to the elite Honolulu youth club, Bulls ’85, which in 2004 became the first Hawai‘i team to win a national title in the U.S. Youth Soccer Association. The team makes its home at the Waipi’o Peninsula Soccer Complex, one of the best in the country. The facility makes the Islands a mecca for traveling teams, and Hawai‘i sometimes attracts up to a dozen summer tournaments.

Hawaiian soccer has developed to the point of having its own style, a “rich mix,” according to Frank Dell’Apa of the Boston Globe, “with a strong Asian influence.” Natasha Kai of Kahuku, Oahu, a North Shore village of corn fields and shrimp farms, duplicated Ching’s feat earlier this year by joining the U.S. women’s senior national team. A striker, she has scored three times in five international fixtures, including the lone goal in the side’s most recent match, in Japan, on May 9.

She says in an interview on ussoccer.com that, as a Hawaiian, she has found it hard fitting in to the national-team structures due to her accent and the cultural separation that exists between Islanders and those on the mainland. She sometimes communicates in Pidgin, referred to as Hawai‘i’s Creole English. (A Pidgin New Testament, Da Jesus Book, is available.) Of her first appearance with a U.S. team, Kai, who has starred for the University of Hawai‘i, says, “I was really nervous. … I was not comfortable around anyone. I was kind of left by myself and I was kind of the runt in camp being from Hawai‘i.”

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