I was first introduced to Kawika Singson after interviewing him in 2013 about a photo of his that went viral. The image featured Singson standing on hot lava with his shoes and tripod on fire. It may have been just a stunt to capture a really rad Facebook cover photo, but the entire world took notice.
Of course, I was interested in more than just the story behind that particular photo. I wanted to know who this adventurer truly was. I wanted to know what kind of life he lived on the Big Island of Hawaii. I wanted to know his story. I wanted to ask the questions that no one else bothered to.
From the moment he answered my call, it was obvious that he was going to be someone I’d stay in touch with. There was a genuineness about his demeanor. I couldn’t help but respond to his positive energy.
Speaking with Singson reminded me why I wanted to pursue journalism in the first place. To have real, honest conversations. To connect with people. To seek out the stories that so often go untold. To feel inspired by those who step outside of their comfort zones and confront their fears in order to live a fulfilled life. To work on stories I was proud to attach my name to.
Nearly three years later, I’m still following his incredible, often life-threatening journeys, and watching as his photography evolves.
Although Singson admits that taking pictures is an “ongoing learning process,” he isn’t someone who needed to find his passion. Led merely by curiosity and excitement, his real-life escapades allowed his passion to find him.
“I am inspired by everything around me: animals, people, plants, pictures, music, the sky, the sun, the moon. It’s all beautiful and amazing and very rewarding,” Singson explains. “I see the magic and life that our sun brings to our very existence. There’s this huge gaseous fireball floating out there in space with a core temperature of about 27 million degrees. It projects heat and life-giving sunlight at a speed of 186,000 miles per second through the universe, eventually finding its way to Earth and thus giving everything life. Now, that is truly magical in every sense of the word.”
When asked about his childhood, Singson painted a very vivid picture of how he grew up, and what led him to live a life of gratitude, exploration, and abundance.
As a kid, like so many of us, he thought of himself as a great explorer within his mind – capable of anything. As you can probably imagine, growing up on an island like Hawaii definitely had something to do with that approach.
“We had to walk through a forest trail across a valley to get to school, or walk a few miles through the pastureland to catch the bus. That was truly an adventure to say the least,” the Kailua-Kona resident says.
That’s not to say that his upbringing wasn’t without its own set of challenges.
“My parents did their best even though they were divorced. They stayed together despite no longer being married. We didn’t have a lot of money. There were times when we lived without indoor plumbing or electricity,” he admits. “Sometimes it was very difficult, but it gave me some direction as to where I definitely didn’t want to go.”
But in spite of these humble beginnings, it’s not money that motivates Singson to chase epic photo opportunities.
His ambitions come from living with “an open mind and open heart.” For Singson, experiencing magical moments happens on a daily basis. His relationship with the ocean is the same as that he shares with the mountains, valleys, rivers, volcanoes, and everything else out there. He enjoys it, loves it, cherishes it, honors it, and most importantly, respects it.
He sees the beauty of life everywhere. If an opportunity to capture an unforgettable shot presents itself, he’ll go after it, even if that means taking a risk.
“I know my capacity and capabilities and I’ll push it to the limit. In the end, hopefully my efforts will be rewarded with a photo that has a great story to go along with it,” he adds. “Like everyone else, I have fears, though I do occasionally get caught up in the moment and throw safety out the window and hope for the best. I guess everyone has a built-in risk factor within themselves. I remember standing on a lava bench that had partially collapsed. My only options were to try to run or keep on taking pictures. So, I reacted instinctively. I just stood there while the bench collapsed from underneath my feet. I probably won’t do that again!”
The most difficult photos to attain also happen to be Singson’s favorite memories. The most memorable? It would have to be that time he hiked the 13,000 ft summit of Mauna Loa to catch the sunrise. Once he made it to the top, he was so exhausted that he had to sleep on the ground with no tent in almost below freezing temperatures. He suffered headaches, nausea and dizziness from the high altitude. But none of that mattered. He wanted to get the shot, enduring the night in order to see an incredible sunrise.
As I mentioned above, Singson has never went in search of his passion. In the midst of finding balance on a daily basis, he lives his passion every single day — always remembering to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of who he is and what he hopes to accomplish. Because let’s face it, if you have to look for what it is you’re passionate about, that most likely means that you’re not passionate about it at all.
Just take one look at his work and you’ll understand what I mean. You’ll understand what it means to celebrate the beauty of a life spent chasing adventure.
“Once a person finds peace within one’s heart, no matter where you go or what you do, you’ll be happy,” he says, as he reflects back on everything this beautiful life has allowed him to experience.