In the Spotlight: Mr. Bowe Lani
It all began in 2008, when a sign at a local fishing supply shop caught Bowe Lani’s eye. It was an advertisement for the 1st Annual Kakaako Katching Club (KKC) tournament. Lani’s interest, however, was almost instantly overcome by self-doubt.
“I was intrigued but didn’t think it was worth it,” Lani recalled. “I didn’t believe I was good enough.”
Lani’s mindset began to change when his friends and regular fishing companions encouraged him to give competitions a shot.
“They kept nagging me about how I should compete, and I eventually gave in,” Lani said, shaking his head with a smirk.
Lani decided to enter the KKC tournament the following year. It was only his second competitive event at the time. Lani remembers how some of his fellow competitors were initially skeptical.
“There were a couple of guys who didn’t think [competitive fishing] was something a Deaf person could excel at,” Lani explained.
Instead of lashing out, Lani used the naysayers as a source of extra motivation. After what Lani described as a grueling experience, he defied his naysayers – himself included – by taking home third place. For Lani, capping off the competition in a triumphant manner while breaking barriers along the way was a feeling like none other.
“I became addicted to the rush!” Lani exclaimed. “I wanted to experience it again, and this time on a bigger stage to show that I wasn’t a fluke, that I was just as capable of success as any other fisherman.”
Lani knew that it wouldn’t come easy. He spent the subsequent months fine-tuning his craft and gaining additional competition experience. Then came the 2nd Annual GT Masters Cup on Oahu. Lani’s 1st place finish in the Oio Division left no doubt regarding his abilities as a competitive angler.
From staring at a fishing tournament ad wondering “what if” to standing atop a competition in triumph, Bowe Lani had come a long way to accomplish something many believe to be unprecedented.
“I don’t know any official record-keeping, but I believe Bowe is the first Deaf person in Hawai’i to win a competition of this size,” said Karl Mikasa, one of Lani’s closest friends.
To date, Lani has placed in five different events, including two first place finishes. When competing, Lani frequently gets questions about his ability to adjust to the challenges that come with being Deaf.
“Looking back at when I started, it was tough,” Lani admitted. “Often we compete in the dark, so fishermen would tend to rely on sound to detect strikes. I got by using glow sticks and carefully watching the silhouette of the tip of my rod for bending.”
Nowadays, new technology helps.
“Now I use fish bite indicators – the new ones that come with vibrators and LED lights,” Lani explained with a smile. “It has allowed me to be at less of a competitive disadvantage.”
Lani’s success in competitive fishing has also allowed him to reflect on the role of the ocean throughout his life.
“The ocean has an important presence in my life,” Lani explained. “I grew up frustrated due to communication barriers, so the ocean became my sanctuary. It is my therapy – it brings me peace.”
“Now, I wanted to share it with my Deaf ohana.”
Lani’s plan: Less tournaments, more giving back to his community.
He has organized fishing tournaments for the Deaf community and children of deaf adults (CODAs). He has recruited and trained other Deaf individuals to participate in fishing competitions. Currently on Oahu, a group of about eight individuals who are Deaf compete regularly – and, according to Lani, many more have expressed interest in joining.
“What Bowe does for the community is great,” Mikasa said. “A couple years back he took a group of children fishing up by a stream and they all loved it. Kids, especially nowadays, grow up without having the opportunity to learn.”
This is something Lani has recognized and strived to address in his time away from competitions.
“The ocean is deeply cherished by Hawaiians as our livelihood,” Lani explained. “Its role as our primary food source gives it an important role in Native Hawaiian cultural traditions and our keiki must grow up understanding this.”
Lani also encourages individuals from the Deaf community to embrace competing in fishing events. He believes being a part of competitions creates a unique opportunity to spread awareness about the Deaf community.
“The fishing community, they are not familiar with disability issues. But that doesn’t mean they don’t care,” Lani explained. “Most aren’t aware of our remarkable abilities; I figure the best way to reverse this is by showing them.”
While Lani doesn’t compete as often, when he does, he shows that he can still outperform the field on any given day. At the Atlapac Obake Shootout IV in November 2015, which attracted 290 fishermen in the overall tournament, Bowe took home First Prize for Largest Papio.
And that is no fish story.