The question comes his way often enough that the answer is practically reflexive.
Yes, there are rodeos in Hawaii.
Lately, according to his mom, a pair of peek performances have generated a new question from onlookers.
“Who is this kid from Hawaii?”
That’s Trisyn Kalawaia, and after enjoying all-around success as a cowboy in high school, steer wrestling is how he’s beginning to make his name.
The 2020 Waiakea High alum said he was 7 when someone told him to get on a horse, “and within a week I was doing rodeo,” he said.
He has no intentions of getting off until the open road he’s been traveling ends with a professional destination.
“I want to try to go to Vegas and live the dream,” he said. (The national finals are held annually in December in Las Vegas).
Kalawaia took another step in that direction last weekend when he tied for the steer wrestling title at the junior National Finals Rodeo in Fort Worth, Texas. He said he enjoys the “rush” of steer wrestling, and it’s true – once the gates open, time is precious.
Entering the final round Saturday, “the times were quick so I knew I needed to be quicker than a 3.8 (seconds) from the previous run,” Kalawaia said.
He posted a 3.74, which Rhett Witt then matched, and they split the $14,000 prize, giving Kalawaia his biggest payday to date. He also earned a berth into the semifinals of the American Rodeo in March in Texas.
“I have taken major leaps in competition,” he said. “Being up here and competing against the best has made me rise to a higher level of competition.”
Kalawaia also drove that point home in June at the College National Finals Rodeo in Wyoming. Qualifying for Central Arizona out of the Grand Canyon Region as a freshman, he overcame a foul on his first try and finished sixth in steer wrestling.
“It’s definitely one of the biggest rodeos I’ve been to,” he said. “I wasn’t really nervous, I just felt there was more energy in the building, and competing with the announcer saying I was from Hawaii and the cheering, I got more energized than any other rodeo.”
Kalawaia was the Hawaii high school all-around cowboy in 2018 and 2019. He won the Big Island district title as a senior, but the 2020 high school competition was wiped out because of the pandemic.
He left for the mainland in June of 2020, at first taking online courses at a friend’s house in California. He’s got one more year at Central Arizona, and beyond that he’s noncommittal, though transferring to a four-year school that has a rodeo program is an option. One his short-term goals is to qualify for the world junior finals in December in Las Vegas.
Kalawaia’s majoring in equine management, though the ultimate goal is manage a pro rodeo career.
He is quick to tell people that not only are rodeos a thing in Hawaii, but that the paniolo culture is much bigger than they think.
“I’m glad I faced the odds during the pandemic and made the move to the mainland,” he said. “(I’m) proud to represent Hawaii and want people to know that people from Hawaii can compete.”