Kupa’a Hawai’i Club Luau returns as ‘one of the biggest events on campus’


Photo by Will Haddock - Reporter

Kunisie Leiatuaua performs a Hawaiian fire dance at the Kupa’a Hawaii Club’s Luau in Kingsmen Park.

Will Haddock, Reporter

On Wednesday, March 31 the Kupa’a Hawai’i Club hosted a Luau on the California Lutheran University campus, marking the first time Kupa’a Hawai’i Club had a full in-person Luau since the beginning of the pandemic.  The event was held in Kingsmen park and consisted of food trucks, a live band, performances from club members, a photo booth and a fire dance. 

The Luau took place from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Arriving students waited in line for food and drink tickets before sitting down to watch performances or using the photo booth. The food trucks provided a variety of Hawaiian themed cuisine ranging from sushi and poke to barbecue bowls and burritos with beef bulgogi.

The line for the food truck stayed consistently long throughout the entire event, due to the massive turnout. Kupa’a Hawai’i Club President Kamakani DeBlake was not expecting the turnout to be so large and explained why so many students had to wait so long for food.

“I was really surprised in a good way for how many people came out actually. Like I said, we didn’t have it for two years so I assumed most people had never heard of it,” DeBlake said.”I’m glad a lot of people came out and we actually sold out of tickets and had to sell extra plates.”

DeBlake took on planning the event with the help of club members. DeBlake, who stayed in Hawaii during COVID-19 lockdown, came back to Cal Lutheran in the fall and began her first year as president of Kupa’a Hawai’i Club. DeBlake said she had been thinking about what she wanted to include since last summer.

“So I stepped up into this position last June after Jaz (Palafox, the previous club president) had graduated last May, and from there I started thinking about who I am going to reach out to, the bands you have to book pretty far out in advance. Especially because with COVID, not everyone was performing again,” DeBlake said.

DeBlake said planning the event early was important in terms of meeting the school’s COVID-19 guidelines and figuring out the amount of money needed to be raised. DeBlake was also able to book Kuinise Leiataua, who performed a fire dance as the finale to close out all the performances throughout the evening. 

Club Advisor Sherri Matusmoto said she was looking forward to the fire dancing the most.  

“This is the first time in 10 years or so, I think it was my third or fourth year here we had a fire dancer,” Matsumoto said.

Matsumoto has been Club Advisor for 14 years and said the club was formed for Hawaiian students to spread and preserve their culture while living in California. 

“A lot of it really is being there for the students, especially for those who moved here from Hawaii. It was a huge culture shock for them. And part of my role was for them to know that there was someone here on campus,” Matsumoto said.

Student Kylie Kwak, one of the performers of the night, found the event turnout to be better than expected.

“I didn’t expect a lot of people to show up. But then everyone told me that in years prior, this was one of the biggest events on campus. And I can see why now, a lot of people showed up to it and I’m super grateful and happy,” Kwak said.

Kwak’s performance consisted of singing and poi dancing. Kwak sang a cover of “The Prayer” by Ho’okena and Maila Gibson and performed her poi routine after the song.

“I think the first time I performed it was for the Hawaiian firefighters back home and that was really nice. But then, doing it here, in a different setting, it was a lot more meaningful, because I got to share my culture with a lot of different people,” Kwak said.

DeBlake, Matsumoto, and Kwak were all enthusiastic about people participating in and learning about Hawaiian culture at the Luau.

“Hawaii club has meant to me a sense of community. I’ve been involved in multiple things on campus. Fortunately, I have different groups I can associate myself with. But it’s meant more so of me sharing a sense of community instead of joining a new one, like I’m sharing what my community means to me,” DeBlake said.