This young cat’s life nearly ended in tragedy; thankfully, though, he was saved by a whisker. And, curiously, his resulting disability would even lead him to his furever home. Now he lives with two young women who have introduced him to an unlikely pastime – one that’s made the cyclopean kitty a viral star.
The kitten’s story begins in 2015 on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, where he was found as a tiny stray in an area called Nanakuli. About three months old at the time, he was suffering from severe malnutrition and weighed less than a pound. Even more distressingly, he also had a bad eye infection.
It’s actually a weird coincidence that the cat was found there, as the name Nanakuli “means to look blind.” That’s according to Krista Littleton, although others claim that it can also be interpreted as to look or act deaf. Even more spookily, Littleton had been discussing the definitions of Nanakuli with fellow special education teacher and roommate Alexandra Gomez at around the time the kitten was found.
During their conversation, moreover, they had lightheartedly entertained the idea of getting a one-eyed ginger cat and calling it Nanakuli. So when out of curiosity they looked for one, they were surprised to learn that the non-profit organization CatFriends had a stray matching that description. What’s more, the kitten’s infection meant that he was also about to have an eye removed.
So that’s how little Nanakuli, or Kuli for short, got his name and new human family. But Gomez and Littleton had much work to do to make sure he was safe. In fact, Kuli was so weak from the malnutrition, the infection and the operation on his eye that his health was touch and go.
“In the first month, we were concerned that our new friend was not going to make it,” Littleton explained to website Adventure Cats in October 2015. Meanwhile, Kuli’s medical issues meant that he needed to bathe frequently to reduce the risk of further infection. And that might not have been an easy task: after all, cats have a reputation for their hatred of water.
However, not all cats are aquaphobic – especially if they live in warm climates. And Kuli’s owners were surprised to learn that their little charge, for example, wasn’t at all intimidated by water. As a result, in the month following his operation they decided to ramp up his rehabilitation with some big blue adventures.
Fortunately, the first lesson went swimmingly. Since Kuli was introduced to water often and from a young age in a loving environment, he never learned to, or had any reason to, fear it. And since he didn’t mind getting his paws wet, his humans couldn’t think of a reason not to let him try a new hobby.
Indeed, Littleton and Gomez love both water sports and having Kuli with them as much as possible. Naturally, then, it seemed like a win-win to give Kuli a little lifejacket and test his surfing skills. “His first time in the water, we just let him float on the board by himself near the shoreline,” Gomez told the Daily Mail in January 2016.
“I would paddle around with him,” she elaborated. Within a month, then, Kuli was the coolest cat to ever hit a Hawaiian beach. “Kuli started his surf training at four months old after his operation, and he was only about six months old [when] he began surfing,” Gomez added to the newspaper.
And funnily enough, the girls soon found out that when it came to surfing, their kitty had his own preferences. “For a while, I took Kuli out on my long boards,” Gomez continued. But the foam-loving feline had his sights set on another piece of equipment entirely.
Gomez noticed in particular that he pre-furred the spongy feel of boogie boards, as he could sink his claws into them for stability. As a result, his humans bought him a more Kuli-friendly board – and the kitty took to the waves like a pro. “Before we knew it, we were paddling out to actual surf breaks in Waikiki,” Gomez told Adventure Cats.
Littleton, meanwhile, has talked fondly of the early days of Kuli’s surfing lessons to the website. “We had been having so much fun playing around in the ocean and training him,” she said. “Our hopes were really high that he would like surfing, and we really got lucky.”
“He just lays right on the nose of the board with his paws hanging ten,” she added. Littleton herself isn’t as accomplished a surfer as Gomez, but she loves spending time in the water with Kuli. As a consequence, she’s more up for documenting the cat’s aquatic excursions.
“I am not great at surfing,” she admitted. “I spend more time [… swimming around] with my GoPro to try and photograph all of Kuli’s adventures. I have always loved photography and, naturally, Kuli is a lot of fun to take photos of.”
And others seem to agree, as the surfing cat has amazed internet users and experts alike. Kuli’s behavior is so unusual, moreover, that he has since rocketed to viral fame: one of the single-eyed kitty’s videos has reached over 528,000 viewers and received 2,000 upvotes.
So it’s not surprising that people, such as veterinary surgeon Marc Abraham, find Kuli special. “If you’re asking me if a one-eyed cat on a surfboard in Honolulu is unusual, I’d say ‘Yeah, pretty unusual,’” Abraham told National Geographic. And he’s not the only animal expert to say so, either.
Animal author David Alderton also finds Kuli fascinating. “Kuli’s pretty unique, I think, especially given his background and the fact he’s only got one eye,” he said to National Geographic. Alderton also explained that the kitty’s lack of binocular vision probably makes it harder for the cat to surf – making his feats even more amazing.
Regardless of how skilled Kuli has since become at hanging ten, however, Gomez and Littleton always take the utmost care when surfing with him. “Before Kuli could confidently swim on his own, he always wore a life jacket,” Gomez told Adventure Cats. “He still wears a life jacket from time to time, depending on the conditions.”
“For his safety, we are cautious to only take him out when we know it will not be too hot, too windy, or the water is too rough. Fortunately in Hawaii the conditions are usually in our favor,” Gomez added. “The important thing is to allow space for the cat to decide what he is comfortable with.”