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From Pro Surfer to Rookie Cop: The Evolution of Kono Kalakaua

The reimagined Hawaii Five-0 had a lot to live up to upon its premiere in 2010, given its predecessor ran for twelve seasons and was beloved by an entire generation. The 2010 version made some changes, including the character of Kono Kalakaua—in the new series, Kono was a girl.

Grace Park made her character come alive; Kono had some catching up to do, but she impressed her peers (and future boss and coworkers) from day one. Kono was one of the original four; she contributed to making the re-imagined Five-0 what it was, and created a new legacy for the character.

I loved Kono’s passion for her work, her bravery, her kindness, and her dedication to others. I also admired who she was as a person, and when she, along with Chin (Daniel Dae Kim), departed from the show, I dearly missed her character.

Kono and Adam

I never really understood their relationship. Yes, there were times when things were good and the two appeared blissfully happy, but it seemed like the bad outweighed the good on more than one occasion.

No love story is perfect, but that notion seemed to be taken to excess in the case of this couple. Kono was framed for murder by Adam’s brother, and Adam later killed his brother to protect her. Okay, that shows commitment, but there would’ve been some aftermath to sort through—more than was shown, even with the fact that the two were fugitives for a while afterwards. Kono never gave up on him, but perhaps she should have.

Kono and Adam sitting on steps, looking at one another, Kono on the right and Adam on the left Hawaii Five-0

Adam and Kono were shown consistently to have trust issues with one another. At one point Kono even cloned Adam’s phone and asked Catherine to help her investigate what he was up to. Kono frequently worried that Adam was lying to her or otherwise engaging in criminal activity; it never really seemed like she could move past that. Adam kept making trouble for himself too—he later went to prison, though he had killed thinking it was self-defense, and later turned himself in when it was determined he’d killed for no reason.

They were held hostage on their honeymoon and came across a death cult not long after Adam’s prison release. They were fugitives when they were dating. So many bad signs and things going wrong; perhaps Kono would’ve been better off saying goodbye to Adam. She and Chin even struggled for a bit, as Chin distrusted Adam. There comes a point where love is sometimes not enough to maintain a healthy, functional relationship and it’s better for both parties to go their separate ways.

As it was, they drifted apart when Kono went to the mainland and ended up divorced and broken-hearted. Had they ended it sooner, perhaps things would’ve been easier for the two. Maybe Kono thought she couldn’t love someone else the way she loved Adam, maybe she was afraid to leave, or perhaps she thought they could work through anything. They did work through a lot, but it wasn’t enough to keep them together forever.

Kono and Chin

Kono’s relationship with Chin is one of the things that make her who she is. Chin is her older cousin; he’s been looking out for her for practically her entire life. The two are very close; best friends, even. Chin helped her get the opportunity to join Five-0 and is, as Kono says herself, the reason why she chose law enforcement as her new career. Chin is wise and very protective of Kono—he doesn’t really approve of her relationship with Adam Noshimuri (given Adam’s family has heavy ties to the Yakuza), and he does what he can to keep her safe out in the field.

Kono trusts Chin implicitly; she was the only member of their family who believed in Chin and stayed by his side while he resigned from the Honolulu Police Department, with many believing he had stolen a significant amount of money from the asset forfeiture locker. In truth, Chin’s uncle was responsible for the theft and used the money to pay for a new kidney, needed desperately by his ailing wife, Chin’s aunt. When Kono eventually finds out the truth, she becomes angry, insisting that once their aunt passes, Chin finally tells the truth so his name will be cleared.

Chin looking to his left with a small smile, and Kono looking to her right, Chin wears a blue shirt and Kono a purple shirt

Kono is angry because she has seen everything Chin has lost—his job, his friends, his family. Basically everything. She can’t understand why Chin would so willingly take the fall for something he didn’t do, even if it was for their uncle. This shows how protective Kono is of her cousin; she doesn’t like anyone accusing him of wrongdoing, let alone coming after him. She deeply loves and respects her cousin and believes he deserves more, only wanting the best for him.

Kono’s loyalty to Chin sometimes makes her act impulsively—she harbors anger at Chin’s former fianceé Malia, believing Malia abandoned Chin when he needed her the most. However, Kono later learns Chin broke it off with Malia for her own protection during the fallout. When a bomb is strapped to Chin in Season 1, Kono helps Steve break into the asset forfeiture locker to pay Chin’s ransom without a second thought, even though she could lose her job and be arrested. She insists that Chin tells the truth to end his suffering; she doesn’t see things Chin’s way, and that could be because she is still young and is jaded after witnessing all the losses Chin sustained once everyone in the police department began distrusting him.

She is there for him when he needs her, especially when Malia is killed. The devastating thing for Chin is that he had to choose between Malia’s life and Kono’s—and he tried to save them both. Kono isn’t at all resentful that Chin chose Malia—knowing her cousin like she does, Kono knew the whole time that Chin would try to save them both, regardless of the circumstances, and he did just that.

Kono and Chin in the Season 3 premiere of Hawaii Five-0, looking at their computers, Chin looking pained and intense, Kono looking sad but focused

In some ways, Kono does become a little more like Chin, which may help her understand some of Chin’s decisions. In Season 2, Kono was forced to work undercover, and it made her look like she’d gone rogue, hanging out with dirty cops and facing the loss of her badge following the events of the Season 1 finale. Kono couldn’t tell anyone, especially Chin, Steve, and Danny, what she was really up to. At times, she had to be downright cruel to throw Chin off track. Chin, who had been through what Kono was seemingly going through, tried being there by her side and even when worst came to worst, he still approached her in a gentle manner. Just as she believed in him, Chin believes in her, too.

In any case, that undercover experience likely helped Kono understand why Chin had taken the fall for their uncle, and how he felt throughout the ordeal. She couldn’t tell anyone what she was up to, and I could tell it was killing her. She was prepared to take a bad fall to save her Five-0 teammates, and she was young, still a rookie, when she was forced to undertake such an assignment. Steve punched out Fryer for controlling and manipulating Kono the way he did, but that still didn’t seem like enough for all the hell Kono had gone through. Plus, it always bothered me that Danny and Steve were more inclined to believe Kono had gone completely off the rails, but then again, Chin does know his cousin better, having known her longer than Danny and Steve have.

Chin and Kono’s bond is one of the things that I loved most about the show, their friendship being one of the show’s strongest elements, in my opinion. They were always close, but Kono being there for Chin when no one else was instituted a new kind of trust in their relationship. Chin probably never trusted anyone in his family the same way afterwards, given their treatment of him. Likewise, Kono probably relied a little more on Chin upon witnessing her family’s reaction, and her faith in them probably diminished somewhat as well. They could always trust one another, however, to believe in and be there for each other—and everyone needs someone like that.

Kono’s Personality

Kono has strong ties to her family, especially Chin, as mentioned above. However, her relationship with her mom is also significant—in a Season 5 episode they are shown to be close, and Kono embarks on an outrigger trip that her mother had planned to take years before in her honor, as her mother, stricken by an aneurysm, is no longer able to go. Kono quickly finds trouble thanks to a storm, but she doesn’t let it kill her—in fact, she does call for help, but she makes it to land herself. She may not have succeeded in her journey, but the fact that she did it at all still counts—to both herself and her mother, and that means more than words could ever express.

Kono changes a little more over time, as she sees more of the darkness of humanity with each case she and Five-0 take on. It no doubt chips away at her faith in humanity when she sees just what people are capable of and willing to do. Kono has been witness to some pretty horrible things, but she never lets it destroy her.

Kono smiling and looking to her right, wearing a purple shirt in Hawaii Five-0

Kono begins at Five-0 as a rookie but, though she’s still learning, she’s already incredibly talented. She can drive with the best of them, as demonstrated by a police chase in “He Kane Hewa’ole,” she kicks some serious butt in “E Malama,” and she is shown to be very sympathetic towards children, as exhibited in “Ohana” and again in “Ho’apono,” for example. Early on, audiences notice these traits in Kono.

Kono is a fighter and a lover. You don’t want to get on her bad side, but if you’re on her good side, life couldn’t be more peaceful. Kono demonstrates mad skills in a showdown with “Roman” in “Powehiwehi,” when she is left alone with a CI (confidential informant) in a hospital. She manages to fight off Roman and win. Alone and with all the obstacles against her, plus having to protect the injured CI, it’s certainly daunting and Kono has to be scared, but she utilizes courage and gets both herself and the CI out safely—and takes out a seriously badass criminal while she’s at it. In “Ka Hale Ho’okauweli,” she and Adam are up against a vicious death cult and manage to escape, alongside another prisoner, and hold down the fort until help can arrive—it’s one Halloween Kono would probably prefer never to remember given its realistic horror elements, but she fights her way through it, and not everyone could say the same thing.

Kono would also rather sacrifice herself than allow innocent people to be hurt. One of the most significant examples of this is in “Ohuna,” when Kono allows herself to be taken hostage, sparing several people the same fate, and later engaging in a fight that has her toppling out of a moving armored truck onto the abrasive road. She risks death and serious injury, but she doesn’t think twice about it. Danny commented before in Season 2 that Kono’s been hanging out with Steve too much—he’s not wrong. Kono’s picked up on some of Steve’s riskier, borderline reckless tactics to get the job done and save others. Kono’s not suicidal, but it may come across that way at times, just as it does with Steve. She’s not up to Steve’s level, but while she may have looked up to her boss and picked up some things from him, part of that has to come from who she is in general, too.

Kono holding a gun and wearing a vest, looking straight ahead, an intense look upon her face in Hawaii Five-0

Kono is a dedicated person, always fighting for what she cares about. Whether it’s surfing, her cousin, a case, a victim, a friend or a family member—Kono will fight. She never gives up, and she’s quite tenacious when it comes down to it.

Kono absolutely hates sex trafficking rings, which is completely understandable. She feels for the abused young girls, taking on their fear and trauma as if it were her own. Kono is shown to be deeply affected by such cases; in “Puka’ana,” Kono harbors a seething anger and, while sitting in traffic, ends up punching out the window (injuring her hand in the process) and tossing the keys of the driver of the car behind her when he incessantly honks and yells at her. Later on in that same episode, Kono challenges one of the abusers to a fight and essentially beats the crap out of him, explaining to Steve afterwards that he “had a knife.”

Kono takes out her anger on the wrong person at first, and takes quite a risk fighting the abuser later on, so maybe there should be concern there, but hopefully Kono found other ways to deal that didn’t involve damaging her hand or taking a dangerous risk engaging in a fight that wasn’t necessary. It’s not that it was necessarily out of line—Kono should be angry. What happened to those girls was horrible. Yet, Kono was shouldering that pain in a far more personal way than was healthy, for both herself and the case, and when that happens, it doesn’t tend to help anyone. Really, it just made Kono feel worse.

However, in the Season 7 finale, Kono leaves, off to run a task force dedicated to taking down sex trafficking rings. She closes a chapter at Five-0 and begins another, pursuing her passion for helping others in a new setting. I was sad to see her go, but I respected her character’s decision—change is a part of life, and sometimes goals shift and you have to follow your passion, wherever that may take you. Kono took it on wholeheartedly and eagerly, ready to save lives and take out the bad guys—this time, on the mainland.

When she’s not dropping a cargo container on the leader of a cartel (see “Hoa Pili”), Kono has a softer side. She helped out a former surfing rival, Rosie, when she was going through a tough time—Kono could have chosen to refrain from helping, or even harbored petty feelings about competitions from years past, but instead she gave Rosie a good day and the two struck up a real friendship. That soft side of Kono’s even extends to criminals—particularly Sang Min and Gerard Hirsch.

Kono and Gerard Hirsch in Hawaii Five-0, Kono wearing a dress and looking speculatively ahead, with Gerard talking and holding up his hand in Hawaii Five-0

While charged with guarding Sang Min in “Kapu,” Kono is at first annoyed and frustrated with the task. However, after Sang Min escapes, she tracks him down and discovers why—he’d gone to see his family, but instead stayed outside when he spotted another man inside. Kono sympathizes with him and pulls strings to have Sang Min transferred back to Halawa, to be closer to his family. Family is one of Kono’s soft spots, especially kids; even though she despises Sang Min (most of the time), she still did a good deed—and that speaks volumes for her character.

The same can be said for her experience with Gerard Hirsch. Like Sang Min, Gerard tends to be a little forward with Kono, given his crush on her, and Kono doesn’t really take him seriously. Her opinion of him changes when she meets his father and witnesses Gerard’s interaction with him—she actually becomes his friend, teaching him to surf and later helping him with his crime scene cleaning business.

Kono may be quick to judge sometimes, but she is open to second chances and doing the right thing. She doesn’t always make friends with people she’s arrested, but the few times this does happen, they mean something to her, and she sees the good in them. Kono believes in people from all walks of life—she doesn’t usually judge them unless they’ve committed a serious crime. When characters like Sang Min and Gerard Hirsch redeem themselves, however, Kono reevaluates and ends up helping them out somehow, which is an example of her kindness and good heart.

Transformation from Surfer to Cop

Kono’s first love in life is surfing. She’s seen surfing in many episodes—she even takes on the difficult task of teaching the reluctant student in Danny to swim. Granted, Danny was learning so he could surf with his daughter, so that probably gave Kono the patience needed to teach him, but it was still no easy task.

Kono in a bikini with her hands on her hips looking at Chin, who's introducing Danny to his left and Steve stands on the right wearing sunglasses in Hawaii Five-0

In the very first episode, she’s shown to be more than just a surf-for-fun kind of girl. It’s a sport she takes very seriously and clearly has an aptitude for; Chin remarks that she’s “off the charts” when it comes to surfing, and he reveals that she was once a pro surfer on the circuit. Audiences learn as time goes on that Kono was recruited at fifteen and surfed professionally until she blew out her knee and had to reinvent herself.

That couldn’t have been an easy process. Kono, hurt and realizing her dream career was coming to an end, certainly wasn’t ready to face such a change. She was likely angry and broken-hearted, understandably so. Surfing was all she knew; she’d pretty much grown up surfing and it had been her entire career from day one, what she had worked so hard for. She wasn’t prepared to have it taken away so suddenly, so while she was recovering, she had to have conflicting feelings, especially when it came to deciding what she was going to do next.

In the Season 1 episode “Ohana,” Kono is urging Chin to attend her graduation from the police academy. He doesn’t seem so eager, given people suspect he’s a dirty cop and he doesn’t want Kono to suffer any fallout from that. She’s adamant, however, and insists that she became a cop because of him.

To me, that means that while Kono was recovering from her accident, she heavily relied on Chin, as she always has. She looked up to him and decided she wanted to do what he did. Even though law enforcement is the “family business” in Kono and Chin’s family, as the show has expressed many times, Kono didn’t make her decision based on that. I’m sure it was because she wanted to follow in Chin’s footsteps, as well as establish herself in a new setting.

Kono’s different from the rest of her family. She didn’t go straight to the police academy or set out to become a cop initially; she was already making her own path and headed down it full steam ahead. Had she not had her accident, she might have gone on to surf for years to come and somehow stayed in the industry, promoting products and the like—in fact, the fifth season episode “Ina Paha” shows an alternate reality, in which Five-0 never came to be, and Kono is shown to be on TV and has remained a professional surfer.

Kono in Five-0, wearing a purple jacket and smiling, looking downwards to her left, in Hawaii Five-0 with a window covered by blinds in the background

In any case, Kono stands out to me because she made the difficult decision to switch industries and lifestyles—being a cop is vastly different from being a professional surfer, after all. Yet, Kono put in every effort and sincerely cared, and if she made mistakes, she usually berated herself harshly for it until she made things right. Perhaps that’s the disciplined athlete in her at work too, but it’s also Kono’s work ethic.

Instead of falling into despair, Kono chose to turn her life around and turn her accident into a victory. She became a cop, a respected and gifted one at that, especially when it came to technology, martial arts, and helping others. She was a rookie on the elite Five-0 task force; not bad considering she was just starting out, but she had Chin to thank for the introduction.

I admire her will and her power to persevere; she had to work through a life-changing injury and she had to learn to be something else. She was open to it and she embraced it, and she still surfed in her off-hours, finding time for her original passion despite everything. Though she was told she could never surf professionally again, she didn’t allow it to keep her down. She still surfs for fun. Surfing is like breathing to Kono; it’s everything to her. It’s how she detoxes, it’s how she has fun, it’s what makes her feel free and so incredibly happy. She never gave up, and she found a way to let another love into her life: police work. That balance isn’t easy, but Kono makes it look effortless.

I admire Kono for never giving up, for finding another passion, and for working hard at it. Her character contributed to making the show what it was; without her, the dynamic just wouldn’t have been the same—and with her departure in Season 7, there was an obvious difference because of her absence. She was part of the heart of Five-0, and she will forever be part of the legacy.

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Written by Kacie Lillejord

Kacie is a freelance writer versed in various forms. She loves pop culture, screenwriting, novels, and poetry. She has previously written for The Daily Wildcat, Harness Magazine, Cultured Vultures, and Screen Rant, with 25YL being her newest writing venture.

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