Leo-1By Léo Azambuja

The New Year is here, and so am I.

On the last scene of Casablanca, Rick, played by Humphrey Bogart, and Capt. Louis Renault, played by Claude Rains, walk away into a thick fog. Rick tells Capt. Renault, “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

I feel just like that. As the new editor of For Kauaʻi, our January issue marks the beginning of an exciting friendship – between you and me.

Before we go into more detailed introductions, let me just say I’m already one of you. I’m stoked this community newspaper has a new editor who has been part of this community for more than two decades. And I’m even more stoked I am this editor.

I have lived on Kauaʻi for nearly my entire adult life. Each day that I go to the market or to a social gathering, or go surfing, out to dinner or do anything on this island, I run into a friend or two – or three or five.

Kauaʻi is an absolutely gorgeous gem encrusted in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. But the real beauty of this island is in its community. This is the very reason I still live here, more than 22 years after arriving at Lihue Airport with no return ticket.

I was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At 21 years old, life was good. I had a night-time job at Rio International Airport, a steady girlfriend and was in my fourth year of film school at Universidade Federal Fluminense.

But I needed more. Surfing had been my passion for many years, and there was a world out there to be explored. So I threw it all away and left on an extended surf-trip to California. Six months became a year, and a new girlfriend became my wife.

After a year of surfing up and down California and a couple Mexican excursions, I missed Rio’s tropical weather, warm waters, lush rainforests, mountains by the ocean, and also the vibe of the Brazilian people. Just to be sure, I did miss my family and friends too.

I knew it was time to pack up and move again.

I had some friends who had been to Kauaʻi and raved about all those things I just mentioned, including how Hawaiians like to throw a good party, put their heart into what they do, love music and are really into family. It was almost like Brazil – without the samba but with better waves.

So I got rid of almost everything I owned in California, which wasn’t much, and bought a one-way ticket to Kauaʻi. This time, my girlfriend, by now wife, came along.

We survived a hurricane together, but not our two-year anniversary. But that’s OK, life is always a box of surprises, sometimes bitter, often times better.

Many here know me from surfing. Others have met me when I was active in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and especially from being part of the first jiu-jitsu school on Kauaʻi, way back in 1994. I also worked in all kinds of jobs; farming, construction, demolition, landscaping, as a fitness trainer, artist, pizza delivery driver, sous chef, waiter, bartender, wedding and portrait photographer and a string of odd jobs here and there.

At some point in my life, I wanted more, again. So I went back to school. In 2004, I earned an associate’s degree in liberal arts from Kauaʻi Community College. A year later, I moved to Oahu to attend the University of Hawai`i at Manoa. In 2007, I earned a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences, with a major in journalism and a minor in Spanish.

So yes, I’m fluent in Portuguese and English, and somewhat in Spanish. Because I’ve lived here for so long, Pidgin English comes out without trying, and you can only imagine what it sounds like with my Brazilian accent. It gets even worse when I sing while playing the ukulele. But I’m having fun, so who cares?

Besides spending two years on Oahu to attend UH, I lived for a year on Molokai, working for the legendary The Molokai Dispatch newspaper. Kauaʻi is my true love, but Molokai and the people there also have a special place in my heart. In the last four years, I worked as a full-time writer for Kauaʻi’s only daily newspaper. Many don’t know this, but my break on Kauaʻi was as a freelance cartoonist for the daily paper, back when it was under the leadership of the late editor Adam Harju.

I have a string of heroes who influenced me in different ways, from Van Gogh to Picasso and Basquiat, from Hemingway to Bukowski and Garcia Marquez, and from Curren to Slater and Andy.

My biggest heroes, however, are without a doubt my parents. My father is an amazing and accomplished working artist, always kept grounded by my mother. They are the perfect example of yin-yang.

I’m stepping into this position with the same excitement of starting a new art project, but with the clear understanding this is an established publication, carefully and beautifully crafted during its first three years.

As For Kauaʻi enters its fourth year, I’m deeply honored to become part of its ʻohana, which includes staff and readers. I will continue to work for the success of this community newspaper, and I can’t wait to introduce a few changes over time.

Last, a true story. When For Kauaʻi Publisher Barbara Bennett first approached me with this opportunity, I was undecided for a couple weeks. I asked an opinion from a young co-worker who had just quit, and he said, “Do what makes you happy.” Those were the exact words my father always told me. Needless to say, I erased all my doubts in that very moment.

Readers, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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