An audience filled Hale Aloha in the Polynesian Cultural Center on May 9 for the second night of the 27th World Fireknife Championship. The audience said they were thrilled by the skills of the performers as well as the inclusion of a women’s division for the first time since 2013.
May 9 was the Men’s Open Division Preliminaries, where six finalists would be selected out of the 24 adult male contestants, along with the Women’s Division Finals, where the three finalists would compete for the title.
In anticipation of the second night of competition, one of the audience members, Sashalei Fabricious, a sophomore from Samoa majoring in social work, said she was most excited for how the women’s finals would go.
“They haven’t held a women’s competition since 2013, and it’s very important to me as both a Samoan and a woman [that] we have the women represented,” said Fabricious. “Fireknife is not a boys-only sport and the World Competitions need to show it in order to encourage other girls to follow their dreams.”
The Women’s Division
The three finalists of the Women’s Open Division were Sih Ping Huang from Taiwan, Jeralee Galeai from Laie, and Moemoana Schwenke from Australia. The judges were reminded only to judge them based on the current performance, not anything from the night before.
Delsa Moe, vice president of Cultural Presentations for the PCC, explained the Women’s Division was making a comeback after six years. According to her, the reason for the pause was the “need to make changes to the festival in order to make it financially viable so it could continue on into the future.
“There was not as much interest in the women’s competition at the time, and after suspending it for a few years, we saw the interest growing and a lot of comments on social media asked why we didn’t have a women’s competition. We knew the time was right to reinstate it this year.”
Huang went first, twirling the fireknife behind her head, which gave off the appearance of a flaming halo. Although she dropped her knife, Huang quickly recovered from the setback and continued, visibly undeterred.
Galeai, a local of Laie, was next. With her fireknife lit, she swung it around, soon adding another, and bringing the fire so close to her mouth it appeared she was licking the flames. She started juggling both of the knives, and soon added a third, juggling three to loud applause.
Following Galeai, Moe commented, “I think the ladies are kicking butt right now.”
The final performance of the night was by Australian Moemoana Schwenke. As the last performer of the night, she graced the stage swinging her fireknife like a sword. In her orange dress, Schwenke spun her knife until it appeared to be a shield, creating a literal ring of fire. After she received her applause, the net was lifted and all the competitors were brought onto the stage.
Results: Women’s Division
1st Place: Jeralee Galeai, Laie, Hawaii
2nd Place: Moemoana Sckwenke, Australia
3rd Place: Sih Ping Huang, Taiwan
The three winners of the Women’s Division were each given a ceremonial fireknife and headband. Galeai, the champion, was also given a tuiga, a traditional Samoan headdress. About her win, she said “Hard work is the most important thing. Without it, I could not be where I am today. I feel honored to be a part of this competition.”
The men’s performances
Earlier in the evening, the PCC Manager Steve La’ulu took to the stage, acting as Master of Ceremonies. La’ulu gave a monologue in Samoan, welcoming the attendees of the event. He was then joined by Moe, who welcomed the audience, this time in English.
Moe and La’ulu then brought in the 24 competitors for Men’s Open Division Preliminaries to the stage, asking the audience for a big “chee hoo” to welcome the contestants, which they received.
The first competitor was Via Iosefa Tiumalu from Makawao, Hawaii and Orlando, Florida. Prior to the performances, the safety net was brought down in front of and on all sides of the stage. With a thumbs-up from all seven judges, the preliminaries officially began.
Tiumalu ran onstage, brandishing a single fireknife in his right hand. As the stage lights slowly dimmed out, his fireknife was the brightest object in Hale Aloha. With a flick of his wrist, the other side of the fireknife lit up as Tiumalu twirled it like it was a harmless baton, not a fireknife where both ends could burn his body if he was not careful.
Tiumalu then tossed the spinning knife into the air, where it fell perfectly back into his hand, to the acclaim of the audience.
With continuing “oohs” and “ahhs” from the audience, Tiumalu got down on his back and placed the middle of the knife in the pit of his knee, letting the fire burn on either side of it, and doing so without flinching. After letting the fiery ends sit on the soles of his feet, Tiumalu flipped back onto his feet, as the beat of the drums got faster.
He exited quickly and came back with two fireknives. As he lit both ends, the drumbeats intensified. With both ends of each knife in flames, he spun them in seemingly endless arcs, never missing his mark.
At the end of Tiumalu’s rendition, he stomped to the beat of the drums promptly before taking a bow and exiting, to an overjoyed audience.
Next up was Fumiya Matsushima from Fukushima, Japan. He performed a similar routine and brought the flaming tip of the blade to his mouth, giving himself the appearance of breathing fire.
According to Matsushima, “Fireknife is my greatest passion. It is the danger I face which makes life worth living. Even though there is a slim chance I could get hurt, the sport is worth it.”
After the fourth competitor, La’ulu reminded the audience about the importance of speed in fireknife. “One of the most important criteria the judges look for is the speed of the routine. How fast the knife is going. So far, so good. They are all fast, and I don’t know how the judges are going to pick.”
After Jack Laban from American Samoa performed as number 15, Moe said, “It’s wonderful having a competitor from American Samoa. We hope to see more from our two Samoans. You can tell all these contestants constantly practice their routine. It really shows.”
Sei Kuwahara, a sophomore from Japan majoring in marketing, sat in the front row where, according to him, the action was the most intense. “I was so close. I could see the expressions on their faces and the passion they put into their routines. As they spun the knives around, I could barely keep track of how fast it was. The light seemed to dance across my face because of how fast the movements were.”
According to Moe, for men, fireknife is “about aggression and excitement, but for the women, it’s about grace and excitement. Slight variation there, but just as interesting and unique.
“27 years ago, a lot of what you’re seeing now would’ve been considered to be impossible. Now it is very possible, thanks to the bravery, guts, and creativity of all these competitors.”