HONOLULU (KHON2) — A surfer who said he almost died after being hit by a canoe has filed a civil lawsuit against the paddlers. One of them is Kali Watson, who was recently nominated to lead the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

The lawsuit said 17-year-old Kai Keuning was surfing at Tongg’s just outside of Waikiki in July 2021 when a canoe ran over him and hit his head. His attorney said Keuning lost consciousness and was under water for some time before a friend pulled him onto his surfboard and gave him CPR.

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“The canoe itself weighs probably with three or four people in it, it’s going to be close to 1,000 pounds, certainly 800 pounds,” said Jim Bickerton, attorney for the Keuning family.

Bickerton said Watson was with two other paddlers in the canoe, and they chose to ride through the surf break, which he said is against the unwritten rules for surfers and paddlers.

“The impression that I get from all of the facts that I’ve reviewed is that they were just being cocky. They thought they were really good, really skilled, and they could maneuver their way around the crowd,” said Bickerton.

KHON2 spoke with surfers in that area, and they said it is a free for all but that most follow the unwritten rules.

“It’s basically an open playground out there; so, anyone can be anywhere as long as everyone respects each other. That’s the biggest thing,” said Jesse MacPherson.

“Everybody can go wherever they want as long as they exercise caution and try to be careful,” said John Hearn.

We asked the state if the rules need to be officially spelled out to avoid another incident. We’re still waiting for a response.

As for Keuning, his attorney said he still has a long road to recovery after several months in and out of the hospital. He said Keuning has a blood clot in his brain which cannot be removed by surgery.

“He has to go in and have scans regularly and monitor it. If that clot breaks loose, all kinds of horrible things could happen. He could have a stroke, and it could kill him,” said Bickerton.

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“We were devastated by this accident and are truly happy that Kai is back in school. Given that this is a lawsuit, we cannot comment further,” said Kali Watson.