DUNCAN, Okla. – On the eastern shore of Hawaii’s Big Island rests its largest city, Hilo, a town of 41,000 folks.
Inside its border is the community of Waiakea, the home of steer wrestler Trisyn Kalawaia, who will battle for the regional title during the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12-Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Stephens County Arena in Duncan.
“To make the circuit finals and go in there No. 1 is pretty good,” said Kalawaia, 21, a senior at Northwestern Oklahoma State University. “It’s definitely not what I thought I’d be able to accomplish at the start of this season. There were a lot of great opportunities, and we were successful this summer. The cards played out right for me.
“I’m super happy and blessed to go to the circuit finals and have a chance to win good money.”
This year marks his first qualification to the championship in Duncan. He had transferred from Central Arizona Community College to compete at the Alva, Oklahoma, school, which has been recognized as the Bulldogging Capital of College Rodeo.
While in the Southwest, he competed in the Turquoise Circuit, which is made up of contestants and rodeos primarily in Arizona and New Mexico. He qualified for its finale as a permit-holder last fall, then switched his allegiance to the Prairie Circuit, which features cowboys and cowgirls primarily from the Oklahoma-Kansas-Nebraska region.
He is a dual competitor, battling it out in ProRodeo while also trying to win at the college level; that’s something that can’t be done in most college sports but is allowed in rodeo. With just days remaining in the 2023 PRCA regular season, Kalawaia is No. 2 in the Resistol Steer Wrestling Rookie of the Year standings.
“The highlight of this season was just all of it,” he said, noting that he traveled the rodeo trail with Kaden Greenfield, a 2023 Northwestern graduate, and Stockton Graves, a Rangers alumnus who also serves as the rodeo team’s coach. “This was my rookie season rodeoing, and I had a lot of success. A lot of it had to do with traveling with Stockton and him helping me out.
“I got to hear a lot from him and see a lot from him throughout the year. That helped me make the circuit finals and helped me build confidence.”
He also finished the circuit’s regular season with $17,733. Technically he is second in the standings to his coach, but Graves will not be able to compete in Duncan after season-ending knee surgery last week. Kalawaia holds a $1,400 lead over Gus Franzen of Kearney, Nebraska, as the remaining members of top 12 in the region make their way to Stephens County.
Deep down, he would love to be the second Hawaiian-born steer wrestler to ever qualify for the National Finals Rodeo. He would join Cody Cabral, who also graduated from Waiakea High School and advanced to Las Vegas in 2016. For now, though, Kalawaia’s eyes are set on the prize right in front of him.
“It would mean a lot to win the circuit, especially being my first year in the circuit and being my rookie year,” he said. “It would also be a great start for the 2024 season.”
ProRodeo’s regular season ends Sept. 30, so money earned after Oct. 1 will count for next year. The 2022 circuit finals champion, past world titlist Jacob Edler, earned $5,300 in just three days of work in Duncan, and each dollar counted toward the 2023 campaign. There is potential to earn even more when the competition takes place the second full weekend of October.
Just as importantly, though, is the opportunity to advance to the next level. The winners of the year-end and circuit-finals titles qualify for the NFR Open, the national circuit finals championship that takes place next July in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“Winning the circuit will also get me to the Springs,” Kalawaia said. “That would help me step up my goals for next year and help me try to make the finals.”
Each step the young cowboy takes is all part of his development. There are no guarantees regarding wins or income, but that’s OK. That’s the allure of rodeo.
All Kalawaia wants is an opportunity, and he will get that in Duncan.