We're in downtown Chicago, making our way to Nick's Fishmarket, and Kona Carmack is living up to her name. It's short for Konaluhiole, which in Hawaiian means "never weary". She has just finished a ten-hour photo shoot, and she's famished.
We visit Nick's because he serves great fish. Kona orders abalone, then ahi for both of us. Beautiful and poised, she is confident beyond her 19 years. Her smile is a tonic. Our waiter seems distracted.
Kona was born and raised in Honolulu but has been living in North Caorlina for the past year while she attends college. Regardless of the subject, Kona sits in the front row so she doesn't miss anything. "It's kind of nerdy, but it works," says Miss February, a marketing major with a 3.4 GPA. "I also raise my hand a lot. If I don't understand something, I'm not just going to sit there."
One of the most liberating moments of her first year came during English 101, when she wrote a term paper blasting antiporn crusader Catharine MacKinnon. "She argues that Playboy is pornography," says Kona. "I don't happen to agree." She got an A.
Kona excels in the classroom, but she's no egghead. She enjoys the clubs too much, where on any given night you'll find her dancing into the wee hours. She wasn't always light on her feet, though. "I remember getting off the school bus when I was 12 and waving goodbye to my friends as I walked away. Then - wham! - I ran right into a stop sign. It even vibrated. I heard about that one for the rest of the year."
By the time she turned 16, they were talking about Kona again. She had followed her younger brother, La'au, into the surf and soon was challenging ten-foot waves (well, one anyway - and that was enough). "I was always the only girl out there surfing, besides my friend Kili," she says. "I hated it when the guys would try to cut me off." Maybe they were just distracted, I think to myself as the waiter clears our plates. No Kona has one thing on her mind: mangoes. She orders a plateful, sweet and delicious, then surprises me by pining for a cigar: "I go hooked on them on vacation in Martinique," she says. "After dinner, they're the biggest turn-on."
We consider finding a cigar shop, but by now it's past midnight and Kona shows signs of being, if not weary, at least sleepy. She has another shoot in the morning, and as we leave Nick's, I ask what she'll do with her Playmate modeling fee? "Tuition," she says, "and I'll pay for my new car. I named it Basia. My boyfriend always asks, 'How's Basia? Let's take Basia for a ride.' He knows how to score points with me." Gentlemen, name your engines.