By Cash Lambert
Paddle out into the blue, mana-filled waters of Queen’s on any given day and there’s a chance you’ll share the lineup with a pack of 5 girls, known as the Queen’s Crew: 11-year-old Sophia Culhane, 12-year-old Kelis Kaleopaa, 13-year-old Haley Otto, 13-year-old Keani Canullo and 14-year-old Samantha Rust.
Before you see them, you’ll probably hear their infectious giggles and cheers as they paddle and slide down fun-sized, slowly breaking walls. Even though the girls are just entering their teenage years, their longboarding skills are well refined and will catch your attention as you wait for waves: effortlessly gliding across faces, long noserides, frontside and backside spray-infused wraps.
In an era where progressive and high performance surfing is the norm, Haley, Kelis, Samantha, Keani and Sophia are products of their Waikiki environment, seeking and enjoying timeless, mellow rides atop boards far taller than their own height.
We sat down with the girls to talk about how they all met, what happens if someone drops in on another and what they do when the waves go flat (hint: “shop!”).
So how did each of you begin surfing Queen’s?
Kelis: My mom surfed with me in her belly, and I’ve been surfing Queen’s ever since!
Keani: Kelis actually gave me my first longboard and I instantly fell in love with it! Waikiki has always been one of my favorite places to longboard. It’s an amazing place to be raised. There are so many amazing people and things to see there.
Haley: I live in Waikiki, so Queen’s is super close for me. Waikiki is one of my favorite places to surf because it’s a good longboarding wave and everyone looks out for one another. I caught my first wave when I was 8 at Baby Queen’s and then I eventually started surfing Queen’s.
Sophia: I started surfing the sandbar in Waikiki when I was 4, my mom and dad would push me on the waves. Then at 5, I started catching my own waves and I progressed to Canoes. I was about 8 when I first had the courage to surf Queen’s and have been surfing there ever since!
Samantha: Queen’s is my favorite place to surf because it is a dream wave! It’s where my friends and family all are, and there’s so many places to eat when you take a break from surfing. Most of all, it’s such a beautiful place. Waikiki is my second home.
Today, most of the younger generations are focusing on high performance surfing. Everyone wants to be like John John Florence and do crazy airs! Why have you chosen to focus on longboarding?
Sam: I focus on longboarding instead of shortboarding because it’s where my heart is. I was originally a shortboarder, and then I watched longboarding videos and it looked like so much fun! So for Christmas, I got my first longboard and immediately fell in love. I watched more videos and copied what I saw. Waikiki is the perfect wave for longboarding and where I became the surfer I am now.
Keani: I love shortboarding, but longboarding will always have my heart. Watching longboarding is so beautiful, graceful and stylish. And being on the nose is the best feeling ever!
Kelis: My whole family longboards, so I do too! I like to shortboard for fun too though. My favorite thing about longboarding is the feeling of flying while you’re on the nose.
Sophia: I love the gracefulness and style as you move along the board and the wave when you’re longboarding. It’s like dancing on water. My favorite thing about longboarding is hanging my toes over the nose.
Haley: I actually shortboarded for a whole year before even touching a longboard. My Auntie Lori gave me a longboard for my 9th birthday and I fell in love. My favorite thing about longboarding is you get to utilize different parts of the board. The best part is the nose. I feel free when I hang ten!
Talk us through how each of you first met, and how you became the Queen’s crew.
Keani: I met Haley through Kelis when I first moved to Waikiki. I met Sam and Sophia at one of the surf contests in town and we all became really close!
Sam: I met these girls through Instagram and through my first longboard contest, which was the T&C Gromfest.
Haley: I first met Kelis when I was 8-years-old and I thought she was such a graceful surfer and amazing friend. Even though she is a bit younger than me, I still look up to her. The rest of girls push me to try my best and I think we all challenge each other to become better and better. We have one of the best surfing crews ever!
Sophia: We have such an amazing surf Ohana!
How often do you surf together?
Kelis: We surf together almost every day! Sometimes we send each other messages and a lot of times we just show up and know that someone will be out.
Sam: Yeah, we surf together almost everyday whether its after school or on the weekend. We text each other asking if anyone is at the beach. There is always someone we know at the beach like some grom, auntie or uncle. These girls are my very best friends and I am so grateful to have met them because they are the most amazing people you could know.
Haley: We usually Snapchat each other and see who is going to the beach. Sometimes we meet at Moku Surf Shop.
What about when the waves are small? Or if it’s flat? What do you guys do then?
Kelis: If it’s flat, we go to Currents during the high tide and play around on the beach. Or shop!
Haley: When the waves are small, we like to mess around on Wavestorms and go tandem with paddle boards.
And if there’s a big swell and the waves are huge?
Kelis: Whenever there are really big waves, we grab some wavestorms and head out to Queen’s. We always try to get party waves and usually end up running into each other, getting tumbled and our boards going sky high!
Sky high? Sounds like fun! So what do you talk about while in the lineup while you’re waiting for waves?
Sophia: We talk about everything, like food and what we are going to eat when we get out. We talk loudly about food hoping others will get hungry and leave the lineup. More waves for us!
Kelis: Usually we talk about funny videos we’ve seen on the internet!
What does it mean to be a wahine?
Kelis: Wahine to me means powerful Hawaiian woman, like both of my grandmas.
Keani: A wahine is a beautiful young woman who is strong and loves everyone and everything.
There’s always a crowd at Queen’s! How do you find waves with so many people out?
Sam: Queen’s is the most crowded place I have ever surfed! I catch waves either by sitting on the outside waiting for sets or staying on the inside of everyone and catch the little waves everyone misses.
Keani: I know all of the uncles and aunties out at Queen’s. When anyone tries to drop in on me, they yell at them! If you have respect for people, they will give it right back. My friends all catch a lot of waves, but we give the uncles and aunties the sets.
If one of your friends is already surfing on the wave of the day, would you drop in on her?
Haley: Sharing is caring!
Sophia: If it was the wave of the day, I would have to drop in. Waikiki groms share everything. We are like family!
Kelis: I would drop in on the boys. Especially the ones we know, because they’re always getting the best waves!