From the West Side of Oahu, the Keaulana Ohana portray the definitive spirit of what it means to be at harmony with the ocean at every moment and condition – a humble spirit exemplified throughout history in Buffalo, Brian, and the band of brothers and sisters in between.
In today’s millennial generation, there is one young wahine who would emerge amongst the fray of modern day technology “joyfully dancing on the sea” and into the hearts and minds of over 100,000 followers around the world (you’re probably one them).
Her name is Kai(Ha’a)le’a Keaulana and she rips! Staying true to her roots and following her passions, Ha’a gained global recognition by simply being herself and living her extraordinary ocean lifestyle to the fullest. We caught up with Ha’a at her Grandfather’s 40th Annual Buffalo Big Board Classic before her Longboard division victory later in the day to hear her story.
Growing up, what was a day on the West Side/Makaha like?
I had such an awesome childhood growing up on the West Side! The community is very tight because there’s families names that have been living here ages. Everyone pretty much treats each other like family. We didn’t go to parks or playgrounds because we had the beach. It’s was way better than the playground in my opinion.
What do you remember about your first wave?
My first wave that I remember is with my Grandfather at Waimea Bay after sitting with him on his board at the Eddie Aikau paddle out ceremony. We caught a super tiny wave by the rocks and we were breaking the leis in the water so turtles wouldn’t choke on them. I was about 3 years old.
What about your earliest memories from the Buffalo Big Board Classic?
My earliest memories of the contest is playing under the scaffolding, which I still do to this day. Swimming at the shoreline and getting yelled at when a big board or canoe was on the loose too. It’s literally a big family party, you get so stuffed walking down the beach because every tent is trying to feed you.
What’s the significance of the name Ha’a?
I was given my name by our family friend Ka’upena Wong. My Dad wanted something with ocean and my Mom is a hula dancer so he walked the beach the morning I was born and came up with Kaiha’ale’a which means ‘Joyful Dancing Sea’.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
Of course my Grandparents, they made us who we are. In and out of the water. They’ve taught very strong ocean and family values.
At what point in your youth did you realize how deep of an influence your Father and Grandfather have on the West Side, as well as the global surfing community?
I think a specific moment I remember was when I went to Japan when I was 10 with my family and Japanese fans came running up to my Grandpa crying and taking photos with him. I guess that’s where I first realized how much he impacted the surfing community.
How did your passion for surfing develop?
My passion for surfing goes as far back as I can remember. I catered more towards longboarding because I feel like it makes you take your time when reading a wave. I come from a family of watermen who experimented on every single board possible. We always stick to our roots and go with longer boards. Right now I’m riding an 8’ 6” fun thruster longboard. But it doesn’t really matter what I’m riding. I get the same stoke even if I’m body surfing.
At what point did you start traveling?
My first time on a plane was when I was a baby and I was going to see my Dad on the weekends while he was working on Water Wrld on Hawaii Island. My first time traveling out of country was 10 years old with my family to Japan.
Your favorite waves to surf in Hawaii? And what about your favorite waves around the world?
Of course Makaha and a bunch of other spots I can’t mention out here, Ali’i Beach, Ehukai, and sometimes Waikiki. I love the waves in Tahiti. I only surfed a few but I love to swim and shoot beautiful waves in clear water.
Your entire family is certainly full of wisdom and knowledge — how has your father/grandfather taught you things? Was there ever an instance where they let you experience something on your own in order to learn some type of lesson?
I’ve learned almost everything I know from them and also just the ocean alone. One funny story that sticks out is learning about the rip current when we were young. My Dad told us when we were small to not pass the lifeguard flag because that’s where the rip starts. My younger brother or cousin passed it and got caught then one of us went to help and got caught to. Then there was 4 of us swimming in the rip from trying to save each other. The lifeguards came down to help but my Dad told them no so we could learn how to get back to shore on our own. We learned the hard way that day.
Photography — when and how did it become a passion?
Going to Waianae High School, I was involved in their awesome media program which pretty much taught me a lot of the basics of working with a still or video camera. I had a waterproof point and shoot that I loved playing with so I invested in my own DSLR and loved it from there on. I’m also blessed to have amazing Uncles that are legendary surf photographers to give me advice.
Can you describe your surf style in 5 words?
I can do it in 3: ‘Joyful Dancing Sea’.
Social media – your thoughts on the fact that over 125,000 accounts follow yours?
I gained a big following from being featured on NatGeo’s social media networks from when they featured my family on a story they did for Hawaiian Surf Culture. It has become an awesome tool to show the world my ocean lifestyle.
Talk to us about the West Side culture. What do you like most about it?
People out here are very raw and may come off as scary to others but most of those kind of people you will find has the biggest hearts. Everyone is treated the same with respect and love no matter where you come from. Like I mentioned before everyone treats each like family.
What are some values and qualities that you’ve earned from your family?
What I learned from my family is respect and love, especially respecting anybody and it doesn’t matter if you live in a shack or mansion, you treat everyone the same and give the shirt off your back without expecting anything back.