Ha'a Keaulana: Riding the Waves of Legacy and Innovation

Photo Credit: Billabong


Ha'a Keaulana: Riding the Waves of Legacy and Innovation

In the azure waters of Makaha on Oahu's West Side, a new generation of Hawaiian water women is making waves. Among them, Ha'a Keaulana stands out not just for her surfing prowess, but for the way she's carrying forward a rich family legacy while carving her own unique path.

Born Kai(Ha'a)le'a Keaulana, meaning "Joyful Dancing Sea," Ha'a's connection to the ocean runs deep. She's the granddaughter of surfing legend Buffalo Keaulana and daughter of big-wave rider Brian Keaulana. This lineage, which traces back to King Kamehameha, has shaped Ha'a's life from her earliest days.

Ha'a's childhood was far from ordinary. While most kids played in parks, she was allowed to frolic in 10-foot shorebreak. Her first memorable wave came at age three, tandem surfing with her grandfather at Waimea Bay during an Eddie Aikau paddle out ceremony. These early experiences, coupled with the influence of strong waterwomen like Rell Sunn and Pua Moku'ua, molded Ha'a into the waterperson she is today.

Photo credit: Jeff Divine for Surfers Journal Podcast

The Keaulana family's approach to raising their children was unique. Ha'a, one of only two girl cousins among six boys, was raised with the same expectations of toughness and skill. This equal treatment instilled in her a confidence that's evident in her surfing style, which she describes simply as "Joyful Dancing Sea."

While Ha'a excels in various board sports, she has a particular affinity for longboarding. She believes it allows her to take her time reading a wave, connecting her to the traditional roots of Hawaiian surfing. This respect for tradition is balanced with a modern twist - Ha'a has developed an innovative training technique learned from her father. By diving 30 feet underwater, grabbing a 50 pound boulder, and running along the ocean floor for over a minute, she prepares herself for potential hold-downs in dangerous surf conditions.

But Ha'a's talents extend beyond riding waves. A graduate of Waianae High School's rigorous media production program, she's made a name for herself as a professional surf and lifestyle photographer. Her work behind the lens has garnered her over 100,000 followers on social media, a platform she uses to showcase the authentic Hawaii and educate people about real issues beyond the tourist perspective.

Ha'a's decision to stay in Makaha after school was deliberate. She aimed to represent her home and disprove the notion that success requires leaving the Westside. "I tell kids it's good to travel and experience outside of Makaha and Hawaii, but don't forget where you're from, and don't let anyone tell you you're going to be nothing if you don't get out of here," she says.

Her commitment to her community is evident in her participation in events like her grandfather's Annual Buffalo Big Board Classic, where she's claimed victory in the Longboard division. These events are more than competitions for Ha'a; they're a celebration of family and culture.

As Ha'a continues to make her mark in the surfing world, she remains grounded in the values instilled by her family. Respect, love, and humility are at the core of her approach to life and surfing. She treats everyone equally, regardless of their background, embodying the spirit of aloha that's central to Hawaiian culture.

In an era where women's surfing is finally gaining equal recognition, Ha'a is at the forefront, not just as a surfer but also as a photographer. Her participation in events like the Red Bull Magnitude women's big-wave video submission contest showcases her skills both in front of and behind the camera.

Ha'a Keaulana represents a new wave of Hawaiian water women - deeply rooted in tradition yet boldly innovative. Whether she's riding a longboard at Makaha, shooting photos at Pipeline, or running underwater with a boulder, Ha'a continues to embody the spirit of her name - joyfully dancing on the sea, inspiring a new generation to connect with the ocean and their heritage.


Photo Credit: From @haakeaulana Instagram:  @silkymerman for @billabongwomens