Many have seen “Johnny Tsunami,” “Blue Crush” or even more recently, “Soul Surfer,” and may be tired of the similar plot of “Oh no, something tragic happened. I must overcome it by winning this surf competition.” However, “Hana Surf Girls” is anything but your conventional surf film.
While on vacation in Hana, a small, rural town on the Maui coast, and observing the close-knit community and abundant surf action with some of the best surfers in the world, director Russ Spencer decided to document the lives of two native Hana surf girls. The two very talented girls are Monyca Byrne-Wickey and Lipoa Kahaleuahi, who is a UCSB student. For a moment it felt like I was watching “Lilo & Stitch” as the two girls reminisced over their upbringing and doing things like surfing, taking hula lessons and learning the traditional ways of their Hawaiian homeland.
Growing up in a place like Hana, so isolated, simplistic, family-orientated and laidback, it is far too easy to stay static and get stuck there. However, Byrne-Wickey and Kahaleuahi had other plans. Kahaleuahi, valedictorian of her high school and Gates Millennium Scholar, decided to attend UCSB and quickly became a prominent part of UCSB’s multiple, national title-winning surf team. Byrne-Wickey decided to stay in Hana and begin her professional surfing career.
Both girls struggled to adapt to adulthood and stick to their strong Hana values, while pursuing their dreams. When Kahaleuahi returned home for summer, she found herself having to take on the responsibility of resolving heavy family and housing issues that affect the entire community.
Kahaleuahi, who is a global studies major, lives by the wise words of a teacher who spoke at her high school graduation — “Learn, grow and become because we’ll always be here for you.” Kahaleuahi promised herself she would go out into the world and gain useful knowledge to take back to her homeland to create a better place.
Byrne-Wickey aggressively pursued her professional surfing career and became one of the first women to be a part of Nike’s 6.0 surf team and the face of Nike’s Women surf apparel.
Director Russ Spencer didn’t attempt to make the film look like a high budget production. Everything was natural, almost as if he compiled their home videos. The simplicity added to the strong “ohana” (“family” in Hawaiian) theme that circulated throughout the film.
One of the valuable lessons taken from the film was a reminder to feed the hand that fed us. Kahaleuahi and Byrne-Wickey’s homeland took care of them, and they felt a sense of obligation and duty to make something of their lives to better their community.
To anyone that is an independent film fan, loves surfing, interested in the lives of our island brothers and sisters or just wants to enjoy an overall good film, “Hana Surf Girls” is definitely worth watching.