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EXCLUSIVE: 3 Hawaiian Female Surfers To Watch

Meet Moana Jones Wong, Bettylou Sakura Johnson and Puamakamae DeSoto at the 2022 Vans Pipeline Masters.

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EXCLUSIVE: 3 Hawaiian Female Surfers To Watch

Meet Moana Jones Wong, Bettylou Sakura Johnson and Puamakamae DeSoto at the 2022 Vans Pipeline Masters.

I grew up in the surf capital of Brazil: Ubatuba, São Paulo and my life consisted of surf magazines, and spending all my time in the water. Completely consumed by my connection with the ocean, I admired anyone who also shared that feeling. At 7 years old, I watched the movie Blue Crush and it quickly became my entire personality. The cult-classic was inspired by the legendary Keala Kenelly, Rochelle Ballard and Lisa Andersen and the plot was centralized around the most globally watched surfing event in the world, the Pipeline Masters.

Although this year is the 20th anniversary of the female-led movie, the IRL competition has only been open to female participation for the last 2 years despite the event’s nearly 50-year history.

In January of 2020, the city council of Honolulu voted unanimously to support the inclusion of women in contests on the North Shore, and so, Southern California-based brand Vans held their very first Pipeline Masters surfing event on Hawai’i's North Shore last week. Because of this momentous occasion, we had the opportunity to attend and speak to three Hawaiian women who are paving the way this year: Moana Jones Wong, Bettylou Sakura Johnson and Puamakamae DeSoto.

All three incredible young women were born and raised in Hawai’i and this year’s competition is particularly special due to it being the first time ever that 50% of competitor slots are reserved for Hawaiian and Indigenous surfers. Safe to say this year’s Vans Pipeline Masters was one for the books. With no shortage of young talent in Hawai’i, this is truly just the beginning for Vans’ continued effort to bring equality and inclusion to the surf community of Hawai’i.

We leave O’ahu hopeful for the future of the Vans Pipe Masters and excited to see women and local Hawaiians continuously rising to the occasion in the years to come. Keep scrolling to meet these three legendary young surfers and their visions to uplift the North Shore.

Moana Jones Wong

At the young age of 23, Moana is one of the world’s most accomplished women at Pipeline. The O’ahu native made surfing history earlier this year, when she won the Billabong Pro Pipeline against the champion, Carissa Moore. This win was particularly historic considering it was the first ever all women’s championship event.

When did you know you wanted to be a surfer?

I’ve known that I wanted to be a professional surfer since I was about five-years-old.

Talk us through your reaction when you found out you qualified for Pipeline? How does it feel to represent Hawai’i?

When I found out that I was one of the lucky 20 girls that would be in the Pipe Masters I got very emotional because this has been a dream of mine for so many years. I am honored to be invited and to represent my home, Hawai’i.

How do you feel about this historic moment of female, Hawaiian and Indigenous representation and participation for only the second time in the event’s nearly 50-year history?

This is a groundbreaking, historical moment for female surfers but also female surfers who are Hawaiian and indigenous. This is an opportunity of a lifetime. History will be made at this contest and it will hopefully evolve women’s surfing as a whole.

What do you hope people take away from this competition as well as your performance this year?

The main thing I want people to take away from this contest is the appreciation for this
special place. Not only is the Pipeline the most iconic wave in the world but it also is the wave that made the surfing world what it is today.

Who is your dream person to surf with?

My dream person to surf with would be an old Ali’i of Hawai’i, Queen Kaahumanu. I have read many stories about her surfing and I wish I could surf with her.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to the next generation of athletes entering?

My advice for the next generation of athletes entering this sport would be to go back and learn the history of surfing. Go and rewatch the old surf movies and remember where we came from. Respect those who came before you.

What are your pre-competition rituals?

I go and spend some time at the ocean (preferably alone) and just feel the Mana (power) of the place and perhaps make a ti leaf lei and send it off into the ocean with a chant and pule (prayer).

What are the go-to items you need for an ideal surf day?

Water, food, sunscreen, a couple boards, wax, towel and that’s about it!

Bettylou Sakura Johnson

While in Hawai’i, we had the pleasure of attending a screening and panel hosted by Vans and Stab Magazine for the short film “The Women of Pipeline.” The film showcased the evolution of the Pipe Masters and the multiple generations of female surfers that have shaped the sport. During the panel we got to hear from Bettylou Sakura Johnson, the 16-year-old who took down the five-time world champ and won the Haleiwa Challenger making her the youngest woman on the tour.

The Honolulu-native spoke beautifully during the panel, on Vans new judging format which will have an equal emphasis on turns, airs, and barrels. Making sure the handpicked surfers are not just elite barrel riders but also talented aerialists. Sakura-Johnson said “I think this new format is so unique, I feel like this contest is going to be more about fun and it will be an eye opener for the younger girls watching us, and I think it will be very inspiring for them to watch the girls rise to the occasion, like Carissa and Moana did earlier this year.” Johnson’s humble personality, love for the sport and incredible work ethic will no doubt help her continuously break records.

When did you know you wanted to be a surfer?

I don’t have a specific answer. Growing up on O’ahu especially on the North Shore, you just start to be in the ocean at a young age. It’s a cultural practice here in Hawai’i, so it’s something you just do and enjoy. It’s a true blessing to be able to surf and be in the ocean.

Talk us through your reaction when you found out you qualified for Pipeline? How does it feel to represent Hawai’i?

My reaction when I got the news to be in the Vans Women Pipe Masters was amazing. I couldn’t believe I was getting the chance to surf Pipeline with three other girls. It is an honor to be a part of an event that will help push women’s surfing and inspire the next generation. I’m feeling very grateful for the opportunity.

How do you feel about this historic moment of female, Hawaiian and Indigenous representation and participation for only the second time in the event’s nearly 50-year history?

To represent Hawai’i is a huge honor. I am very grateful to have been born and raised on the North Shore of O’ahu. When I travel the world, I become more grateful for where I am from every time! Surfing was also born in Hawai’i, so it’s a blessing that I am able to represent my home through the sport I love. We have worked so hard to be where we are today and I am so proud of everyone in the industry. Indigenous representation is so important and I am so happy that is finally being highlighted. Although I am not Hawaiian by blood, I am so grateful to represent my beautiful home and its people.

What do you hope people take away from this competition as well as your performance this year?

From this competition, I hope that everyone takes away that hard work really pays off. This year I’ve trained continuously, always putting my best foot forward and have been surrounded by the most amazing people. I am so grateful for the people in my life who have always been so supportive of me and my ambitions. Competition has taught me perseverance and patience and I feel that I always learn something new with each event that has a positive impact on me.

Who is your dream person to surf with?

My dream surfer to surf with would be Andy Irons. Andy Irons was a phenomenal surfer who has passed away and I, unfortunately, was not able to meet him, but I’m so grateful to have been able to hear his stories and accomplishments through other people in the surfing community. He was a surfer who connected to the ocean and didn’t just ride the wave but became a part of it. His surfing style was so fluid and natural and I aspire to embrace everything that the ocean has given to me, just as he did.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to the next generation of athletes entering?

Have fun! You don’t need to compete to be one of the best surfers in the world. Surfing is a joyful and unique relationship with the ocean. Although winning can feel like the best thing in the world, remember that it’s all about the experience you are able to take away. Be grateful for every moment because you are always learning – that’s a win in and of itself.

What are your pre-competition rituals?

Always stretch and be consistent with stretching. As well as meditate and visualize before heats. I believe you have to see yourself accomplishing your goal to do it.

What are the go-to items you need for an ideal surf day?

Bikini, sunscreen, surfboard, and friends!

Pua DeSoto

O’ahu native, Pua DeSoto is one of the youngest female surfers competing in this year’s Pipeline Masters, at only 17-years-old, she is ready to contribute to her family’s legendary legacy.  We met DeSoto on O’ahu’s west side at a community day hosted by Nā Kama Kai, the organization founded in 2008 by DeSoto’s father, pro-surfer Duane DeSoto. In partnership with Vans, Sustainable Coastlines of Hawai’i, and North Shore Community Land Trust, they hosted a community day that highlighted the non-profits community-centric initiatives that teach local kids ocean stewardship, ocean safety, and conservation.

Throughout the day, the DeSoto family showcased their ʻoiwi knowledge that strengthens their community, connection to the ocean and continues to create a safe environment for the children of Hawai’i to respect and experience the ocean. The entire experience was one of many instances that only emphasized Pua DeSoto’s beautiful genetic relationship to the ocean; her wisdom and passion for Hawai’i will continue to impact and improve not only the surfing community, but women and Hawaiians everywhere.

When did you know you wanted to be a surfer?

Ever since I was a baby the ocean was a part of me. My dad is a world champion surfer but above that he is a waterman. A waterman means a skilled expert in all things ocean. Naturally, I always wanted to be a waterwoman and surfing is a big part of that. When I was 11-years-old I had been competing for fun for a while and I knew deep inside that I wanted a World Championship like my dad. Growing up around incredible surfers at Makaha was inspiring and having heroes like Carissa Moore really showed me there is a pathway.

Talk us through your reaction when you found out you qualified for Pipeline? How does it feel to represent Hawai’i?

When I found out I was shocked and so happy. I was so excited and grateful for the opportunity. As it settled with me, I started to get a little bit nervous because of how big of an opportunity it was. At the end of the day, it was an opportunity to represent Hawai’i, the lahui (Hawaiian nation) and my ‘ohana that is never something I will take for granted. I am so grateful for Hawai’i and the culture that had raised me and I will take advantage of every opportunity to share it with the world – surfing was a cherry on top!

How do you feel about this historic moment of female, Hawaiian, and Indigenous representation and participation for only the second time in the event’s nearly 50-year history?

It’s special, it’s motivating and it’s exciting. We can go to one of the most critical waves in the world and we get time out there with three people out. It’s motivating because now all of us girls are ready to push surfing more and to grow more and so we motivate one another to charge. A point of clarification that is important is that 50% of the invitees live in Hawai’i. On the women’s side there were four indigenous Native Hawaiian women, however, we celebrate 10 women from Hawai’i being invited to this historic event. Hawai’i is the only state that being born and raised here does not make you Hawaiian. Being a Hawaiian is special, especially because not only is it our home, but it is also our cultural practice as we are the origin of surfing. The salt water that flows in the ocean is the very make up of who we are as island people. The ocean is our continent. The unique opportunity is that other indigenous Native Hawaiian girls also see themselves as the future of surfing at its highest level.

What do you hope people take away from this competition as well as your performance this year?

I hope that girls everywhere can see themselves in the jersey. I hope that Native Hawaiian girls see themselves as leaders, game changers, knowledge leaders in our cultural practice of surfing. My mission is to bring Native Hawaiian girls with me on this journey. For example, our family non-profit, Nā Kama Kai, just gave a scholarship for Bernice Alama and a very young Native Hawaiian surfer from the west side for her pursuit of a National Championship. I’m going to make sure these girls that are putting in the work are seen, heard and supported by the industry.

Who is your dream person to surf with?

My dream is to surf with Rell Sunn, or “Aunty Rell” who is the Queen of Mākaha. And then, I’d come  in and share a kala with my Uncle Bruce.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to the next generation of athletes entering?

Always deepen your relationship with the ocean. The ocean is the single element that connects every human on the planet. To love surfing means to love the ocean!

What are your pre-competition rituals?

I do a pule (prayer) with my mom. I checked in with my coach and dad for heat strategy.

What are the go-to items you need for an ideal surf day?

For an ideal surf day, I normally have water and some fruits and snacks. I need my Tokoro surfboard, leash, Anu Hawai’i suits, Aloha Modern towel and my Vans hat.

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