Kūkahekahe: Ke Kula ʻo Kamakau haumāna shines brightly in the sport of he‘e nalu

Feb. 13, 2023

The world watched in awe as surfers competed in the 2022-2023 Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational. Immense pride spread throughout Hawaiʻi when Waimea Bay lifeguard Luke Shepardson won the 10th-ever contest during his scheduled work breaks. The Eddie was last held in 2016. It only occurs when ocean conditions allow for surf to consistently reach heights of 20 feet (Hawaiian scale).

Although the contest began in 1985, this is the first year women competed alongside men. In this Kūkahekahe by KS Cultural Consultant Manu Boyd KSK’80, we learn about the accomplishments of a gifted up-and-coming wahine surfer and ʻōpio ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi whom we hope to see someday surfing the Eddie: Ēweleiʻula Wong.

“He kāʻeʻaʻeʻa pulu ‘ole nō ka he‘e nalu.” Champion surfers don’t get wet!

Just two months shy of embarking on her 13th year at the Ko‘olaupoko Hawaiian immersion school Ke Kula ʻo Kamakau, Ēwelei‘ula Wong from Wahiawā, Oʻahu, gained worldwide acclaim in the traditional Hawaiian sport described by her ancestor as “wave sliding” or he‘e nalu. At the 2022 International world Surfing Association (ISA) Championships at Surf City, El Salvador in Central America, Wong’s impressive 1,000 points crested high over second-place finisher Lucia Machado representing Spain, a native of the Canary Islands, who scored 860. Wong was awarded the gold medal in the Girls U18 (under 18) division. In addition, O‘ahu North Shore’s Luke Swanson was also awarded the gold in the Boys U18 division. The 12-member Surf Team Hawai‘i also included Ryan Beavers, Haylee Boverman, Shio Crawford, Jackson Dorian, Puamakamae DeSoto KSK’23, Vaihiti Inzo, Malia Lima, Nora Liotta, Kai Martin, and Luke Tema. Overall, the 12-member Hawai‘i surf team took top honors.

Unlike the recent Olympic Games in Japan where Hawai‘i’s Women’s Short Board Gold Medalist Carissa Moore surfed as a Team USA member, the ISA El Salvador Surfing Championships acknowledged Hawai‘i and the hae Hawai‘i (Hawaiian flag), separate from USA surf competitors. “Hawai‘i Pono‘ī,” our anthem filled the air in three gold medal ceremonies where our team prevailed in El Salvador.

Wong is the hiapo or eldest child of Leeward Community College Associate Professor Lu‘ukia Archer and Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement Senior Director of Advocacy and Communications Sterling Kini Wong. She also surfs with her kaikaina, her younger sisters, ‘Oaka and Noelo.

“Ua a‘o ko‘u makuahine a me ko‘u makuakāne ia‘u a me ko‘u mau kaikaina i ka he‘ehe‘e nalu a ua he‘e nalu mākou ma Kewalo me Waikīkī,” she said. [Wong credits her parents for teaching her and her siblings from a very early age in Kewalo and Waikīkī surf breaks.] However, Wong’s favorite surf spot is Laniākea, near Hale‘iwa on O‘ahu’s North Shore. This past winter, Wong recalls a particular wave at Hale‘iwa she measured at 8’-10’ “Hawaiian,” meaning the wave is measured from the back. If measured from the front, a wave can double in height. “I wasn’t on that one, but it was scary!”

“I go to a Hawaiian language immersion school, Ke Kula ‘o Samuel Kamakau, and I’ve been there since papa mālaaʻo (kindergarten). I pretty much grew up around the same people,” said Wong of her kumu and hoa papa (classmates). In addition to her education, Wong’s upbringing has centered around mea Hawai‘i and strong ‘ohana values, which is evidenced in her sense of pride and identity. “When I’m in the water, especially with my sisters, we try to ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi and normalize it in the water because a lot of people out there and those who compete don’t ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i,” she said.

Wong has a long ride ahead to be considered for the 2024 US Olympic Surf Team, but the aloha of her ‘ohana, friends, and community is crucial. “I mahalo my ‘ohana and my coaches for their support. Because he‘e nalu can be a dangerous sport, it’s important to have people you know and trust around you,” she said.

Ho‘omaika‘i nui to Ēweleiʻula Wong and Luke Swanson, ISA Junior World Champions, and Team Hawai‘i who took the overall Gold.

Check out Spectrum Surf Channel 1020 to see some of the best of the best. E heʻe nalu kākou!

Our Kaʻiwakīloumoku collections hold a mele inoa for Ēwe, written by Manu Boyd! Check it out here!