Surfer Girl Honoli‘i: Aloha Kapono

Honoli‘i is not an easy spot to surf, but for those like Aloha Kapono, who grew up surfing in its chilly waters, itʻs a beach with beauty unlike any other. This surf break is located at a river mouth in Hilo, which means that the rain upstream is constantly changing the size of the stone beach as well as the shape of the waves. These ever-changing conditions are an inspiration for Kapono as a graduate student at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. Much of her research is collecting data on the effects of climate change on her home break and other coastal areas of Hawai‘i Island.


When Kapono is not in school, there is a good chance you will find her dawn patrolling Honoli‘i on her 9ʻ2” single-fin log with OluKai Ambassadors Haunani Kane and Brandy Serikaku. Kapono and Serikaku are also hula sisters and members of Hālau Hula O Ka Ua Kani Lehua under the guidance of legendary Kumu Hula Johnny Lum Ho. Kapono strives to incorporate the elegance of hula with the glide of he‘e nalu (surfing) with every wave she slides.


Kapono is one of five ocean-loving kids and Honoli‘i is a special place for her entire ‘ohana (family). Here’s how she first started surfing at this “small bay” and how she is using her career to benefit the Hilo community.


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Q: What does Honoli‘i mean and why is this surf break so special?


A: So Honoli‘i – “hono” is a bay or cove and “li‘i” is small or little, so it directly translates to “small bay or small cove.” There is also this mo‘olelo (myth or legend) of the sand always moving, the sand always changing, and itʻs usually never the same every time you go there. I think what makes that place special is that it is constantly changing, the dynamic of the beach is always different. Itʻs exciting!


Q: Where is your favorite peak at Honoli‘i?


So, there are three peaks at Honoli‘i: The Point, which is right by the lae (cape) on the left side if youʻre looking toward the ocean, then right in the middle is Midʻs, and on the right side you have Privateʻs. So, naturally, as a longboarder, I like to surf Midʻs and catch the right all the way to the river mouth.


Q: Why do you love this wave?


A: Growing up, we kind of lived right above Honoli‘i. My mom had a house up there. Ever since we were young, my brother, Cliff, would take us titas (sisters) down to the water to go surf. It was always a fun time. You left really early, you had the sunshine, the slight breeze, and it was glassy. Just a place that holds such a feeling of comfort. It was a real ‘ohana dynamic going down to Honoli‘i and I think that also influenced my love for that place.


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Q: If you have ever seen Honoli‘i itʻs obvious why you love this break so much.


A: I feel like everyone that had the opportunity to go surf at Honoli‘i, we all hold those memories of just being there, floating in the water, the waves breaking, to see that po‘i (top or crest of a breaking wave) and watching that ‘ohu (mist coming off the wave). That gets me every time. The beauty that this place holds is so substantial. Every time I go down there I want to just give back to that place because it has given me so much.


Q: How are you using your education to mahalo Honoli‘i?


A: I graduated from Hilo High School in 2012 then graduated from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo in 2016 with a Bachelorʻs in Geography and Environmental Science. Iʻm currently a graduate student at U.H. Hilo in the tropical conservation, biology, and environmental science program.


Q: How do you want to use your career to positively impact your community?


A: My project right now, Iʻm looking at remote sensing time series of Honoli‘i and areas of the Hilo Coast. Basically, itʻs how our landscapes are changing through looking at aerial imagery. We have these drones and all of this technology that is advancing so itʻs really been more accessible to look at different changes at a lower cost than previously before. How do these places change? Specifically, these places I want to understand and look at are places like Honoli‘i that are so important and have so much meaning. If you look at the place, whatʻs changing? Are the plants changing? Is the kai (ocean) coming up? If so, what is the rate of that? How can we build resilience within this community and these people that I identify as my community? And how can we plan for the future?


Q: It sounds like youʻre looking at the effects of climate change on your home break: Honoli‘i. Why is that important?


A: Right now we have this really sick helicopter with a camera-mounted system in the belly that is going out and capturing these images. With fieldwork and processing all of this stuff we can look at all of it over time. Whatʻs the growth like for, letʻs say, urbanization? Or structures? Or things like that. Coupled with historic, archival images from satellites which are really cool because they orbit the Earth every day and there are thousands of them. How can we take this information and do something with it to better understand the changes of our ‘āina (that which feeds us, land)? Basically, I want to give back to my community by understanding this change over time to better provide information to people making these really important decisions about our home.


Q: What does it mean to be a wahine (woman) in modern surf culture?


A: Itʻs when elegance meets the glide. For me, Iʻve been super honored to have mentors like Haunani Kane who grew up surfing Waikīkī and Cockroach Bay. She has one of the meanest dropknee turns Iʻve ever seen. Then there is my hula sister Brandy Serikaku and she combines her style of hula and surf and itʻs so evident when she is out in the water. I remember when we would all surf early in the morning and then go train for Merrie Monarch during the day. I think when you can capture elegance and combine it with how you glide on the wave, that to me is being a wahine in todayʻs surf culture.


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