Surfer Girl Waikīkī: Keānuenue DeSoto
Waikīkī is like a second homebreak for Keānuenuehahaiikanalupo‘i DeSoto. Although the 18-year-old, regular foot lives in Mākaha with her ‘ohana, she spent her younger years on the South Shore. She attended the Hawaiian immersion school, Ke Kula Kaiapuni ‘o Ānuenue, where she learned to speak ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i fluently.
In Hawaiian her first name – Keānuenuehahaiikanalupo‘i – literally means, “the rainbow that follows the breaking wave”. It was given to her by her mom, Malia Ka‘aihue, who is a well-respected, Hawaiian entrepreneur. Keānuenue’s name is also a tribute to her great grand grandmother, Adelaide Keanuenueokalaninuiamamao "Frenchy" DeSoto, who was a Hawaiian activist and community leader.
In addition to coming from a long line of mana wahine, Keānuenue is a surfer with a he‘enalu pedigree. Most notably, she is the first-born daughter of 2010 World Longboard Champion Duane DeSoto. Duane is also the founder/chief executive officer of non-profit organization Nā Kama Kai, which is an Ama OluKai beneficiary. Whether it was watching her dad compete in surf contests, helping lead Nā Kama Kai Ocean Clinics or surfing with her siblings, Keānuenue knows the surf breaks of Waikīkī intimately as well as their original Hawaiian names. Her favorite surf spot in this iconic area is Aiwohi, which is most commonly referred to as Public’s, a long, technical left with numerous exposed coral heads in the lineup. Thus, a wave better suited for advanced surfers like Keānuenue.
Soon she will be graduating with honors from the Kamehameha Schools Kapālama where she also was an integral member of Kamehameha’s surf and water polo teams. When Keānuenue was 12 years old she launched a swimwear line named Anu Hawai‘i which has been featured in an array of fashion shows. Now at the age of 18, her swim line has budded into a successful retail business. In the Fall, Kēanuenue will be attending Parson School of Design in New York to pursue a degree in Fashion. We caught up with Keānuenue in Waikīkī a day before going on on a surf trip with her dad, sister and brother to the wave pool in Waco, Texas and then Mexico.
Q: Where did you live before you and your ‘ohana moved out to Mākaha?
A: We lived in Kaimukī, up Wilhelmina Rise, with my grandma on my mom’s side because at the time my dad was a pro surfer so he was traveling a lot. We didn’t have a hale at Mākaha yet so we stayed at my grandma’s family house.
Q: Where is your favorite surf spot in Waikīkī?
A: My favorite surf spot in Waikīkī or Public’s because Public’s is a place that we’ve always surfed as a family when we wanted to get away from the crowds. It’s more of an advanced wave so it keeps away the crowds. There is also a lot of coral heads so the tourists don’t like to go out there. It’s Waikīkī’s hidden gem because it’s not in that main Queen’s area by Duke’s statue and beachboys. It’s nice to go to Waikīkī and get away from everyone and surf a wave that’s actually a little more technical and fun.
Q: Aiwohi is definitely a tricky wave, for sure, especially on your backhand for a regular foot like yourself. What’s your favorite to ride out there?
A: Out at Aiwohi I like to ride my 6’4” when it’s 3-to 4-feet, not too big, but still nice size waves because it hits the reef really nicely. I think a lot of the swells hit Aiwohi really well, but I think that a southeast swell would is the best.
Q: What’s your earliest memory of Aiwohi?
A: My earliest memory of surfing Aiwohi was with my dad. He always takes us to new places. I remember surfing Aiwohi when I was 10 and he took me and group of my friends. We were doing this surf camp for fun and to get to know the wave. We would run the beach then go surf for three hours. It was a really great experience!
Q: Aiwohi seems like it’s a really important place for you and your whole family.
A: Aiwohi is significant to my ‘ohana because it’s the place we hold ocean clinics for the non-profit organization, Nā Kama Kai. It’s where we teach kids about ocean safety, awareness and conservation to create this pilina (connection) between the keiki and the kai, the ocean, so they can grow and experience the ocean, and feel comfortable in the ocean as an island people. We’re trying to create a symbiotic relationship between [the child and the ocean] where they’re taking care of the ocean and the ocean in turn is taking care of them by providing food, surf and fun.
Q: Your mom is a successful entrepreneur and you’re a small business owner yourself. What is Anu Hawai‘i and when did you start the business?
A: Anu Hawai‘i is my swimwear brand and the focus is to create suits that are cute, comfortable, high-quality and sustainable. Our mission as a brand to create swimwear that will last generations and they’re made from plastic waste. All of our suits are made from a fabric that is made from recycled fishing nets so it’s really cool to show people that there are ways to switch the narrative of fast fashion. I started Anu Hawai‘i when I was 12 and one of the biggest lessons for me was there is really no appropriate age when you should start a business or start doing what you love. You’re never too old or never too young to just do it.
Q: What does it mean to be a wahine in modern surf culture?
A: To me being a wahine in modern surf culture just means that I get to do what everybody else is doing, but I get to bring these amazing other wahine with me as I grow and continue to open doors for other wahine. I think as a wahine, we’re letting people know that we can do everything that [the kāne can do in the water]. I’ll go out on a big day or a small day. Whether it’s windy or no matter where I surf, I’m going to paddle out and have fun. I think people overlook wahine surfers, but we are powerful and strong.
Photo credit: Ha’a Keaulana | Mākaha Beach & Mike Ito | Aiwohi