Santa Barbara filmmaker Russ Spencer went on an idyllic vacation in 2007 to an isolated town on the eastern edge of Maui with no intentions of creating a film. But, two years later, he has produced a surf documentary that adds a homegrown, refreshing perspective to the competitive surfing lifestyle. Spencer provides the viewer with a thought-provoking, coming-of-age story of two local surf girls from Hana, Hawaii who try to find their way in the world. While most aspiring surfers grow up amidst corporate sponsors, over-populated surf competitions, and the media limelight, these humble and down-to-earth teens do it family style on the local shores of Kokoi beach, and pride themselves on being raised collectively by their close-knit Hawaiian village.
Hana Surf Girls offers a glimpse into the cultural traditions of Hana such as hula dancing, eating chili and rice after a long day of surfing, and the Annual “Hana Surfing Games,” an event hosted by four local moms. This surf competition is unique and special because there is no media, no product placement, and no corporate sponsors.
The documentary follows Monyca Byrne Wickey as she picks plumeria blossoms to decorate her high school graduation and as she makes leis alongside her mother, sister, aunt, and grandmother. In the film, Monyca dreams of being a professional surfer while remaining grounded in Hana and maintaining her down-to-earth lifestyle.
Lipoa Kahaleuahi grew up in Hana, but is attending her first year of classes on the mainland at UCSB. Lipoa was accepted onto the UCSB surf team as a freshman — where she is known as the team’s “Hawaiian sensation.” At first, Lipoa was overwhelmed and turned off by things such as UCSB’s Floatopia and the California beach lifestyle, but she grows to find her little niche in a large community.
As both girls strive to remain true to their Hana roots, a celebration of culture is portrayed on-screen as they surf not just to make it in the professional world, but also because they feel at home in the water surfing is a way of honoring their ancestors. For these girls, virtue is as important as success, and they represent everything that is Hana with their purity, kindness, emphasis on family, and natural ability to rip waves like very few can.
Hana Surf Girls will premiere Thursday, February 11 at 7:00 p.m. at the Lobero Theatre and will be shown again on Sunday, February 14 at 1:45 p.m. at the Metro 4 theater.