Billabong Pro Pipeline winner Moana Jones Wong on being in lōkahi, in harmony, through surfing
North Shore native Moana Jones Wong, 22, won the first-ever women’s Billabong Pro Pipeline on Sunday, Feb. 6. It was the first time a women’s Championship Tour event, or CT event, was held at the legendary surf spot.
It was a historic day, marked by clean waves and an energetic crowd. One day before, Kelly Slater won the men's competition just shy of his 50th birthday.
Jones Wong was a relative unknown prior to the contest. She hadn’t surfed in a contest in six years and was invited to compete as a wild card entry. But making history is nothing new for her.
Last year she earned her bachelor's degree when she became the first graduate of the University of Hawaiʻi West Oʻahu’s Hawaiian and Indigenous Health and Healing program.
After last weekend’s victory, she sits atop the World Surf League’s Women’s Rankings, just ahead of five-time World Champion and Olympic gold medalist Carissa Moore. Jones Wong is expected to compete next in the Hurley Pro at Sunset Beach in the coming days.
Jones Wong sat down with The Conversation to talk about the win, her path to Pipe, and why surfing is important to her identity as a Native Hawaiian.
On competing in the historic Billabong Pro Pipeline
MOANA JONES WONG: Growing up watching the Pipe Masters and just, you know, watching videos about the best pipe surfers in the world, Pipe has always drawn my attention. I just fell in love with it at an early age, but I never wanted anything to do with it cuz it's scary. It's like super scary and dangerous. But it was so beautiful. It was fun to watch, I'll put it that way. It was very fun and very entertaining to watch. But as I got older, for some reason, I just really got captivated and drawn to the wave and started spending all my time out there and just fell in love with surfing out at Pipe. Even when I'd be at school, I'd be like looking at the cam, the Surfline cam watching — just like "Oh, it's so good right now. Like how come I'm not out there?" If Pipe is good, I pretty much lose my mind. It's like, "Oh, why am I not out there?" So Pipe is so special to me and it's not like any other wave. So last year, I heard the announcement that there was going to be a woman CT event out here. And you know, forever, it's just been the men's contest out here — forever. So I was like, wow, that's so cool, I hope I get into this contest — that would be amazing. And I got the call up in December to be in the contest. And I was just so happy because Pipe is my favorite wave in the world, my favorite place to be in the world — like this is my home. I was born and raised right here too. So it is my home. I haven't done a contest for like six years, too. So this is the first contest I've done since I was 16 years old. But yeah, taking that win out here, for me it was something that I've just been dreaming about since I was a little kid and it's kind of like my Blue Crush moment. It's unbelievable and I still wake up — I mean, it's only been a couple of days — but I wake up every morning and I have to go and look. I'm like did this happen? Like it happened.
On paddling out to Pipeline for the first time at age 12
The first time I ever paddled out I was 12 years old. But I mean, you can paddle out to pipe on a small day and it's still gnarly. So it was a small day when I paddled out. It was in the beginning of the winter season, so the swells are still nothing crazy. But out at Pipe there's just so much power out here, even if it's a small day you're going to definitely be in for some beatings out here. So my first wave, I just dropped in, I just ate it so badly. And I was like a good surfer at 12 years old. I was sponsored by Billabong, I was like winning all these contests and I was immediately humbled. And I was like, "Okay, this wave is not like any of the other waves on North Shore. This wave is nothing to mess around with, like, I need to get better at surfing all the other waves and then I'm going to come back out here when I'm ready." So that's what I did. I went and got super good at all the other waves, got way more comfortable in the ocean, like, put in my time. And then when I knew that I was not going to be a hazard out there, and I was not going to get myself in any trouble. Then I was like, "Okay, I'm ready to go surf Pipe now."
On learning from other surfers out at Pipeline
When I went out to Pipe, I didn't want to get any type of, you know, special treatment. I wanted to earn my spot out there. I was like, just because I'm a girl and I'm born and raised here on North Shore, I don't want any special treatment. I want to earn my spot, just like everyone else out here earned their spot too. So all the guys out there that are the best, I think they noticed that and they liked it. They like that I never tried to like, you know, sit out where they were sitting or get in anybody's way. I was always super respectful and just, you know, to myself, and just caught my waves that I knew that — those are my waves. I'm going to go on those waves. Everyone else's waves like I'm not going to even try to go on your wave. But people that really were super nice to me and gave me awesome tips out there was people like Derek Ho, Jamie O'Brien, John John Florence, all the local boys out here, they pretty much all adopted me as their little sister and just treated me like family, and all watched my progression and cheered me on the whole way. And when there was any type of tips or advice, they would give it to me, but for the most part, it was just like them, you know, watching over me and making sure like, I was okay. They all had a huge role in me surfing out at pipe because I watched them. Those are the people that I wanted to surf like — I'm going to sit right here and I'm going to take notes right now. And that's what I did.
On female surfers who have influenced her, and the future of contests for women
My influences was for sure Bethany (Hamilton), Carissa (Moore), they're like heroes for sure — Keala Kennelly, Rochelle Ballard, they're like the original pipe girls for sure. And they paved the way for all of us in like surfing heavier waves. I think that because of the contest out at Pipe, the CT contest, and because of other venues on the tour from the WSL such as G-Land or Tahiti, with these kind of heavier waves that have been iconic spots for the men. I think this is really gonna make bigger names for women in surfing. Because, you know, the women never had such prestigious waves. They had like, you know, not the greatest waves. So no one really cares, it's like not trying to talk bad about anybody but not a lot of people really care to watch junk waves, like no one wants to see junk waves. We want to see firing beautiful heavy waves, this is like a show, like we want to see a show. And I think with women's surfing going in that direction of those type of waves, those more iconic waves, there is going to be a lot more talk around women surfing.
On why it's important for her to connect to Hawaiian culture
In Hawaiian culture, there is, I don't know if you've heard about it, but it's called the Lōkahi Triangle. And at the top of the triangle is Ke Akua (gods, spirituality) and on either side of the triangle is the Kai and the ʻĀina, so the ocean and the land, and then on the other side is the Kānaka — so that's like us together as humans and Hawaiians. We cannot be connected to our culture if we're not connected to the ocean, connected to the land. To connect yourself to the ocean or the land, you have to spend time in it, you have to be a part of it. So for me, connecting to the ocean is surfing, and other people it's fishing or maybe like diving, just spending time in the ocean, getting a relationship with it. Because as Native Hawaiians, the ocean is just as much our home as land. And when we are connected to the ocean, the land, each other, Ke Akua, that is as close as we're gonna get to being in lōkahi, which is harmony, unity. And that's every goal for a Native Hawaiian and I feel like I am in lōkahi because of surfing.
This interview aired on The Conversation on Feb. 10, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.