Installment number two in a week long look at women’s surfing. Today we have Kauai Girl, Keala Kennelly.

By far the most lively of the bunch, Keala Kennelly simply ruled our yacht. The girl who sports a shock of bright white hair lugged her DJ setup halfway across the globe, and thank god she did, because without it we would have had a tough time dancing and getting crazy all night, every night. In the water, KK was an absolute terror-pulling in on closeouts over dry reef, launching massive airs, and charging barrels nobody else wanted a piece of. A very inspirational woman to say the least.

During our onboard Fourth of July party, I caught up with Kala Alexander of the Wolpak and got his thoughts on his fellow Garden Isle resident.

Kala: I think she surfs like a man and that’s the best compliment you could give a woman surfer.

TransWorld Surf: Have you seen her pull into some big barrels?

Kala: Fuck yeah, all of her life she’s been doing that. I’ve known her since she was a baby and her dad pushed me into one of my first waves when I was three years old—we go way back. She’s an individual, she surfs because she loves it, not because everyone else is doing it. What I like about her is her individualism and she doesn’t take shit from anybody, and that’s what Kauai people are all about.

Keala Kennelly

TransWorld Surf: Where do we begin? All the girls mention you right after Lisa when talking about influences. Who did you look up to when you were growing up?

Keala: When I was growing up it was me and Andy and Bruce. I looked up to them for everything. I wanted to skateboard like them, I wanted to ride bikes like them-we had a little bike club together, I wanted to surf like them, I just wanted to be around them all the time. I would do anything to hang out with those boys. They were really hard on me because I was a girl, but at the same time they let me hang out with them. I learned a lot and got strong from them because they pushed me so much.

Are you kind of like their sister?

Yeah, I pretty much am their sister. It was funny because they would do brother type of stuff like tell me to go on waves that they knew I was going to eat shit on, so they could have a laugh.

Is that why you still do that stuff?

Yeah, that’s where it comes from.

Did they teach you how to surf Teahupo’o in the same way?

We grew up surfing reef break barrels, and I wanted to surf the waves they surfed, all the gnarliest places, and get barreled like they were. I just tried to copy everything they did because in my opinion they were the best surfers in the world. My world was only as big as Kauai, but now they are the best surfers in the world, they proved it and I knew they would.

Women’s surfing. Where has it been, where is it now, and where is it going? I know it’s a loaded question but you’re a smart girl, you can handle it.

I can handle that. It’s been really restricted in the past. I think the new judging format, and all the new girls getting into it, has brought it to where it’s at today—super progressive and everybody’s ripping. When I started, I’d surf through the trials and there were girls who could barely do turns. Now, when you surf in a WQS event, you don’t want to be in the first round—you might get your ass knocked out. The level has gotten that high, and there are that many girls that are that good. We’re constantly pushing eachother. The young ones are unbelievable, they’re growing up with the boys, and they’re trying to surf like the boys. Actually, sometimes they’re beating the boys. I grew up competing against Andy and Bruce in the boys division, and I’d beat them once out of a hundred times.

So you’ve surfed in heats against those guys?

Oh yeah. Every contest they had, I’d surf in the boys division, even if they had a girls division, just because I wanted to try.

Try and whip some ass.

Try and whip their ass, they used to whip my ass pretty bad, but I beat them once or twice, here and there. They didn’t take ivery well in the beginning (laughs).

Do you still bring it up to them?

No. They bring it up now. Andy has even said it in videos, that I’ve beaten him in contests. He has no problem saying that and I think that’s so awesome.

Where is women’s surfing going?

It’s hard to say because the level is getting so high. I know the WCT is incredibly hard to get on and just as hard to stay on. I only see the number of women on the WCT expanding.

What about performance wise? Do you see a lot of girls following your footsteps and surfing big, gnarly waves?

That really depends on the girl herself and what desire she has inside of her. Also, a lot of it has to do with the contests themselves and where the tour takes us. As long as companies like Billabong keep having events at places like Teahupo’o, then yeah, girls will be forced to challenge themselves. I think that’s the most important thing, that we have events like that that are challenging. They bring on the aspect of pushing somebody to the limits in really critical waves. The minute you stop having contests in waves like that, the girls aren’t challenging themselves anymore, because they don’t have to.

I was a little…for the sake of my manhood, let’s say hesitant, a couple times yesterday, and you were just pulling in deep and getting spit out of barrels. What do you attribute that to?

Just growing up where I did. Growing up with the boys I grew up with.

You have no fear do you?

I’d be stupid to say I have no fear. I fear a lot of things. For somebody to say they have no fear they must not love their family or friends, or they must not have lost anybody close to them to know how painful it is. I fear dying, I don’t want to leave behind people to cry over me because the ocean took me.

I’ve seen you surfing pretty heavy Teahupo’o before. You’re not afraid of losing your life in conditions like that?

I get afraid, yeah. But that’s part of the thrill of doing it. I never want to put myself in a situation where I really think I’m going to die. I never want to push myself beyond my limit. I’ve been out at Teahupo’o before at times when I shouldn’t have. One time, and really almost cost me my life, scared me enough to know it was close. I got caught inside really bad, I thought it was six feet, but those were the small ones. Johnny Boy (Gomes) said the one that caught me inside was ten or twelve feet and super thick.

That’s not fun.

No. It held me under for two waves and scared the shit out of me. My life flashed before my eyes, my family, everything. I think the only reason I survived is because I didn’t think I was going to. I just gave up and went limp. As much as that scared the shit out of me, it’s amazing how much confidence you can get from surviving something like that. Seeing that wave coming towards me, I was sure I wasn’t going to survive, and when I did survive, it gave me a lot of confidence. I was like, “Hell yeah! I’m still here! It’s amazing how strong you really are, even stronger than you think you are.

Do you translate that attitude into your daily life? I mean, you own a home, and by all accounts you’re a very successful young woman.

I love being independent. I don’t want to count on anybody for anything. I think too many woman are waiting for a man to come rescue them and take care of them for the rest of their life. I never want to be that person. I love where I live because it’s a beautiful place by the ocean, and it’s also a city. Honolulu is a big city, and I have to live in a city because a city keeps me grounded. When I’m driving around and I see people waiting for a bus, homeless people sleeping in parks–that’s real, and that’s what can happen to you if you don’t persevere and have the will to succeed. I think too many surfers live this beautiful charmed life, they stay in these big beautiful houses that their sponsors pay for. They never see and appreciate where they are and how lucky they are. I think too much is taken for granted. I feel lucky everyday when I see people struggling. I have so many friends that are so talented, singers and songwriters, artists, all kinds of awesome talent and they’re working as waitresses and bartenders. You can have all the talent in the world and never make it. I’m lucky enough to have made something for myself and I feel grateful everyday for that.

So when you hire some dude to work on your house, do you judge him for his work or for how good he looks in his work outfit?

Actually, right now I’m getting my floor done.

Is that a metaphor for something?

No. My friend who used to coach me for Billabong is doing my floor, so it’s awesome to have somebody I’m close to and that I can trust doing that for me.

Who’s doing your pipes?

(laughs) The pipes are all good. The pipes are taken care of.

Do you have a plumber?

No, but I got the best birthday present ever from my father last year, he bought me a toilet. I use it everyday, it’s been the most useful present I’ve ever gotten.

Do you have a bode?

No, I don’t have enough room for one. I have a small apartment.

Where do you see women’s surfing going in the future?

Wherever the next generation is going to take it. I already see girls like Chelsea, Sofia, and Melanie Bartels stepping it up a level. They’re surfing so progressive and critical. That pushes the older girls as well. They’ve come onto the tour and given it that fresh look.

How many years have you been on the tour?

Seven years. I’ve been on it for a while. I started doing pro contests when I was sixteen or seventeen. In the beginning I wanted to do big airs and be really progressive, but I was being punished by the judges every time I would go for a big move and not pull it. I started to conform my surfing to contests and be more like the older girls on tour. It was very mechanical and I didn’t really like it. Now that we have all these young girls that are really progressive and going for it and being rewarded for it, it’s great for me and I’m trying to get back to my roots-being progressive again. It’s awesome to have girls on tour to share that with.

What’s a young man to do if he wants to approach Keala Kennelly at a bar or something?

First of all, don’t approach me at a bar because I’m going to be dancing and I’m not going to hear what you’re yelling in my ear over the music.

All right. What do you look for in a man?

I look for a guy that’s confident but just cool and wants to hang out and really get to know me, not just try and get into my pants. It seems like so many guys will talk to you, but not listen to you. They’ll do what they have to do to get what they want, and I hate that. I hate feeling like that gets done to me. I’m pretty protective of myself when it comes to that. I like tall guys with dark hair. I like European looking soccer boys.

Number thirteen on Italy?

Yeah, Nesta on Italia. (Laughs) He was hot, right?

If you’re out there Nesta, she’s looking for you!

Beckham. Hello? Looks aren’t everything though. Looks are what attract you in the beginning, like I’m attracted to Italian guys, or Latin guys or whatever, but if you’re a good looking guy but an asshole you instantly become so ugly to me. Whereas guys who aren’t really my type at all, just because they’ve been so cool, nice, and genuine, have become so attractive to me. It’s crazy.

Like myself.

Absolutely.

Enough about me. What do you mean by ‘toys not boys?’

(Laughs)

Is that your independent streak coming through?

That’s my independent woman thing. (Laughs) Sisters are doing for themselves. (Laughs)

Back to the toys.

Back to the toys thing? I spent a lot of years on tour where your out in the world, meeting a lot of people, hooking up in this country, that country, whatever. That’s fun for a mie and how lucky they are. I think too much is taken for granted. I feel lucky everyday when I see people struggling. I have so many friends that are so talented, singers and songwriters, artists, all kinds of awesome talent and they’re working as waitresses and bartenders. You can have all the talent in the world and never make it. I’m lucky enough to have made something for myself and I feel grateful everyday for that.

So when you hire some dude to work on your house, do you judge him for his work or for how good he looks in his work outfit?

Actually, right now I’m getting my floor done.

Is that a metaphor for something?

No. My friend who used to coach me for Billabong is doing my floor, so it’s awesome to have somebody I’m close to and that I can trust doing that for me.

Who’s doing your pipes?

(laughs) The pipes are all good. The pipes are taken care of.

Do you have a plumber?

No, but I got the best birthday present ever from my father last year, he bought me a toilet. I use it everyday, it’s been the most useful present I’ve ever gotten.

Do you have a bode?

No, I don’t have enough room for one. I have a small apartment.

Where do you see women’s surfing going in the future?

Wherever the next generation is going to take it. I already see girls like Chelsea, Sofia, and Melanie Bartels stepping it up a level. They’re surfing so progressive and critical. That pushes the older girls as well. They’ve come onto the tour and given it that fresh look.

How many years have you been on the tour?

Seven years. I’ve been on it for a while. I started doing pro contests when I was sixteen or seventeen. In the beginning I wanted to do big airs and be really progressive, but I was being punished by the judges every time I would go for a big move and not pull it. I started to conform my surfing to contests and be more like the older girls on tour. It was very mechanical and I didn’t really like it. Now that we have all these young girls that are really progressive and going for it and being rewarded for it, it’s great for me and I’m trying to get back to my roots-being progressive again. It’s awesome to have girls on tour to share that with.

What’s a young man to do if he wants to approach Keala Kennelly at a bar or something?

First of all, don’t approach me at a bar because I’m going to be dancing and I’m not going to hear what you’re yelling in my ear over the music.

All right. What do you look for in a man?

I look for a guy that’s confident but just cool and wants to hang out and really get to know me, not just try and get into my pants. It seems like so many guys will talk to you, but not listen to you. They’ll do what they have to do to get what they want, and I hate that. I hate feeling like that gets done to me. I’m pretty protective of myself when it comes to that. I like tall guys with dark hair. I like European looking soccer boys.

Number thirteen on Italy?

Yeah, Nesta on Italia. (Laughs) He was hot, right?

If you’re out there Nesta, she’s looking for you!

Beckham. Hello? Looks aren’t everything though. Looks are what attract you in the beginning, like I’m attracted to Italian guys, or Latin guys or whatever, but if you’re a good looking guy but an asshole you instantly become so ugly to me. Whereas guys who aren’t really my type at all, just because they’ve been so cool, nice, and genuine, have become so attractive to me. It’s crazy.

Like myself.

Absolutely.

Enough about me. What do you mean by ‘toys not boys?’

(Laughs)

Is that your independent streak coming through?

That’s my independent woman thing. (Laughs) Sisters are doing for themselves. (Laughs)

Back to the toys.

Back to the toys thing? I spent a lot of years on tour where your out in the world, meeting a lot of people, hooking up in this country, that country, whatever. That’s fun for a minute, but it gets old. I’m to the point right now where I’d rather not just hook up with random people. It’s unfulfilling.

Off the subject of sex, what do you have to say to the young girls coming up?

Don’t make surfing everything. Do well in school, because that’s really important. Too many kids get amped on the surfing thing and think that’s going to be their life and they lose track of their education. Another thing I would say is be ready to face a lot of adversity and jealousy. Like when I started discovering my talent, and winning, a lot of people that I though were my friends started getting weird and treating me different. There’re a lot of jealous people out there. There’re a lot of people that will hate on you. In the beginning I would get my feelings really hurt and I’d feel so alone. You just have to be stronger than that.

You seem like one of the most confident women I’ve ever met. What do you attribute that to?

Being hurt a lot.

Really?

Because what doesn’t kill you—only makes you stronger. I’ve had a lot of haters in my life and spent a lot of time alone. When you spend a lot of time alone you learn to depend on yourself. When you can be independent and love yourself, you can gain a lot of confidence.

What does Keala mean in the Hawai’ian language?

It means ‘sweet’. It also means ‘the path’ or ‘the way’.

That’s very fitting.

Thanks.

Anything else you want to add?

There wasn’t too much shrinkage (Keala ripped off my sarong mid dance party one night and exposed my private parts). I quite enjoyed slapping your bare ass. (Laughs)

You liked that didn’t you?

Yeah, is it red today?

I don’t have the flexibility to look but I’m sure it’s a bit red.

A bit rosy? I slapped you pretty hard.

I must admit, I liked it.

I was pretty impressed. Most guys go run and hide when I rip their sarongs off. You toughed it out.

It was cold out-remember that.

You’re funny as hell, witty.

This isn’t about me. Remember our rap battle of the sexes on your mic?

Yeah. That was cool. It’s all about the delivery, in everything.

Awesome. You rule K.K. a minute, but it gets old. I’m to the point right now where I’d rather not just hook up with random people. It’s unfulfilling.

Off the subject of sex, what do you have to say to the young girls coming up?

Don’t make surfing everything. Do well in school, because that’s really important. Too many kids get amped on the surfing thing and think that’s going to be their life and they lose track of their education. Another thing I would say is be ready to face a lot of adversity and jealousy. Like when I started discovering my talent, and winning, a lot of people that I though were my friends started getting weird and treating me different. There’re a lot of jealous people out there. There’re a lot of people that will hate on you. In the beginning I would get my feelings really hurt and I’d feel so alone. You just have to be stronger than that.

You seem like one of the most confident women I’ve ever met. What do you attribute that to?

Being hurt a lot.

Really?

Because what doesn’t kill you—only makes you stronger. I’ve had a lot of haters in my life and spent a lot of time alone. When you spend a lot of time alone you learn to depend on yourself. When you can be independent and love yourself, you can gain a lot of confidence.

What does Keala mean in the Hawai’ian language?

It means ‘sweet’. It also means ‘the path’ or ‘the way’.

That’s very fitting.

Thanks.

Anything else you want to add?

There wasn’t too much shrinkage (Keala ripped off my sarong mid dance party one night and exposed my private parts). I quite enjoyed slapping your bare ass. (Laughs)

You liked that didn’t you?

Yeah, is it red today?

I don’t have the flexibility to look but I’m sure it’s a bit red. A bit rosy? I slapped you pretty hard.

I must admit, I liked it.

I was pretty impressed. Most guys go run and hide when I rip their sarongs off. You toughed it out.

It was cold out-remember that.

You’re funny as hell, witty.

This isn’t about me. Remember our rap battle of the sexes on your mic?

Yeah. That was cool. It’s all about the delivery, in everything.

Awesome. You rule K.K.