Surfer Girl Waipi‘o: U‘ilani MacabioFor U‘ilani Macabio, honoring Waipi‘o Valley for its history, stories, and cultural reverence takes precedence over the waves at this special place. That is why the 35-year-old, goofy foot makes sure to honor this ‘āina (land) with oli (chant) before driving down to go surf. U‘ilani is a hula dancer with Hālau Nā Kīpu‘upu‘u under the leadership of Kumu Hula Micah Kamohoalii. Furthermore, she is a social studies and Hawaiian language teacher at Honoka‘a High School. U‘ilani understands the importance of cultural protocol and sense of place when she goes surfing with her ‘ohana (family) at Waipi‘o Valley.
She is a mother of two sons, who surf, and her kāne (man) is a surfer as well. In addition, U‘ilani is a canoe paddler, competing with Kawaihae Canoe Club for many years. Paddling. Teaching. Hula. Surfing. Parenting. U‘ilani has a lot on her plate, but that makes her appreciate those moments in the surf and memories of her family even more.
U‘ilani was first introduced to Waipi‘o by her aunties, who would go down there to help out at Uncle Kia Frondaʻs lo‘i (irrigated terrace, especially for taro). Nowadays, when Waipi‘o Valley is firing, youʻre going to see U‘ilani riding her 5ʻ11” The Flash model shaped by John Pyzel. Most likely, youʻll see her ‘ohana there as well. Waipi‘o is a surf break that is constantly changing. As a local at this dynamic surf spot, U‘ilani will tell the importance of being respectful, mindful, and observational when youʻre at Waipi‘o.
Q: What was your first experience at Waipi‘o Valley?
A: My first introduction to Waipi‘o was helping out in the lo‘i, and surfing [at Waipi‘o] was probably not until eighth or ninth grade when we could holoholo (cruise) a little bit more. Waipi‘o is a place of history, mo‘olelo (myth, legend), and genealogy. I have the utmost respect for this place. So mahalo-ing (thanking) certain things as we drive down; making sure that we honor certain things as we drive down; it makes the whole experience different. Right? More different than any other spot, I think, because it has a history—that living story.
Q: How would describe the waves at Waipi‘o?
A: Sometimes it can be super gentle, and sometimes it can be super gnarly. It's always changing. Itʻs so diverse because it changes in moments or days. Itʻs a place to use your observation skills before you go out. Just know that if you have trouble, just catch a wave and try to catch it in. You know, my son surfs there, but he knows where to go. So if you're learning to be a person that is able to observe and take note of what's happening, then that's the place to go because you're constantly learning what's happening in the situation. Some days it will be really gentle, easy-easy. Some days it will be barreling and bowling where you’ve got to paddle hard and pull into the barrel. Some days it will be super slamming like a slab. Some days weʻre lucky with a nice east or trade swell, and the winds die then itʻs a perfect right. Then on the big north [swell], itʻs awesome lefts too.
Q: What do you want people to know about going down to Waipi‘o Valley?
A: So if anything—about Waipi‘o—I would say just be respectful and mindful because this place has been feeding people for thousands of generations, and so it's a blessed place. If you don't go down with that respect or that mindfulness, then youʻre just really ruining it for everybody else.
Q: Respect is important in the ocean for sure. How is Waipi‘o constantly changing as a surf break?
A: Once you get to the beach, it looks beautiful, but the water can always change in a moment. So it's diverse in personalities. Some say surf spots will change over time, over years, but Waipi‘o changes in a moment of time. Currents can change not only by the way the tide goes, but sometimes, if it's raining hard up at the top of the river, it will change the current entirely. And so, paying attention to the elements is super important at Waipi‘o. I think a lot of people see the beauty, and they jump right in, and then sometimes people gotta save people. There's no lifeguard down there. Being in the ocean at Waipi‘o is like no other because you have the pali or the cliffs on both sides, and you have the back view of the valley. When the offshore wind blows, you can see the beautiful rainbows of the waves. It's a shorebreak, and sometimes it could be a point break. You could go all the way down to the end and there's a different wave down there. You can go all the way down to another end and there's another wave down there. It all depends on the swell. Waipi‘o has been a teacher for me for forever. It teaches me patience and to honor moments because the moment will change super fast.
Q: Youʻre a social studies and Hawaiian language teacher at Honoka‘a High School. When did you realize that you wanted to be a kumu?
A: I believe the moment I wanted to be a teacher was in college, knowing that what I do and what I say can affect not only the now but the future as well. That is when I realized I wanted to be a kumu (teacher). [As a young kid in school] I was the kolohe (rascal)—one that didn't want to sit in the classroom. Now, I know that I can make teaching fun, where we can go outside. We can do hands-on. We can do kinesthetic work. We can do experiments.
Q: Youʻre a teacher, a hula dancer, canoe paddler, surfer, and mother of two. Why is it important to pass down the culture to the next generation?
A: It is important to pass down the culture and the language, but more so the idea of Aloha. Aloha meaning that it is a way to express our actions. I think a lot of people just say, “Aloha, Aloha.” Yeah? But to me, if they not going to speak Hawaiian, then it's okay. If they not going to want to carry on the practices or cultural traditions that our family has, or what I was taught, then that is okay. But as long as they have Aloha to themselves, to their family, to their community, and to the world, then I think it's okay. Going back to surfing, it doesn't matter if they want to surf or not. It's the idea of loving the ocean, respecting the ocean, and taking care of the ocean that is more important. The same thing goes with the land. Itʻs more important to take care of it than to destroy it. To me, those are the most important things.
Q: How does paddling canoe help your surfing?
A: I paddle with Kawaihae Canoe Club, and Iʻve been paddling there for a really long time. I have these amazing women that I paddle with. There's a lot of us, maybe 12 of us, but we've been together for a long time. We've won States [championship]. Weʻve won moku (island) championships, and we were very close to finishing in the top three of the Wahine O Ke Kai, which is the hardest training that we probably go through every year. Paddling has helped me in surfing by the conditioning. So making sure my cardio is up, making sure I'm doing my breathing techniques, which we've learned to do Wim Hof. It helps not only my conditioning, but to pay attention to my surroundings constantly.
Q: What does it mean to be a wahine (woman) in modern surf culture?
A: The reason why I love surfing is the freedom and ability to be in the ocean and connect. So, today, being a mom, working and the commitments to all kinds of different things: mom things, hālau (house for hula instruction) things, and then paddling with my paddle sisters. You know, life is busy. But the moments you get in the ocean surfing, or the moments you get surfing with your family, it may not last forever, but those memories last forever. Surfing is searching for that moment and the experience to have that connection with the ocean. Then if we have ‘ohana, surfing with them and loving those moments, cherishing those moments, itʻs more important than anything else.