Professional surfer Moanalani Jones Wong is believed to be one of the best females to ever surf the legendary Banzai Pipeline, also known as Pipeline or Pipe, on Oʻahu’s North Shore.
Now Jones Wong is charging into her next epic distinction: She will be the first graduate of the University of Hawaiʻi–West Oʻahu’s Bachelor of Applied Science-Hawaiian and Indigenous Health and Healing (HIHH) program.
“It feels surreal,” said the recently married Haleʻiwa resident. “It’s been a long and difficult journey, and I can’t believe I made it. This is huge for me.”
Jones Wong is one of 369 spring 2021 graduates who will be celebrated at UH West Oʻahu’s Virtual Commencement Ceremony on May 8.
“Moana’s graduation is the culmination of many years of work and planning across the university,” said Kauʻi Baumhofer Merritt, assistant professor of Indigenous Health Sciences at UH West Oʻahu. “The mere existence of the HIHH program is evidence of the university’s commitment to making steps towards creating an innovative and Indigenous sense of learning on our campus.”
The HIHH concentration, which was introduced in fall 2019, strives to create a pathway for the dissemination of traditional healing knowledge and skill that will serve as a model for other Indigenous groups.
‘Surfing is my passion’
In February 2019, surf publication Stab magazine published the article, “She’s the best female Pipe surfer…ever!’ says Jamie OʻBrien. The piece introduced the then-19-year-old “Pipeline charger” with high praise from professional surfers OʻBrien and Barron Mamiya. In January 2021, Jones Wong ranked No. 1 in the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing Pipeline-Women’s competition.
Jones Wong, who was homeschooled, enrolled at UH West Oʻahu in summer 2016.
She originally majored in biology, then took a class taught by Merritt called HLTH 204: Introduction to Native Hawaiian and Indigenous Health and Healing, which explores health and healing practices of Indigenous island people from a historical, economic, community, clinical and policy perspectives.
“I changed majors despite me being a junior in bio(logy),” Jones Wong recalled. “I just loved everything about Hawaiian health and healing, and I wanted to learn more about it.”
As part of her graduation requirement, Jones Wong recently presented her senior project titled, “Surfing: More Than a Sport.” Surfing, she shared, healed her of many things.
“Surfing is my passion,” said Jones Wong, 21, who has been surfing since she was a little girl. “I feel so connected to my culture, my ancestors, and the ocean when I am out there. Surfing gave me my identity. It empowered me. In my hardest times I found peace in the ocean.”
Her senior project was about how surfing empowers Native Hawaiians to connect to their culture. It was a topic Jones Wong, who is part Hawaiian, was happy to write about and present, because many people don’t talk about it and don’t realize how significant surfing is to Native Hawaiians.
“It is much more than a sport to us,” she said.
Looking to the future
Jones Wong said she will be able to apply her HIHH degree to her future endeavors, whatever they might be.
“Basically I can use Hawaiian health and healing (HHH) in my daily life, so I am sure whatever I choose to do, my HHH will go along with it,” she said.
And whatever her next goals are, she knows she is prepared thanks to her experience at UH West Oʻahu. As commencement nears, Jones Wong said she wants to encourage future graduates of UH West Oʻahu to never give up on themselves, try their best, and know that God will do the rest.
“My journey to graduate was not easy,” said Jones Wong, who recalled getting some bad grades over her five-year collegiate career. “But I realized it doesn’t matter how you start, it matters how you finish. Don’t get discouraged. …UH West Oʻahu rules!”
There is an effort to raise $3,000 to create an annual Hawaiian and Indigenous Health and Healing Scholarship Fund through the UH Foundation to support HIHH students at UH West Oʻahu. To make a contribution or learn more, click here or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
—By Zenaida Serrano Arvman