Stories From Our 'Ohana: Meet Ha‘a Keaulana

Daughter of Mākaha


Our individual understanding of community has much to do with the way we were nurtured in our youth and the places we were raised. For Native Hawaiian surfer, photographer, and model Ha‘a Keaulana, community was a birthright. Granddaughter to iconic big-wave surfing pioneer Richard “Buffalo” Keaulana and daughter to big wave surfer and water safety expert Brian Keaulana, the Keaulana ‘ohana has been rooted on in Mākaha on the leeward coast of O‘ahu for generations. Today, the Keaulanas are regarded as ambassadors of the community.


“Community is being connected,” says Ha‘a Keaulana. “It’s not a zip code or area. It’s understanding and sharing the same values, the aloha spirit, always giving back and not expecting anything in return when you give.”


Ha‘a has a special bond with Mākaha and the ‘āina, one that directly connects her to generations of family and the community at large. In Hawaiian culture, the umbilical cord, or piko, symbolizes connections. It represents a mother and child’s special bond, a connection to life, to one’s ancestors, and to the land. Not long after Ha‘a was born, her father, Brian, made a ho‘okupu, a gift or offering, with Ha‘a’s piko. He set the offering in a special place on the reef at Mākaha, right below the spot where he sits in the ocean when the waves are 20 feet or bigger. With this offering, this act of connection to place and community, Ha‘a would forever be one with Hawai‘i, Mākaha, her ‘ohana, and her ancestors. It’s a tradition that the Keaulanas have been doing for generations.


In these trying times, Ha‘a is more thankful than ever for her strong connection to her community on the leeward side of O‘ahu and her extended ‘ohana across the globe. As much as she misses hanging out with friends, she’s filling her time by helping leeward residents stay safe in these troubling times, dropping off food and resources for elders in the community, and staying active in the water at Mākaha.


“As for my grandpa, my dad and myself, we’re spreading the word that right not is not the time to gather, even though we all miss each other,” Ha‘a says. “It's a good time to stay connected through the phone or social media because even though we’re isolated, we’re still connected. I think this will help us appreciate each other so much more by the time this is all done.”


With about 180,000 followers on Instagram, the 28-year-old is well aware of her responsibility as a rising influencer to honor her family’s legacy. Ha‘a is ever grateful of her heritage and proud to continue in her family’s footsteps of safely sharing their knowledge of Mākaha and Hawaiian culture with the world.


“I don't consider myself a community leader in their shoes yet, but I aspire to be there one day,” Ha‘a says. “Being raised around them taught me how to handle a lot of things and talk about it, too. Right now it’s all about making sure the community is protected and has the resources.”

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