The following excerpt is from Matt George’s Surfer magazine profile of Keala Kennelly. To read the provocative profile in its entirety go to your favorite surf shop or newstand and pick up Surfer magazine volume 43 Issue #8 or click here to subscribe.
My name is Keala Kennelly and I have a story that no man wants to hear. Because I am a woman in the world of professional surfing. I am supposed to be invisible. And yet I see and feel and love exactly the same things you assholes do. Probably more.
She has to. Because you guys have made it so damn hard for her to love anything. Especially herself. Think about that next time you’re looking down your insecure noses at her. Yeah, I know she doesn’t look and act like some piece doing a pole dance at a strip club. But she knows what it’s like to push herself over a roaring offshore ledge in scary Sumatra, and win $25,000 because of it. She’s won contests at Teahupoo. She’s ridden deep at Pipeline, just like you–better than you. She’s taken horrible wipeouts; a two-wave hold-down in Tahiti. Almost drowned a few times. She’s risked her life, surfing desperately for the money that no one else on earth is ever going to give her. She’s earned her stay here on earth–all 24 years–The hard way. All alone. With absolutely no help from you. That’s why she knows what it’s like to win against impossible odds. Because that’s what she’s been doing out there. Trying to win. Trying to be something. Trying to rise up in man’s world that doesn’t even want her. To rise up and love and laugh and dance through life a winner. Who could possibly hate someone, anyone, for wanting that?
Do you have any idea how Keala Kennelly grew up? In a spaceship. Or at least that’s what she thought. One of those geodesic domes that her hippie mom designed. A mom that embarrassed the hell out of her by sitting way up on top of the thing and meditating at all hours. Keala got teased a lot for that. That and for being a white, blond chick growing up on Kauai. It was no easy road, especially since she had to raise herself as a boy. Thank God for Andy and Bruce Irons. Like brothers, they were her only peer role models. So she dressed like them and talked like them and tried her best to surf like them; actually beat them both in amateur contests at Pine Trees. Not too many people can say that. So, yeah, even though she was close to Brian, her dad, who taught her how to surf, she pretty much had to raise herself with no girls in her life.
Early on, her mom split. Took a hurricane to do it. Hurricane Iniki, September 1992. A Norfolk Pine karate-chopped the house. It was pretty much all Brian Kennelly had. He was gonna have to start over, so Keala’s mom, free spirit that she called herself, up and split. Keala came home from school one day and there was a “Dear John” letter for her on the bed. She doesn’t remember much from that note, except that it was pretty short. She remembers that.
So she toughed it out. Keala, brothers Gavin, Quest and dad. She wore surf trunks and t-shirts and stayed a boy and stayed on the honor roll at school, enduring the hell that was Kapaa High School on the East Side. Her first fight was with a boy. That opened the floodgate for the local “titta” girls and then came that defining moment against the big Samoan transvestite; Keala never lost a fight. Maintaining a 3.5 through the mayhem also meant she could surf as much as she liked.