• Daddy’s Little Sista

    Island surfer girl Kelia Moniz shares her aloha worldwide.

    Story — Anna Harmon
    Images — Charisa Gum

    “I went to school on the beach. We’d have to finish our homework before we could surf,” Kelia Moniz says over an açai bowl at a small shop where surfers often stop after hitting Queens or Canoes, familiar breaks on O‘ahu’s south shore. Her long, dark hair is up in a bun and has a hint of deep purple, and her smile is infectious. “I thought it was normal,” she says. She learned her arithmetic and history right in front of where she learned her surfing stance. While her parents worked endlessly to get their surf school, Faith Riding Company off the ground, they also home schooled her and her four fellow surfer brothers, Micah, Isaiah, Joshua, and Seth. She laughs, “When we got in trouble, we were sent to opposite corners of the beach for time-outs.”

  • Her father, former pro surfer Tony Moniz, learned to surf from his brother and uncles while growing up. He used to walk miles from Kalihi to Sand Island to catch waves. A few walks, competitions, and titles later, he ended up traveling around the world to surf and compete, sharing aloha and respect along the way.

    It’s Daddy Moniz who gave Kelia the nickname she still introduces herself by, “Sista,” and taught her to treat everyone with a similar respect. Plus, “he never forced me to learn how to surf,” she says. “It was always for fun. There are so many parents who push their kids and they get burnt out by the time they’re 12.”

  • In fact, Roxy discovered Kelia when she was just a 12-year-old carving it up in shortboard competitions. However, Sista eventually parted ways with boards under 6 feet and then, rejoined Roxy at 16 as a longboarder. She explains that in her dad’s time, female surfers trying to compete had to be agro and butch to be seen as up-to-snuff. Now, as the sport gains a wider audience and greater global acceptance, she’s eager to show the beauty and grace that also exists in surfing.

  • And one thing is certain: Kelia Moniz is up for the challenge. Her smile is broad and her iPhone is covered in sparkles, but now, she’s a recognized, worldwide face of Roxy with curves and charm quickly replacing her former childlike frame. At 18, she’s hit the coming-of-age brink, and is tempted to bare it all in edgier surfing magazines to show that the sport can be sexy as well as tough. Yet, for the moment, she still fits under her dad’s arm and fame.

    In fact, more than pro-surfing runs in their blood. The flame of fame that surfing draws is attracted to the Moniz’s, and tells of the obtuse glamour of the sport that draws others for its rawness and honesty — one man (or woman) and the ocean — and a few dozen cameras. Roughly 20 years ago, Madonna came to O‘ahu for a photo shoot, and hand-selected Tony Moniz, along with a handful of famous local surfers, to be shot alongside her. Just a generation later, Kelia travels the world not for surfing competitions, like her father, but for photo shoots. Not long ago, she was photographed in New York by a lensman who had just shot Nicki Manaj.

  • While we were heading to meet her dad at one of Faith Riding Co.’s locations, beachside of the Hilton, she calls to remind him: “Don’t forget to put your makeup on.” On the way to and from her car, a shiny BMW, she runs into several old friends and exchanges friendly kisses on the cheek with Geodee Clark (one of her idols growing up who she has now competed against and is a fellow team rider for Hawaiian Island Creations. Later, they hit the waves together.) On the beach, friendly “hi sista”s abound.

    There is no doubt she is still a local girl, and despite all his travels, senior Moniz is the same. A stout man with a deep tan, a barrel chest, and the trademark family smile, he is kind to tourists and uncles alike, and obviously a big fan of Sista.

  • And while he’s her original fan base, he’s far from the only one. “I get to share surfing with the world,” Kelia says. “It’s amazing.” She has teen girls in the landlocked U.S. following her on Twitter, exclaiming that they love surfing even though they’ve never been. They live vicariously through the beautiful shots of a determined, tanned Sista hanging ten, and smiling in Spain alongside fellow Roxy surfer chicks.

    “Do you think you’ll end up here in Hawai‘i?” I ask her, knowing that she has traveled everywhere from Bali to France and aspires to be a designer for Roxy or a manager for the next generation of surfing talent someday. But her answer is a solid yes: “It’s still my home.”

    Learn more about Kelia Moniz at keliamoniz.com and Faith Surf School at faithsurfschool.com