‘Hana Surf Girls’ benefits UCSB surf team

A small but hardcore crowd of surf fans cheered enthusiastically as the lights dimmed at UCSB’s IV Theater Saturday night, transporting them to the beautiful sunny beaches of Hana, Maui for a special screening of Russ Spencer’s “Hana Surf Girls.”

Hana, starring Monyca Byrne Wickey and Lipoa Kahaleuahi, premiered originally at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in 2010 but screened specially for UCSB students this weekend to raise money to support the UCSB Surf Team, of which Lipoa is a key member.

The documentary focuses on the tight-knit community of Hana, a small coastal Hawaiian town with a population of merely 2,000 people, as seen through the eyes of Monyca and Lipoa. The two girls have spent their lives in Hana and must face very separate futures.

Monyca wants to be a pro-surfer, and at the start of the film has just signed to be represented by Octagon. Lipoa on the other hand has enrolled at UCSB and is getting ready to begin her freshman year as a global studies major. Both paths require the girls to leave their friends, family, and Hana behind.

It becomes even more complicated for Lipoa, who must deal with cultural and familial hardship in her transition to the mainland. The film explores what it means to come of age in “the last truly Hawaiian place”.

The poignant film captures the fierce spirit of family and “mana” that the town of Hana encapsulates. From footage of the stunning coastline to a peek inside the yearly “family style” Hana Surf Games, the entire film rings with warmth and local character.

Local Santa Barbara director Russ Spencer of Bison Films said in a Q&A after the film’s screening that he was inspired to create a film about Hana after he vacationed there and was struck by the town’s beauty and kinship.

“There aren’t enough good, girl surf movies,” Spencer also said, “or surf movies in general. I wanted to make a movie with heart and soul.”

Since the making of the film Monyca has gained a full sponsorship with Nike and will be seen surfing in the upcoming Nike 6.0 movie. She has traveled the world surfing and is the first female pro surfer to come out of Hana.

Now a senior at UCSB, Lipoa and the rest of the surf team are gearing up to defend their title at this year’s NSAA Interscholastic College Championship. Last year the UCSB Gold Surf Team took first place in the college team division, and Lipoa took first place in the college womens division.

This year the UCSB surf team finished second place in the State Competition in March leading up to June’s nationals.

Lipoa studied abroad in Brazil last year and will be graduating from UCSB this June. She helped raffle off prizes and answered questions after the film’s screening. When asked what she’d like to do after college and if she’d be returning to Hana, she replied that she’d like to work for Teach For America.

She may not return to Hana immediately, but she does plan to go back since it is, after all, her home.