Your legacy and spirit remain so alive here. Although I never had the utmost honor of meeting you in person, your imprint on society has influenced my life tremendously. And with each new day, I seek to know your legend further, and represent it humbly.
I’ve heard tales of your nature: an exceptional human being, divine, and happily dedicated to a life of service. A woman in love with the sea, others say. You transcended the bodily form, and before doing so, you left an example for all of us on how to live a life in harmony with others and our surroundings.
I recently spoke to my mentor and dear friend of nine years, Rochelle Ballard. One day I said to her, “I’ve started asking myself, ‘What would Rell do? What would Rell think?'” Rochelle replied, “I’m so happy you are thinking this way, Leah. I started keeping those exact words in my conscious while I was on tour. There’s no better role model for us than Rell. If we live like her, we will make a difference.”
I’ve pondered, Rell. What would you think of women’s surfing today? Would you be proud of where the culture and industry have evolved? What would you do to make it better? Whatever it is, let’s strive for that.
In many ways, I imagine you’re very proud of us women, who spend our lives in the sea, riding waves. Women all across the Earth are celebrating in the ocean, feeling that same sense of awe that you so poetically lived. The technicality of women’s surfing has continued to grow, too.
I often watch footage of you, and I recognize that you were a surfing goddess. There was no comparison of your surfing to men’s surfing. It was so different. It was a dance. It was feminine in every sense of the word. It was powerful. It was controlled. Your grace in the sea was evident. Every photo looks as if you are in absolute celebration of the ocean and of life. What’s more beautiful than that?
But where’s the current unity of the female surf community you helped create? I feel we have waned in our identity, allowing the male voice to dictate the story of surfing that the world hears. What story do you want to hear of women’s surfing? What would make you proud? We have an opportunity to bring together the female surf community again and continue our story with our own voices.
During your time here, you shared aloha, togetherness, joy, harmony, stewardship, selflessness, dedication, strong will, fearlessness, grace, and courageousness while living in the now. And though your life on earth shifted form earlier than expected, your influence here is eternal. You were in love with the ocean. You knew it gave you life. You saw it as your medicine, and you were grateful for every single second you spent in the heavenly salt water bath. You were a student of the sea. You knew every fish and its name. You knew each cave and its depth. And each wave and its energy.
You stood up for women’s rights, and we owe much of women’s professional surfing to you and your dedicated work. Heck, you helped establish a women’s competitive surfing circuit. You didn’t compare men and women. You recognized each had their purpose. You saw everyone as human, and to you, that alone meant that everyone was special—that every life was a gift.
You weren’t scared of the extreme poverty and crime that surrounded you. Rather, it inspired you to exercise your passion to be of service to those around you. You were the safe house. You saved kids’ lives and rescued them from drug-ridden communities. You showed them how special life is by uniting them with the gift of the ocean. You prescribed the medicine of the sea to countless youth, a wise doctor of love you were.
Your graceful motherhood molded you into a pure mothering role model for all of the world. Your writing was so truthful and entertaining. You took kids all around the world, introducing to them the awe-inspiring world of surf travel. Your kids’ surf contest you started still runs every year in your dear honor.
You never stopped working and sharing your passion through the day you passed. You battled breast cancer with elegance, you didn’t act like a victim. You lead a cancer center, offering support to others who were dealing with the same challenges you were. Yet, how did you cope, Rell?
You outspokenly felt the support of the sea. You felt it so powerfully that you lived through your entire battle gracefully finding the sea everyday for your medicine. Your solace.
For all these reasons, I strive to be Rell-ish. If there was a religion, I’d recite your scriptures and be a devotee—a disciple of yours. I’d dedicate to sharing the truths you have taught us. You are an example of feeling spiritual. I know GREAT change can be created if our current surfing society evolved together to live your legend. They’d give back and treat every wave as a gift.
Earlier this year, I was looking on the website in honor of your life. I was going through your stories and photos. “Aunty Rell with her friends… Aunty Rell at Makaha.” Then there was a photo of a turtle, a honu. And next to it was a caption, “Aunty Rell.” I’m aware of the incredible Hawaiian theology of Aumakua; our ancestors embodying different animals. Our spirit guides our high conscious.
Since I saw that photo of the turtle, every time I have thought of you while out surfing in the seas of Hawai. Within a minute or two, a turtle always swims right up to me. Indeed, there are many turtles in the Hawaiian oceans, yet for the consistency for one to swim straight to me directly after my thoughts of you, I feel the essence of Aumakua more than ever. I feel energy in every cell of my body.
For those of the women who are aware of you, we know your spirit is available to us. We strive to make you proud, and continue sharing your legend with those who don’t know about your exceptional life. We strive to continue your encouragement for women and men to feel their own unique connection with ocean. To ride waves the way that brings them the most joy. We strive to be a living example of community and wisdom as you were. May we return to the ocean and our environment with the love it constantly shares with us. You did, every single day of your life.
I’ll forever hold you as a spirit guide. I’ll forever appreciate the ocean, knowing how much you did. If I could meet anyone in history, it would be you. You’re a hero. An angel. A master.
I recently had a conversation with another one of my heroes and dear friend of yours, Gerry Lopez. He was recalling his early stories of growing up surfing in Hawaii. I asked him about you, and about Duke.
He elaborated excitedly something to the like:
“Duke used to hang on the beach with all of us kids during some of the events. He seemed larger than life, and he got a kick out of us. He was a big role model, and he recognized that Rell had something special about her even when we were young. She was a very talented surfer, even as a teenager. Duke carried around a business card, with a picture on the front. On the back it read, ‘In Hawaii, we greet friends, loved ones, or strangers with aloha, which means with love. Aloha is the key word to the universal spirit of real hospitality, which makes Hawaii renowned as the world’s center of understanding and fellowship. Try meeting or leaving people with aloha. You’ll be surprised by their reaction. I believe it, and it is my creed. Aloha to you. – Duke Paoa Kahanamoku.’ Rell… is Aloha.”
Gerry was silent for a while after that. I was too. I am forever in awe and grateful for you, dear Rell. I’ll always see you in the sea. Aloha,