Woman of Aloha - Aunty Rell Sunn

I can’t think of a better time to honor my fellow women. Maybe it’s my age, the current political times, or just women’s history month. It could be that I feel like we all need a little more Aloha in our lives, and what better way to bring it into our lives than to look to someone who lived Aloha. Whatever the reason, I have never wanted to honor and highlight my female heroine more. Well, that’s slightly untrue, I did write about her in my sophomore year of high school. Oh, what I would give to have that one-page paper entitled “My Hero.”

But, what is it that compels us, has us in awe, and puts these people in the Legend league? I’m not entirely sure. I do know that Rella Kapolioka'ehukai Sunn is a legend, and she is a legend to many here in Hawaii. She is the embodiment of Aloha, a fierce water women, community ambassador, and of course, a downright good woman.
Hawaii Made - Womens History Month - Aunty Rell Sunn
Affectionately known as Aunty Rell or Rell, she grew up surfing the waves off of Oahu’s coast. She had a cute little surf Hale, known to mainlanders as a house, out on Oahu’s Westside. Her home was open to all. Surfboards lined the walls and rafters, and were available for use by everyone and anyone who asked to borrow them. She paddled canoe and spearfished off her beloved coastline. But her fame outside of her Aloha Spirit is due to her surfing prowess. Her grace, comfort, and effortlessness in the water are credited to her many surfing titles. In her young age, Rell often competed against the boys since there were no surfing competitions for girls. And she often made it to the finals. In her adult years, she went on to help found The Women’s Professional Surfing Association with which she competed and traveled the world. When I was younger, there was a distinct quote of hers that I remembered, and that stuck with me through my high school years. In one of the articles about her, she mentioned sitting on the beach listening to the male surfers “talking story” and telling stories of their adventurous travels. While sitting there and listening, she said all she could think was, “I want to tell my tales. I want to experience my adventures. Why don’t women have this opportunity?” For me, it said so much about her character. In that one statement, she was my idol. Full of grace, strength, and drive—everything you need in life and everything you need to be a good water woman.

Rell loves her home on the Westside, known as Makaha, and she loves her community. She was Hawaii’s first female lifeguard. Credited with numerous rescues, Rell went the distance. She was as much there for her community as she was for those whose lives she saved. Oahu’s Westside is infamously impoverished monetarily, but by those means alone. It is a rough yet, rich with serene beauty. Rell recognized her communities’ uniqueness and its many challenges. When going to the beach, she would often bring as many surfboards as she could round up; allowing kids who didn’t have boards to surf. She also looked out for the kupuna, or elders, by volunteering at the local old folks’ home. But her legacy is best found in the surf contest that she established and surfed while diagnosed with breast cancer—a feat pure and straight from the heart. Rell couldn’t be stopped. When she had a plan, she did it. Not even breast cancer could prevent her from running her contest for the Keiki of her beloved community, Makaha.

Yes, Rell rocked at whatever she put her mind to, and yes, I think that makes a good woman. I know, I know, I can’t define what makes a good woman. I can’t put all of us into a box. But it’s Women’s History Month. I mean, no I won’t say a good woman is graceful, but she was. Nor will I say a good woman is caring (Rell was that too.) I am saying that a good woman is not bound. She has no boundaries but her will and her heart. She is driven and loving, and her love is not her weakness, but her power. It was Rell’s love that drove her, powered her to accomplish the things that she did. It enabled her to impact the number of people she touched. Through Rell's heart, she amassed a beautiful following. She trusted her heart and lived through her heart. She was a great woman and is a legend for us all to look up to. Let us live like Rell and bring more of that loving Aloha into the world.

Rell’s Definition of ‘Aloha Spirit’ “…Simple, really…You give and you give and you give…and you give from here (the heart), until you have nothing else to give.”

Thank you, Jeff Divine, for letting me use this beautiful photo of Aunty Rell in Tahiti, 1981.

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