T&C is proud to welcome the newest member of our surf ohana, Kaulana Apo. Hailing from Ewa Beach, Kaulana grew up happily traveling around the island with his Dad Inky, surfing North Shore, South Shore and everywhere in between, just living his best grom life. With strong support from both parents, he quickly excelled in style and technique and found early success in contests as well as sponsorships, landing his first sponsor at the young age of seven and was eventually picked up by Hurley at age ten.
With consistent wins at the NSSA level, and being selected to represent team Hawai’i at the ISA World Junior Surfing Championship, along with a solid standing in the WSL Junior Pro rankings, Kaulana was more than comfortable in competition and had his eye set on the World Qualifying Series (WQS) and beyond. At 17 he entered his first WQS event at Ala Moana Bowls and made it all the way to the final, leaving behind a field of top pros and legends. He was also named by Hawaiian powerhouse Zeke Lau as one of the next big talents to come out of Hawai’i.
But the contest grind at that age is brutal, and Kaulana’s final year competing in NSSA, the ISA Games, while doing the Junior Pro tour and trying to earn points on the QS all seemed to happen at the same time, and the fatigue that many pro surfers deal with became all too real. As years of nonstop contests took its toll, Kaulana found himself surfing less for the fun of it and looked for breaks in the rigorous schedule but found none. He eventually looked to a path that many young men take, and joined the military. Kaulana explains, “After the Bowls event, I kinda drifted on my own, started hanging out with a different crew…and over time you start to surf less and less. I started to develop some bad habits, kinda got carried away and felt like I really needed a positive change.”
For Kaulana, the military was not just the change he was looking for, but a guaranteed career, and coming from pro surfing’s make-or-break profession that is highly individualistic and comes with zero guarantees, the opportunities and team support the armed services offer looked highly appealing to the young Hawaiian. “I didn’t talk to anyone about it really, I just kinda sent it.” He laughs and continues, “I mean, I talked to my parents about it and they were okay with it, they supported me. In the end it wasn’t the environment for me, it was such a drastic change and I ended up getting out early on good terms. I learned a lot from it, both bad and good, but I try to hold on to the good things like fitness, self discipline, time management, meeting expectations or goals. I mean, we always kinda trained growing up but it’s different when you make it a part of your everyday life, along with eating healthy and living rightly, even if no one’s looking.”
“When I came home I had to kinda restart,” Kaulana explains. “I didn’t have a job, hadn’t surfed in years, didn’t even have surfboards. Some friends were stoked to see me, but I was kinda just like, ‘okay, what do I do?’ So I got a construction job, and did that for a while.” Not finding fulfillment in the path he was on, Kaulana took some time off work and really focused on his mental and physical well being, prioritized a healthy lifestyle, and eventually found his way back to the water. He remarks, “I was trying to surf more and finally had time to surf. One day I posted a video of me surfing and Uncle Jake Mizuno called me late that night and said, ‘What are you doing? Get all your stuff together, drive to Sethy’s (Moniz) and go stay there.’ And I said, I hadn’t hung out with those guys in years, and he said, ‘Well, you’ve known them your whole life and they’re all there waiting for you.’” Kaulana continues, “I was a bit nervous at first, it took me a day or two to reach out to the boys but once I did they were like ‘come over!’ I went over to Seth’s house, this was back in September, and I’ve been there ever since. It’s been…” Kaulana pauses, “I owe that guy everything. For how much he’s done, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay him. I’m sure he doesn’t see it that way, but…for me now, my life’s mission is, obviously to make my family proud of me, but it’s also to make him proud, and to live up to what I preach now, that’s healthy living and staying fit, becoming a better surfer and a better person.”
Kaulana picked up right where he left off with the crew of friends he grew up surfing and competing with, Seth Moniz, Josh Moniz, Noah Mizuno, and Benji Brand, to name a few. He says, “When I got back it was almost like a little reunion. A lot of the boys started all hanging out again and from the first day we all got together no one stopped. The first day we all hung out it was so fun having everyone back together. The second day, it was just normal, like I had never left.”
Kaulana’s first winter back, his goal was to simply help his new roommate Seth Moniz in any way he could, to prepare for competition at the elite level of the World Championship Tour. Kaulana would attempt to impart a lot of the fitness disciplines he learned in the service and planned to just be in his friend’s corner, so to speak. He explains, “We were training and all that but at one point Seth said to me, ‘You need to surf. That's what your thing is, that’s what we do.’” Kaulana continues, “He basically told me all this other stuff is cool, he’s super grateful, and hopes we can still do it…but would rather have me in the water with him than in the gym.” (laughs) He adds, “So Seth and I went through his boardroom and he’s like, ‘use this board, use this board, use that board,’ and says to me, ‘okay, this winter, we’re gonna go for it. You’re gonna surf pipe, you’re gonna be out there every swell…at dark, (laughs) and you’re going to make a statement this winter and make sure everyone knows you’re back.’ And so, the first pipe swell of the season…I remember the day, I was kinda wigging out all day, like, I don’t know if I can do it. So we surfed somewhere else that day and checked it in the evening and he (Seth) was like, you’re out there, it’s firing! So, I got out there and never caught a wave for like two hours, paddled for plenty but never pulled trigger on any of them. And I just remember him kinda talking to me in the session telling me like, ‘you’re good enough to make these waves, you just gotta know that.’ And the next wave that came in, we were all there together and they’re all just looking over like, okay this is it, you gotta go! So I went.
Photo Credit: Ryan "Chachi" Craig
Didn’t end up making the wave, it clamped at the end, but I guess everything lined up with the photo and it ended up being the cover of Freesurf Magazine.”
As the winter unfolded Kaulana became more and more comfortable in the water and lineup. He says, “I was having a pretty good winter, surfing every swell, getting waves, and getting pretty confident at pipeline. This one day I pulled up and was by myself, just had Cole Yamane with me, and pipe was not perfect. It was big and shifty and kinda had teeth that day, I swear it was so wild. I called Shayden Pacarro. I just needed someone to surf with, because before that, every session had been with all the boys. I was pretty scattered, it took me so long to paddle out. As I got out to the point I remember just turning my board sideways and just sitting there and wanted to watch it for a bit. And then not even five minutes into the session this wave came. I saw Flynn Novak paddle for it and then the wave kinda died out right there and then it jacked up again, this time right in front of me. I was still sideways on my board and was like, wow this is it, I gotta go. So I turned around and screamed my head off because there was so much water in my eyes I couldn’t see, I was just like aaaahhh hoping no one went. And then…yeah, it worked out…ended up being the wave of my life (:16 mark, 2nd wave).”
The humble Hawaiian attributes these recent victories to the support of his friends. Kaulana exclaims, “It’s crazy the things you can accomplish together and individually, when you’re working together and supporting each other. When I was in the military and even when I got back I had this weird anxiety that would just kinda stay with me, and did, until I was back with all my friends, doing the things we always did growing up. That’s when I knew this is where I’m supposed to be. It was like, the place I left to go find something else was where I was supposed to be all along.”
A sense of belonging is so important. As surfers, we sometimes need to step outside of our bubble, our community, our ohana, to view it from a different perspective and appreciate how blessed we are. This became even more apparent to Kaulana at the recent WSL Qualifying Series event at Ala Moana Bowls. He says, “A few years ago there was no way that I thought that I could hang out at a contest. But coming to the bowls event a few weeks ago was one of the best things ever. I saw my whole childhood pretty much, from the kids that were younger to the kids that were older, their parents…and it was like a time travel back to who I really was. It made that sense of belonging way stronger and more clear and through that I know this is where I should be.”
When talking about his new partnership with us at T&C, Kaulana exclaims, “T&C is a classic. They’ve made history in Hawai’i. It’s an honor to be on the team with guys like Bam (Kekoa Bacalso). I grew up always looking up to him. He’s always been there for us whether it’s coaching or surfing or just being a cool role model. And he rips so hard. And legendary shapers like Glenn Pang and Makani. I grew up surfing Kewalos with Uncle Makani, so to be riding his boards now is pretty cool. And he rips too. He’s a goofy footer too so gotta root for the goofy footers haha.” He adds, “I’m excited about working with new shapes and T&C’s wide range of boards, twin fins and retro shapes. I’ve worked with Noah (Mizuno) so much, he’s helped me so much on technique and flow and speed and drawing different lines. It’s hard because I’m in a weird toss-up with where I should go, because some days I’m like, ‘I need to be on a twin-fin’ and some days I’m like, ‘if I had my shortboard I would have been on it.’ So I’m kinda at this crossroad. It would be fun to work on a board that’s somewhat in the middle. That has the look of that cruisy flow state of freesurfing but the functionality of high performance surfing. That would be my biggest goal.”
T&C President, Ryan Sugihara exclaims "I'm excited to have Kaulana Apo as part of our Surf Team. His surfing reputation made me inquire within our community about him. After learning more and speaking with him in person I felt he'd be a good fit. It's important to have people with similar drive and a love of surfing on our team. The T&C Surfboard Team is excited to work with him to create a quiver of boards to bring his surfing to the next level. We look forward to seeing what we can do together."