The Right to Surf Under the Hae Hawaiʻi

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A new short film, MOHO, helps make the case for sending a Hawaiʻi Surf Team to the 2024 Olympics

By Daniel Ikaika Ito

For the first time in her career, surfer Carissa Moore was not allowed to compete under the Hawaiian flag. After winning the world’s first Olympic gold medal in surfing, Moore, a four-time World Surf League Champion, was chaired up Tsurigasaki Beach in Japan with the American flag draped over her shoulders.

Moore is a Native Hawaiian and one of the greatest ambassadors of aloha that Hawaiʻi has ever known or will ever see. Her surfing at the 2021 Summer Olympics was heroic and powerful. Normally, ka hae Hawaiʻi would be wrapped around Moore as she accepted victory; she has always competed under the Hawaiian flag.

But the 2021 Summer Olympic Games were different.

When surfing made its debut at the Olympics Games in Japan this summer, no Hawaiʻi Surf Team was included in the competition. In 2016, after decades of pressure from the International Surfing Association (ISA) – surfing’s governing body – the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that surfing would debut at the 2020 Summer Olympics. However, the IOC declined the request to allow a Hawaiʻi Surf Team to compete at the ISA World Games or the Olympic Games.

Legendary waterman Duke Paoa Kahanamoku first advocated for surfing to be included in the Olympic Games back in 1912 – the year he won his first Olympic gold medal for swimming in Stockholm, Sweden.

Since the inception of modern surf contests in the 1960s – when Kahanamoku was still alive – Hawaiʻi has always been recognized as its own nation in both professional and amateur surfing competitions around the world. This distinction allowed competitors from Hawaiʻi to compete under ka hae Hawaiʻi (the Hawaiian flag) and to honor the birthplace of heʻe nalu (surfing) and the ancestors who created the sport.

One can only wonder how Kahanamoku, the first Native Hawaiian Olympic Gold Medalist and godfather of modern surfing, would feel about the absence of a Hawaiʻi Surf Team at the 2021 Olympic Games.

This idea is explored in a short, animated film, “MOHO,” through the lens of a young Kanaka Maoli boy named ʻApo when the ʻuhane (spirit) of Kahanamoku returns to Waikīkī.

Moho means “champion” and ʻApo narrates the story of Kahanmoku’s athletic achievements and imagines how he would feel after learning that Native Hawaiians, who have always surfed internationally under the Hawaiian flag, were asked to surf in the 2021 Summer Olympics under America’s flag.

“The initial inspiration for ʻMOHOʻ was the Olympic Games and the representation of Hawaiʻi’s national pastime, surfing, on a global level,” said “MOHO” creator/writer/director and professional surfer Dr. Cliff Kapono.

“I feel like identity is a big part of my work – whether it’s science, storytelling, or surfing – so naturally the inspiration behind telling a story about Hawaiian identity and nationalism was second nature to how I think every day.”

MOHO Promo
The creators of a new animated short film, “MOHO,” hope that the film will help them to elevate the conversation about Hawaiʻi’s push to have its own Olympic surf team in the 2024 Olympic Games. In this scene, ʻApo encounters the spirit of Duke Kahanamoku. – Photo: Courtesy

“MOHO” introduces a Native Hawaiian perspective to past, present and future depictions of modern surfing. The film aims to elevate the conversation of surfing in the Olympics as well as bring international attention to Hawaiʻi’s push to have its own Olympic surf team in the 2024 Olympic Games.

“For me, just arriving collectively with this inoa (name) of ʻMOHOʻ for the film was very fitting because moho was the way Paoa (Kahanamoku) was described in the Hawaiian newspapers in the early 1900s,” Kapono said.

“Personally, I am not sure if that’s the common vernacular for champions, but ʻMOHOʻ is open for interpretation and there are many different levels of finding that moho throughout this film. Whether you believe Paoa is the moho or that ʻApo is the moho – at some point in the film, people can, hopefully, appreciate that the hae Hawaiʻi can be the moho. Truly, I believe this idea of Hawaiian identity is the moho of this story.”

In what can only be described as a blessing from the kūpuna, the small production team behind “MOHO” completed a six-month project in just over two months. The intent of this compressed timeline was to launch “MOHO” while surfing was making its debut at the Summer Olympics.

“In regard to production time [for a project like “MOHO”] we’d normally want at least six months,” says Animation Director Michael Ceballos of Twiddle Productions. “It’s all about working with the right people at the right time – and for us with this production everything aligned, and it allowed us to move forward.”

“We believe that everyone has the right to contribute to building a peaceful and better world through sports practiced without discrimination of any kind,” added Kapono. “We believe that the presence of a Hawaiʻi Surf Team at the 2024 Summer Olympics will celebrate the ancestors of surfing while also elevating the future of our sport.”


Please visit mohothemovie.com to watch “MOHO” and sign the petition to ask the IOC to recognize a Hawaiʻi Surf Team at the 2024 Summer Olympics, which will be hosted by France with the surfing portion of the competition held at Teahupoʻo, Tahiti.

Daniel Ikaika Ito is the executive producer of “MOHO.” Ito is a graduate of the Pacific Century Fellows, the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and Kamehameha Schools Kapālama. He became the first Native Hawaiian editor of a surf publication during his two-year tenure at Free Surf Magazine and is a seasoned surf journalist covering heʻe nalu for Surfing Magazine, ESPN, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Surfer’s Journal, and Contrast Magazine.