If you didn’t immediately recognize them from the magazines or large posters on the walls of local surf stores, you would hardly guess the Doherty girls to be anything but happy young blond girls passing by in the grocery store or sitting at the adjacent table in the restaurant.
But Lani and Kulia Doherty are active members of a new generation of female athletes. And they are very young, especially considering the extent of their experiences with contests and what it takes to become a professional.
Both girls have competed in around 50-60 contests each and have done very well in them. They’ve also acquired many sponsors, such as Roxy, Surf Co., Da Kine, Dick Brewer XTR Surf Boards, Greek Surf Boards of Huntington Beach, Turbo Tunnel Fins and Reef. Yet their genuine joy in the sport and total lack of conceit is readily apparent.
“We love to surf because it’s so fun just to ride the waves,” said the Doherty girls. “[We love] to do lots of maneuvers, to make turns and to be out in the action and see friends.”
Recently, Lani received first place in a contest while competing against only boys in the Menehune division. Since then, the contest organizers have made separate divisions for the male and female competitors.
“I really like competing because I like to be out with only five other people,” said Lani. Her advice to other young rippers? “Have fun! That’s what it’s all about.”
I hung out with the girls one day checking surf spots, as we drove around in the Doherty’s SUV. The car was packed with many boards, preparing for any and all conditions, as well as the random necessities most surf vehicles require: fins, wax, rash guards, board shorts, bathing suits and naturally, sand.
As we talked about recent scary movies and shared shark stories, it became clear that Lani and Kulia are just young girls living a Maui lifestyle, and they just happen to be well-known sponsored surfers.
Everywhere we went, the Doherty girls were approached by their many supporters—whether it was by a popular fellow ripper like Bethany Hamilton at the NSSA contest, or by legendary fixtures of the surf industry like Woody Brown and Bob “Ole” Olsen at Mala Wharf. Yet despite all of the attention they received, the girls were always well mannered and considerate.
Although there have been many inspiring female surfers in past generations, there didn’t seem to be enough women in to create the kind of impact this new generation of young female surfers are now making on this once male-dominated sport.
“Surfing like a girl” no longer has the same stigma or negative connotation because of a new spotlight focusing on female rippers who are etching their own place within the surf community. Rippers like Lani and Kulia.
“Girls don’t surf like boys—much like girls don’t dance like boys,” said Lani and Kulia’s dad Mike, who has been surfing for over 45 years. “They have a unique style all their own that is amazing to watch.”
You might say these girls were destined to be water women, considering they were born about as close to the ocean as possible, without actually being in it. They grew up in Kuau and were in the water before they could walk—surfing before they knew any other lifestyle.
Lani has been surfing since she was five years old; now at the age of 12 she has immense talent and experience that is steadfastly paving her future in the surf industry. Her younger sister Kulia, age nine, has been surfing since she was four and also seems to be well on her way to becoming a huge icon in the world of water sports.
These young women have already become indelible figures, epitomizing surf pros with their faces plastered all over Roxy posters in surf stores and magazines. But most importantly, Lani and Kulia are part of a movement of young women who are ripping hard and catching the attention of everyone watching, subsequently changing the future of surfing, and redefining it with each passing day. MTW