For Moana Jones Wong, Surfing Is More Than a Career: "[It's] a Way of Connecting to My Ancestors"

Getty | Tony Heff; Pat Nolan
Photo Illustration: Michelle Alfonso
Getty | Tony Heff; Pat Nolan
Photo Illustration: Michelle Alfonso

Moana Jones Wong, 24, is considered one of the world's most accomplished Pipeline surfers. She grew up and lives in Oahu, HI, home of the Pipeline, and seemingly came out of nowhere in 2022 as a wildcard entry in the women's Billabong Pipeline Pro to win it all.

As part of POPSUGAR's series highlighting young athletes making their mark, Jones Wong reflected on winning Pipeline with no coach, how she stays grounded, and more. Read it all, in her own words, below. And to hear more athletes' stories, check out For the W.

My first surf contest I did, I was probably 5 years old. It was just a local surf contest at the beach where I learned to surf — Ali'i Surf Park. And it was really just for fun, and I ended up loving it; my dad was pushing me into waves and my grandpa was catching me before I hit the sand. After that, I didn't do a surf contest until I was probably like 8 or 9. I mostly just loved the ocean; I just wanted to surf all day, every day.

Nothing matters if I'm out there and catching good waves with the people I love.

As I got older, I started to take it more seriously and get more competitive. I wanted to be as good as my best friends, and they were all boys. So I was constantly trying to keep up with them and do everything they were doing. When they were catching bigger waves, I was like, OK, I have to start catching bigger waves. When they were surfing waves that I'd never surfed before, I was like, that's way out of my comfort zone, but I'm going to have to start surfing those waves, too.

When I started doing competitions more, I remember, many times, giving it my all and falling short. I remember crying a lot, because when I would lose, I would take it really personally. I really cared about doing well. But then I got older and I got pretty good at surf contests; I got better and better.

But I never had a coach. I never had what most professional surfers have — I never wanted it to be super stressful. I wanted it to be my happy place, my fun place. Some people make it super stressful and super hard. That's just never what I've been able to do, I've just always been like, "I can't be like that."

Like when I won the Pipeline, I never trained for that. I didn't have any special diet I was eating, I didn't have any coaching I was doing. I was just doing my normal daily routine and surfing pipe when I wanted to go surf pipe. The day that I won the contest, I woke up at 7 in the morning and I was eating a papaya, and I looked on my phone and was like, I wonder if they're going to run us today. And then I called the contest director and was like, "Are you guys going to run us today?" I did not think it was going to be on, but she was like, "Oh, it's on, you're on the first heat and it's starting in 20 minutes." Luckily, I live five minutes down the road, so I threw my papaya back in the fridge, grabbed my stuff, ran down the beach, put on my jersey, and the horn started and I was surfing. That's just my approach. I don't know if anyone else does that, but that's just me.

My typical day when the waves aren't firing — a day in the summertime, right now — I usually wake up around 7:30 or 8. My husband and I like to have a slow morning, and then I'll usually go make a nice breakfast. Then I'll go jump in the water and go for a surf or go work out or go hang out with some friends or work on getting content for my sponsors. Every week, I go to jiu jitsu with my sister, and then we go twice a week to hula. I spend a lot of time with the people in my community; I'm definitely a social butterfly.

This is a lifestyle, this is a way of connecting to the past, present, and future.

I think for me, I can put the pressure away because I already know what I've accomplished. I need to be proud of what I've accomplished with having no real help. I did it all on my own, kind of — with the help of my family, of course. After I won the Pipe Masters, all of a sudden I felt this pressure I'd never felt before. I think I was feeling that way because I was trying to make everyone else feel like I belonged to be on the championship tour. I was going to do whatever it took to prove to everybody that I do deserve this. And then I was like, you know what, I have nothing to prove. Recently, I decided, this is complete bullsh*t. I don't need to feel like this. I can be happy, I'm a badass. I'm just going to live my life and be happy.

Going out on the water and surfing, it really takes me to a place that is so peaceful and so calm. It gives me so much life when I'm out there — I don't know how to describe it any other way, but it just makes me feel so alive. Nothing matters if I'm out there and catching good waves with the people I love. That's all I need to be happy; it's what matters to me.

A lot of surfers turn surfing into a job. It no longer becomes this happy place, it becomes this stressful work environment where you're constantly out there on the water just trying to compete with everybody and trying to get clips for your sponsors.

That's not what surfing is about. Surfing is an ancient Hawaiian tradition. And this is so much more than a sport. This is a lifestyle, this is a way of connecting to the past, present, and future. This is a way of connecting to my ancestors, to the ocean. This is so much more than just a career to me.