MEET: Kitesurfing Ripper and All Round Waterwoman Moona Whyte

Matt Rode

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Updated 14d ago

You may have noticed, but lately we have been getting into kiting—or, more specifically, kiters. They are just such interesting characters. They bridge the gap between surf and wind sports, chase conditions that we often turn our noses up at, and more often than not are great all-around waterpeople—just as good on a surfboard, foil board, or SUP as they are beneath a kite.

Take Moona Whyte, for example. While the Hawaiian waterwoman is best known for her three kiting world championships, she is equally talented on just about anything that floats. She shreds the small stuff, rides barrels like a boss, and is the only woman to have surfed the ultra-heavy, below-sea-level, right-hand sand point/slab most people refer to as “Natxo’s Wave.” She’s not at all intimidated in North Shore lineups dripping in testosterone, yet there’s no ego or macho vibe about her. Instead, she’s just a lovely girl who loves the ocean—and who has been busy living her best life.

Forecast: Hawaii

Now, that's a snap.

Now, that's a snap.

© 2020 - Damea Dorsey

As COVID-19 cases surged in Hawaii and the islands went back into lockdown this past week, we sat down with Moona to learn a bit more about her program, her roots, and her goals for the future.

Tell us a bit about yourself—where you grew up, when you started surfing, and how you got into kiting.
I grew up on the North Shore of Oahu, so I was introduced to surfing when I was pretty young. We lived right on the beach, so I spent a lot of time in the water when I was little. But I didn't really get into surfing until after I learned how to kite. My dad was a professional windsurfer and taught me how to kite when I was 14. After I got into the waves with my kite and a small board, it made me realise that I wanted to learn how to shortboard, and that's when I started getting more into surfing too.

You've had a pretty successful competitive career, winning three world championships and chasing the tour for the past decade. Talk to us a bit about that, and how competitive surfing compares to free surfing for you.
I started competing while I was in college, which was a little challenging, as I wasn't able to do as many events as I wanted to. But I'm really proud of what I was able to accomplish in a few years. That being said, I'm loving doing more free surfing now because competing can be really draining

The kite tour is on a much smaller scale than the surf tour, so it's a bit more relaxed, and for me has just been a great way to travel to all these cool places. That being said, I'm loving doing more free surfing now because competing can be really draining. But all the other aspects of it have been really cool, like meeting other kite girls and seeing the world more. It definitely pushes me to try new things and improve, whereas with free surfing I can feel almost too relaxed and not push myself as much.

© 2020 - James Boulding

With COVID-19 shutting down competitive sports this year, you must be missing competition. Are you pretty keen to get back in the jersey once things open up again?
The shutdowns kind of came at a good time for me, because I wasn't planning on doing the whole tour this year anyway. It's been a nice break from the nonstop travel, and I’ve enjoyed just being home for a while. Of course, it's easy for me to say that, being in Hawaii! I'm sure by the time we get our act together and can start traveling I'll be more than ready to get back to it. 

You and Keahi DeAboitiz are sort of the power couple of kitesurfing. What's it like having two world champions in a relationship? Do you guys get to travel together a lot? Is there any sort of competitive rivalry between the two of you?
The best part is being able to do our favourite things together, travel together, and spend all our time in the water. The worst part is that, yes, I'm very competitive, and he's always better than me! [laughs] It was hard at first when I was in school and he was traveling all over the world, but now that I get to join him it's pretty amazing.

Plus, he helps me in comps, teaches me things, and pushes me to go out in bigger and better waves. And Keahi's trophies are in his parents' house in Australia, while mine are here in Hawaii, so they don’t have to compete for space.

© 2020 - Beau Pilgrim.

I know that you don't just kite, but also surf a lot too. Which gets you more excited these days?
Yeah, people think that since I'm a kiter I like it better when it's windy, but actually I love a glassy surf as much as the next person! It all depends on the conditions. If there's the option to kite a good wave, that's always amazing, because I don't have the limitation of having to paddle in, which means I can go out when it's bigger and catch a ton of waves.

But I'm always stoked to just surf too. It can be a tough decision sometimes! But honestly, with all the different water sports we have now, I'm excited for whatever the day brings. We've been having small surf lately and I've been having a lot of fun longboarding, foiling, and wing foiling when it's windy.

What are your goals for your kiting and surfing over the next couple of years?
In the last couple years I've been able to travel to some world class waves and started learning how to get barrelled. I feel like I've improved with each trip, and I'd love to continue working on that, especially with the freedom to focus on pure wave riding rather than competition (which includes more tricks and jumps). 

Oh Moona gets tubed too, sans kite.

Oh Moona gets tubed too, sans kite.

© 2020 - Damea Dorsey.

Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of barrels on offer at the moment. Plus, Hawaii just locked everything down again. What's the general vibe over there right now? You guys still able to get in the water every day?
They just banned being on beaches again since our cases are going up now, but we've been able to go in the water and surf throughout all the lockdowns. Everyone in the lineup seems pretty relaxed about it. At least we've had relatively low cases so far.

As long as people actually follow the quarantine rules after traveling, it should be easy for us to stay safe. It is still really crowded in the water though, since so many people are off work!

And what about when world opens back up and we can travel like normal. Where's the first place you are going to go?
I'm bummed that I missed my annual Australia trip this summer, but maybe the timing will be perfect to go during a better wave season next year. I'm thinking it could be cool to do some exploring there without flying so much. Although if the opportunity comes up to go somewhere like Fiji or Marshalls, I would love to go there too.

Well I’m sure you will be heading somewhere amazing soon. In the meantime, enjoy Hawaii for us!

Cover shot by Samuel Cardenas