Keala joined the tour at a pivotal point in professional surfing. The ASP was building its dream tour, for the men and women, favoring more big perfect waves in Indonesia, Fiji, Tahiti, and Hawaii, and less grovel waves in Florida, Brazil, and Japan. In 2003, it was clear that she was at an advantage in heavier waves around the world. She dominated heaving Tavarua, racked up 9's and 10's at Teahupoo, and took the Triple Crown in Hawaii. Every heavy event was hers. She managed second in the ASP's Womens World Championship Tour.
But even this didn't propel her into the spotlight like her cameo appearance in the 2003 major motion picture Blue Crush. Keala played herself, the seasoned big wave veteran.
That film was such a big deal. It started a huge movement of women's surfing. It taught girls to completely believe in themselves. I felt very fortunate and happy to be a role model, says Keala.
Blue Crush" provided a major push in the sport, and women's surfing saw faster growth than any other time. Her role may have been a cameo in the movie, but she was the star in real life.
Even as the growth settled, Kennelly remained an icon of determination. She is still motivating and inspiring female surfers around the world. Her surfing heroics and the role led to appearances on MTV's Surfer Girls, The N (a Hawaiian network for teens) show, Boarding School, The Fuel Channel's Daily Habit, as well as features in Rolling Stone, Nylon, even the Hawaiian Airlines in-flight mag.
While the cameo may have catapulted her into stardom with the mainstream, it was a session at her beloved Teahupoo, in 2005 that defined her career. The Tahitian glory reef was quadruple overhead, glassy, and breaking square on the reef. This was strictly a tow-in day.
"I originally just wanted to go check it out. But it was one of those days where everything just came together. I wound up borrowing a board, and asked Michael Ho if he thought I could do it," she recalls.
Ho was the one who gave her the confidence. She sat outside, waiting for one of the ski drivers to give her a chance.
"Finally Akila, one of the Hawaiian boys, picked me up. He whipped me in, and I could just see it throwing so far down the line. I was so focused," she recalls. Kennelly hung tough in the meatiest barrel of her life. "I didn't want to experience what not coming out would feel like."
The second wave was actually bigger. It took everything she had to not dig a rail. Kennelly had proven, beyond a doubt, that she belongs in the upper echelons of big wave chargers.
"I even made the cover of Australian Surf Life for Men, which is the most chauvinistic magazine in the world. There was never a woman on the cover before or since," she laughs. There may never be another.
Kennelly continues to finish in ASP's top 8. She missed most of the 2006 season after colliding with a coral head in Fiji, suffering severe bone contusions and torn ligaments. A few weeks of rehabilitation and she's back on the comeback trail. A world championship is still in her sights, and Bruce and Andy still look after her like a sister.
As much focus is required for conquering mountains and competing at this level, Keala has her other passions, number one being spinning records. She loves house music and gets consistently booked by clubs, as DJ KK. She's also gotten heavily involved with design – new concepts for women's clothing and interior design. There will be no shortage of ideas in her future.
Keala Kennelly Facts
|August 13, 1978 (45)
|Kauai, Hawaii, USA
|5' 6" (1m68) How tall is Keala Kennelly compared to you?