Hawaiian Surfer and Photographer Ha’a Eats with Compassion, the Aloha Way
If she’s not in running 20 feet underwater, 50-pound rock in tow, Ha’a Keaulana is either at work, photographing other surfers at Mākaha Beach, or making Tofu Musubi in an air fryer. Born 27 years ago into Hawaii’s unofficial “First Family of Surfing”, riding waves is in this West Side of Oahu native’s DNA. Her nickname is Ha’a, but her full name, Kaiha’ale’a, translates to “Joyful Dancing Sea” – apropos, given her family dynasty.
Ha’a’s grandfather is legendary waterman “Buffalo” Keaulana, icon and four-decade host of Buffalo’s Big Board Classic surf contest. Her father, Brian, is a big-wave surfer and the film industry’s go-to water stunt expert while Brian’s brother, Rusty, is a three-time World Longboard Champ. On top of all that: Ha’a cousin is actor Jason Mamoa, a.k.a. “Aquaman.”
But while Ha’a’s legacy and photo ops are powered by the Pacific, her own voltage comes from a 100% plant-based diet. This wasn’t always the case. The Beet followed her story.
Q: First of all, tell us about this underwater rock running video.
HK: For whatever reason, the water makes your muscles look super ripped. I’ve never been as strong as I look in those photographs. My father, Brian Keaulana, taught me to rock run. He uses the technique in Big League Surf training, working with surfers who compete riding 60-foot waves. I don’t do that. But rock-running builds your lung capacity, in case you do get held underwater, like when a wave is rag-dolling you. It can be really scary!
Q: Has that ever happened to you?
HK: Yes, every winter. I mean, I prefer to go out on “fun-size days”, but sure, on bigger days with scary-size surf, you can get held under. The ocean is unpredictable, you have to keep training and go in with the intention that you might get held under. You have to relax, and not panic if it happens. Which it will. If you don’t wipe out, you’re not surfing.
Q: You’ve been on a plant-based diet for a year now. What motivated that change?
HK: My cousin is the professional UFC fighter, Yancy Medeiros. He was my spark. He was always “My Chubby Cousin” until he switched to a plant-based diet. The transformation was incredible. He’s totally ripped now and in prime fighting form. Just from eating plants. It was amazing, so I decided to try it too.
Q: What changes have you experienced since going plant-based?
HK: I have a ton more energy. I used to feel really lethargic after eating and I’d need to take a nap. Now I feel great – I have way more stamina. I can do my morning training AND surf all in the same day, which I couldn’t do before. Also, before adopting a plant-based diet my muscles were really sore after my morning training sessions. Now recovery is a breeze, I’m not sore at all.
Q: Have you seen any physical changes?
HK: I lost 10 pounds and went down a jean size. I have all these old jeans that I didn’t want to throw out and now I can wear them. Maybe 10 pounds doesn’t sound like a lot, but I’m short, only 5’3”, so it made a difference. Also within a week, my eczema improved. It’s not gone totally, but it’s much more controlled now. That change was almost immediate, within a week. I don’t get as many pimples either. Weirdly, my fingernails are stronger. Also, and I hope this isn’t TMI, but my digestion improved. I had constipation issues but I’m on a regular schedule now. And I sleep soooooo much better.
Q: So what do you eat in a day?
HK: That’s always a surprise! My cousin Yancy introduced me to a chef named Phree, who runs a plant-based food delivery service, Delicious Healthcare, which I use for weekday lunches and dinners. www.delicioushealthcare.com. Phree’s motto is “food is medicine”, so each meal includes a “Prescription”, which is a detailed list describing the ingredients used in each recipe. His last ingredient is always “Aloha”.
Q: Can you explain that?
HK: Aloha is an attitude, a way of life, it’s about everything good: Love, compassion, peace, kindness, respect, honor ... So Hawaiians not only say Aloha, but it’s their life philosophy too.
Q: What’s your typical breakfast?
HK: Black coffee. I practice intermittent fasting, so I wake up, have a cup, then do my workout.
HK: My weekday food delivery meals are designed to be split between lunch and dinner, so I choose different parts of the meal, depending on how hungry I am. Today it was a plant-based soup and roasted potato, turnip, and zucchini. Usually, there’s brown or white rice, or a mix of the two, which we call “Hapa” rice in Hawaii.
Every delivery includes a Plant-Based Super-Food Broth made with three types of kale, two types of chard, two types of spinach, two types of cabbage, cucumbers, onions, and carrots.
Some recent main meals have been:
- Cuban Ebony Beans with Jasmine Grains, Golden and Red Beets and Arugula.
Legume-Stuffed Bell Pepper Rings with red, yellow, orange and green peppers, purple sweet potato, garbanzo beans, short brown Jasmine rice, Mulunggay leaves, Medjool dates, and beet reduction.
- Nutrient-Dense Soap De Garbanzos with Garbanzo Beans, garlic, onions, broccoli, paprika, avocado, braised kale, braised white onions, braised purple cabbage, short grains, and lemon juice.
- Portabella Mushroom Roasted Wrap with Portabella Mushrooms, Mung Sprouts, Alfalfa Sprouts, Short Brown Jasmine Grains, Dill Weed, Black Sesame Seeds, Peanuts, Geren Onions, Hemp Seeds, Avocado, Garlic, Broccoli.
- Pounded-Garlic Dirty Rice over Spicy Beet Reduction with Yellow and Green Bell Peppers, White Onions, Cumin, Celery Root, Garlic, Baby Spinach, Green Pea Microgreens, Spicy Mustard, Beets, Cayenne Peppers, Brown Jasmine Grains.
In addition to the main meal, there is also a side dish that has included:
- Lentil-Dense Tortilla & Quinoa Soup
- Sweet and Sour Mango Grains
- Microgreens Side Salad with Kohlrabi Microgreens, Broccoli Microgreens, Brussel Sprouts Microgreens, Red Russian Kale Microgreens, Tatsoi Mustard Microgreens, and
- Amaranth Microgreens
- Coconut Blueberry Oat Bar
Q: What are your go-to snacks?
HK: I reach for fresh fruit, either an apple or an orange. I stay away from packaged foods as much as possible. I also like to cut potatoes up into small pieces and air fry them for a snack.
Q: Do you have a favorite smoothie recipe?
HK: For increased energy and an immunity boost, I make a smoothie with blueberries, strawberries, spinach, almond milk, spirulina, chia seeds, hemp hearts, and ginger for a kick. I might vary the smoothie by adding a banana and turmeric.
Q: What do you eat on the weekends, when you cook for yourself?
HK: I go to the Waianae Farmers market with my Mom every Saturday morning where we get lots of different salad greens, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, sprouts, and other local veggies for our fresh salads. I soak tofu in tamari for 20 minutes, air fry it and add that on top.
Q: What do you cook for friends?
HK: I make Tofu Musubi, it’s a take-off on the Hawaiian favorite Spam Musubi. I soak tofu in tamari for 20 minutes then air fry it. I put a piece of Nori paper in the mold, add rice and tofu. It’s delicious.
I also make Cabbage Steaks: I slice the cabbage into “steaks”, lightly spray my cast-iron pan with Avocado Oil, and pan-fry the steaks until the edges are slightly charred. I sprinkle with Hawaiian Pa’Akai, a Hawaiian sea salt – a salt that’s made according to ancient traditions, and cannot be sold, only gifted by the families that harvest the salt plots on the west side of Kauai.
Q: What is your secret weapon in the kitchen?
HK: It’s a tie! Either my air fryer OR the duo of my cast iron pan and metal spatula, which I use to keep food from sticking to the pan. I like the cast iron because it imparts minerals to the food you cook in it. I spray it lightly with either avocado oil or macadamia nut oil.
Q: Have you ever fallen off your eating plan?
HK: Yes, in Azores, Portugal on vacation. I had freshly baked bread – broke out in eczema almost immediately and was constipated for four days. But in the moment it was delicious.
Q: Are there any “former life foods” that you miss?
HK: Fish, for sure. And Fried Chicken. I don’t give into the cravings because with my skin issues, it’s just not worth it. Also, there’s a Hawaiian favorite called Lau Lau, traditionally made with pork and butterfish wrapped inside a luau leaf and steamed. I was so happy to find a vegan version that uses sweet potatoes, mushrooms, carrots, cabbage and garlic and it’s such a good substitute. I love it.
Q: Have you changed anything else in your diet?
HK: At the same time I went plant-based, I gave up sugar. I had a real sweet tooth and ate alot of candy. The first two weeks were hard, but after that I started craving salty foods, not sweet ones. A friend handed me a cocktail last week and I couldn’t drink it, the sweetness was overpowering.
Q: What’s your fitness training routine like?
HK: I do functional training at a gym called F-45 Kapolei. It’s a mix of circuit and HIIT style workouts with weights. When the waves are good, surfing is my go-to-sport. When the waves are flat, mostly in the summer, I dive, swim, and rock run.
Q: What was it like, growing up on Mākaha Beach with your family?
HK: It was just normal to be in the water with my family. I don’t remember the first time I surfed. The only rule was to always stay within the view of the adult who was watching you. As kids it was our responsibility to do that, to stay in one area and not pass the marker. One time, a few of my cousins and I disobeyed, and we were sucked out into a rip current and had to swim along shore to get back in.
Q. I’ve read some places in Hawaii have hidden meanings…does yours?
HK: My town, Mākaha, has different meanings: it can mean “fish gate” or “chief” or “fierce”. To me, Mākaha’s powerful surf, mountains and people represent the “fierce” factor. The people here are one of a kind: very proud of who they are, where they are from. They’re also very loving people. In Mākaha, it’s not about what you have, it’s about what you can give.
Q: As an Instagram Influencer with 168,000 followers, what are you most proud of?
HK: I’m very happy with where I am as a female surf photographer. I’m also grateful that I can use my Instagram platform and my voice to represent my culture and my people and to try to make a difference. I also want to express the values my parents and grandparents have instilled in me.
Q: Like your posts about Mauna Kea?
HK: Yes, I joined the protest to protect Mauna Kea from the installation of the Thirty Meter Telescope. Mauna Kea is a sacred mountain that has deep spiritual significance for Hawaiians. It’s the tallest mountain in the world* and there are already 13 astronomical observatories up there. The proposed new one would be 18 stories high, and installing it would require drilling down so deep it could affect the aquifer and contaminate the water. In my culture, we believe that the land and ocean should be treated like they’re a human being, so if the land is sick, we are sick.
Q: What was the protest like?
HK: It was so inspiring to be with the elders who were so brave and were willing to get arrested for the cause. We’ve lost so much of our culture over the years, and we’ve lost our native language. My father told me stories of being punished in school for speaking Hawaiian. They disciplined him and sent him home with a note pinned to his shirt. So, I think Mauna Kea is really the last straw for many Hawaiians who have felt disrespected over the years. By protesting the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea, they are saying “ENOUGH!”
Q: What’s your Mantra?
If you’re going to be an influencer, make sure you’re influencing the right things.
*Yes, Trivia Lovers: Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world as measured in sheer height from its base to summit: 13,803′ while Mount Everest has the highest altitude (29,029′) but it is measured in feet above sea level.