Honoring the Queen of Makaha
A decade after the loss of the world surfing champion, Rell Sunn continues to be celebrated.
Photo by Jeff Devine at www.pbs.org
By Andres Madueno
Rell Sunn was and still is an important figure in the world of surfing and in the hearts of many people here in Hawaii and throughout the world. But today a lot of the youth do not even know who she is, which is unfortunate because Sunn devoted so much of her heart and soul to help the keiki in any way she could.
“We try to do this every year so that the young boys and girls will remember who she was, and what she did,” said Jais Iruka, coordinator for the annual celebration of Sunn’s birthday on Molokai.
For the past seven years Iruka has been holding this celebration in memory of Sunn at the Molokai Public Library. And for the past four years he has been showing the video “The Heart of the Sea: Kapolioka`ehukai” which is a tribute to what Sunn did in life and how she will always be remembered as the “Queen of Makaha”.
Molokai resident Glenn Davis grew up with Sunn in Makaha. “She was like my big sister. I grew up with her, she lived four houses away from me,” said Davis.
I sat with Uncle Glenn listening to these stories of them growing up together. And throughout every story he had a smile on his face. “Rell wasn’t just a great surfer. She was great at everything that involved the water. She could dive, paddle, bodysurf; you name it, she could do it, and do it well.”
Sunn was a founder of the Women’s Professional Surfing (WPS). But she was also well-known for being a huge supporter of keiki surfers. “I remember when the keiki surf competitions were just starting. She would give all of her old trophies away so that the keiki could have a prize to take home at the end of the competition,” said Davis.
Sunn was also a huge supporter of Hawaiian culture, which she showed through her dancing and teaching of the hula.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck Sunn at the age of 38 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. But that was not enough to dampen the spirits of the “Queen of Makaha.”
“She was a fighter, man. She fought the cancer for 15 years,” said Davis. “I remember when she was going through chemo. All the other life guards on the north shore shaved their heads to make her feel better.”
Throughout her life, Sunn constantly gave her heart and soul to everyone and everything she did. “She truly was a good person. I was blessed just to have known her,” said Davis.
Sunn will be remembered as an amazing surfer, hula dancer, and diver. But above all, she will be remembered for having a heart of gold and for spreading aloha wherever she went.