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There was a star-studded lineup at the Billabong Pro Pipe surfing contest on Feb. 8, 2022. 

One of the biggest names competing was legendary professional surfer Carissa Moore, who is a five-time world champion and recent Olympic gold medalist. Moore’s victory seemed inevitable, until a young wildcard stole the spotlight.

Who is this wildcard? She shares her name with a Disney Princess with the same qualities — fearless, tenacious, and passionate.

Moana Jones Wong is the future of surfing, and her journey to victory at Pro Pipe includes multiple years off, and a lot of dedication and love for the sport.

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“I would have never in my wildest dreams dream that that would really happen,” Wong said of her victory. “I’m just pinching myself. Waking up in the morning and looking at my phone just to make sure that happened.”

Wong was born and raised on the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii, and hails from a long line of surfers — both her parents and grandparents surf. It only seemed fitting that Wong pick up a board and join her family.

“I can’t even remember the first time I ever went surfing,” Wong said. “It’s been like, ever since I was born.”

Competitive surfing hit Wong’s radar when she was about eight years old. From there, Wong joined the World Surf Leagues’ contests in 2013. During her run on the junior tour that same year, Wong placed first, leading to a top-five ranking, and would stay ranked in the top 35 for each junior contest in the subsequent years until 2017. It wasn’t long before Wong was back on to the top by 2018, where she placed second in a qualifying contest for the Wahine Pipe Pro, getting bested by Gabriela Bryan by .05 of a point.

Wong, who had been studying at the University of Hawaii’s West Oahu campus since summer 2016, made the decision to focus solely on school. Wong went on to major in applied science with a concentration in Hawaiian and Indigenous health and healing, and graduated in 2021.

That wasn’t the only celebration for Wong that year as she married her husband, fellow surfer Tehotu Wong.

Wong’s victory over Moore after a multi-year absence is the product of Wong’s decision to get back into surfing. The decision to get back into the sport was a spontaneous one, even for her, according to Wong.

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The Billabong Pro Pipe contest is the first official female pipe championship tour after a long, 20-year fight to finally have one. A win makes it all the more special for the North Shore native, who was competing in her home waves, as the event was hosted on the famous Banzai Pipeline.

“This is a breakthrough point,” Wong said. “Because women, in general, have never had the chance or the opportunity to surf these iconic waves in contest. So this is a whole new platform for us, and I think it is only going to make us better woman surfers. It’s just going to keep getting better.”

Surfing any pipeline is a challenge in itself. Not only is it one of the most dangerous waves to catch due to the steeper takeoff angle and increased speeds, but the Banzai pipeline in particular has coral on the bottom of it, which can pose a threat to surfers if they fall off their boards.

“I was stressed out, in a sense, because I haven’t competed in six years,” Wong recalled. “I’m like, ‘okay, all these girls that I’m gonna compete against right now have just been grinding away the entire time that I have not been grinding away.’”

Wong entered into the competition as a wildcard — the complete underdog, but it was a blessing in disguise. Because of her wildcard status, Wong said she didn’t feel all that pressure on her and she really had nothing to lose.

Wong's path to the championship title started against Australian Tyler Wright, who she beat with a score of 14.00. Moore beat Lakey Peterson by six points in the second heat, pushing her through to the championship heat. It was there that proved her talent as she cruised past Moore with a score of 14.34.

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“It was very intimidating to be thrown up against them at my home break,” Wong said. “Carissa has won a gold medal and five world championships. A bunch of them were on the Olympic team. But I know [the Banzai Pipeline] much better than them because I’ve just been putting so much time out there when they have been focusing on other things and that’s the main focus that I’ve been on.”

With her latest win, Wong plans to use the momentum to help her compete in the Hurley Pro Sunset Beach, which started on Feb. 10, 2022. To watch Wong compete and catch competition highlights, check out WSL's Youtube page here.

As the young surfer continues to make waves in this generation of professional surfing, Wong can’t help but impart wisdom on the future generations to come.

“Have respect for yourself, for other people, the ocean, and the people who came before us,” Wong said, “because we wouldn’t be here without those people.”.

Photo credits: Shutterstock, Getty Images