The Swimsuit Shoot That Nearly Killed Kelia Moniz
“There’s no ‘To Be Continued’ after that one. I never want to do that again.”
“Who the hell in their right mind would ride a longboard at Teahupo’o?” Kelia Moniz asks herself with a darling giggle.
The answer: A Two-time world longboard champion and Hawaiian beauty.
In 2015, a bikini shoot for Roxy resulted in one of the most fabulous wipeouts ever to impact the internet’s collective memory.
Three-ish years later, we’re still revisiting the moment.
There’s something about a woman having a swing at waves of consequence that raise eyebrows and claw at the egomaniacal foundations of proud men. Which, in today’s climate of women and power, is built on rainbow sprinkles and chocolate ice cream.
A handful of ladies have always charged. However, in recent years, we’ve witnessed a rising tide of bold, brash, beautiful women willing to send it over a ledge at places like Mavericks, Jaws, Waimea, and Chopes.
A beautiful woman grooming a Tahitian wall with ruler-straight grace is 100 percent more appealing than the deepest gouge or gravity-defying air performed by a male.
“That day at Teahupo’o was just too good of an opportunity to pass up,” Kelia recalls. “I mean, doesn’t every surfer want to say they’ve surfed Teahupo’o? Or at the very least that they tried and failed? [laughs] I can at least say I tried.
We were shooting a Roxy campaign, just shooting bikinis. Raimana [Van Bastolaer] was like, ‘Girls, Teahupo’o could be good later.’
And I was like, ’Yeah, great—I’m not surfing it.’
A couple of the girls on the trip had left at that point. It was just me, Steph (Gilmore), and Monyca (Eleogram). Steph was hurt, so I was kind of the only candidate to surf. Mind you, I’d only brought one board, a 9’2” [laughs]. When we pulled up to Chopes, it wasn’t that big, probably four foot, and I thought, ‘I can do this, it’s not that crazy.’ I went out and caught a few waves. I went straight. I didn’t get barreled, didn’t get hurt. It was mellow.”
She’s downplaying the session, of course. Look at the footage. Kelia had a serious go on a leashless log better suited to waist-high Malibu or summer Queens than well-overhead End Of The Road.
"I think every surfer wants to say they tried surfing Teahupoo," says Miss Moniz. "And now I can say I tried. I failed, but at least I tried."
Kelia’s classic style and grace is palpable, despite the pressure placing her nine-footer in the heart of Tahitian walls.
Her knees near-knocked as she highlines, cross-steps, pulls into a closeout, and comes up smiling, her surfing as elegant as it is wreckless, and wholly enjoyable. It makes the case for those World Longboard Champion trophies.
This was all before the wipeout she’ll remember almost as long as the internet has.
“Raimana picked me up, and we were sitting out the back for what felt like 45 minutes,” Kelia continues. “A giant surge came our way and I was like, ‘Holy shit, this is a proper one.’ Raimana looked back and said, ‘Hey, when I say jump, you got to jump.’
I was like, ‘Dude, Raimana, this is HUGE.’ He’s like ‘do you trust me?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I trust you. I just don’t trust myself! [Laughs] But, sure, let’s do this!’
He turned around and whipped me into it. I took off further up the wave because I was doing a step off. I just kind of blacked out….even before I stood up.
"I only hit the bottom once," says Kelia. "It just felt like a brush, it didn’t really hurt and by the time Raimana pulled me onto the sled, there was so much water moving under me that I didn’t hit the reef again. I had a little road rash looking thing on my ankle. I have a scar but I didn't have to get any stitches or anything like that."
Right away I knew, I was going to eat shit. I told myself, ‘Relax, this is probably going to hurt. You’re going to be down there for a long time and you’re going to come up when you come up.’
I was so freaked out just looking at the wave. When he threw the ski in drive, I knew it was a big one, for me at least. It was massive! And, I don’t like big waves.
Kelia stepped off the ski, rode down the face and almost immediately her fin popped out of the wave’s face. Her board slid out in front of her as she fell into the lip, which politely guided her chest back onto her board. Her hair flipped, in a headdress of deep black. She cockroached down the face, disconnected from her board a second time, and was squashed by the lip.
"In the wipeout, you can see how relaxed my body was. My toes were basically in my mouth. I just scorpioned, went over the falls and got completely smoked. I hit the bottom with my leg. It felt like I was under for a while. When I came up, there was a bigger one behind it. I just looked up at the next wave thinking, ‘I’m going to die right now!”
After I changed the second bathing suit I got that wave and Monyca was like, “That’s enough, do not give her another bathing suit!”
As Kelia bobbed above the reef, shaken, awaiting doom, a beacon of hope stole her attention. “I looked over and Raimana was coming towards me with the biggest eyes,” she says. “He was screaming, ‘Grab my hand!’ So, I shot my arm up and he whipped me onto the sled and I held on.
He was like a cowboy on a horse, just screaming, ‘Woohooo!’
He looked down and told me to turn around. I did and the next wave was breaking on my toes. I was like, ‘Welp, that would’ve been me... just, dead.”
Back at the boat, Kelia was greeted by Steph Gilmore and a petrified best friend.
“I got on the boat and Monyca was crying,” laughs Kelia. “Since we were shooting bathing suits, after the first two waves I caught, I was asked to change into a different suit, so they could get another look. Right after I changed into the other bathing suit, I got that wave. Monyca was like, “That’s enough, do not give her another bathing suit!’
"I'm a longboarder, I like cute little waves," says Kelia. Doesn't that make her seem even all-the-more special?
Steph was just stoked. She handed me a beer. The whole thing was pretty funny. I was shaken up, but not as much as Monyca. She was in full blown tears, telling me, ‘Don’t ever do that again!”
Reflecting on the virality of the clip two years later, Kelia says, “I’m a longboarder. I like cute little waves. I like cruising with no leash, on days that are so small that everyone is riding longboards. That’s my kind of day.
“I didn’t want people to think I thought I was some sort of big wave surfer trying to push the limits by surfing a single fin at Teahupo’o. It was a cool experience, but there’s no To Be Continued... after that one.
I never want to do that again.”