John John And Carissa Want To Wave The Hawaiian Flag At The Olympics
Photo by Matt Dunbar/WSL

John John And Carissa Want To Wave The Hawaiian Flag At The Olympics

“I’m Not Anti-Anything. I’m Pro-Hawaii.”

Uncategorized // May 17, 2021
Words by stab
Reading Time: 2 minutes

With Tokyo 2021 just months away, and Carissa Moore and John Florence set to attend, “U.S. Olympic surfers from Hawaii — the proud home of the sport — would prefer to compete under their own red, white and blue banner,” writes John Branch in today’s New York Times.

Branch uses the Hawaiian-born surfer’s on-tour flag-waving as the jumping-off point for a detailed history lesson on Hawaiian culture. He covers colonization, surfing, the Hawaiian independence movement, and surfing’s inclusion in the Olympics.

When John John Florence travels the world for elite surfing competitions, he carries a flag with him to fly if he wins. It matches the flag on the shoulder of his jersey and on the scoreboard next to his name.

It is not an American flag. It is a Hawaii flag. That is because, in the World Surf League and in surfing more generally, there is an understanding: You represent Hawaii, or you represent the United States. You do not do both.

The simplest reason is that Hawaii is the birthplace of surfing and remains the sport’s cultural heart. Hawaii residents — particularly Native Hawaiians, but also those merely born and raised there, like Florence — cling to that heritage because surfing may be the strongest of the fading connections to their pre-colonization history…

But when surfing makes it debut at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, there will be no such delineation between Hawaii and the American mainland. Hawaii will disappear as a separate surfing entity.

Two of the four Americans on the team, Florence and the four-time world champion Carissa Moore, were born and raised in Hawaii and have always competed under the state flag. Moore is continuing to do so this month as the global tour holds major events in Australia. (Florence is recovering from a knee injury.) The other Olympians, Kolohe Andino of California and Caroline Marks of Florida, compete under the American flag.

All four will be in Japan representing the United States.

“There’s a little bit of tension with that, going into the Olympics under a U.S.A. flag,” Florence said at his home on Oahu’s North Shore, on a patio overlooking one of the greatest stretches of surf breaks on the planet. “I don’t want to divide at all. I’m not anti-anything. I’m pro-Hawaii.”

Florence and Moore are eager to avoid politics, but it is impossible to ignore the historical and cultural waves churning around them. Old debates have flared in recent years, over appropriation and independence, over colonization and commercialization, over how to protect what it means to be Hawaiian, or from Hawaii.

Across the islands, on cars and on porches, Hawaii flags fly upside down, a sign of distress. The fight over plans for a giant telescope atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s highest mountain, boiled over in 2019 and still simmers today. The project is seen by many as the latest case of outsiders disrespecting Native Hawaiians.”

The story is well worth a read, with welcomed cameos from icons like Brian Keaulana and young Hawaiian voices like Seth Moniz.

Moniz tells Branch he’d “be honored to represent the U.S.A., obviously, but I would prefer to represent Hawaii if I went there. I do wish we could have a voice or representation. Me and other Hawaiian surfers, maybe we have to make a push for that, to have the Hawaiian flag at the Olympics.

You can read the full feature here.


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