Words by Alli Adams
The vibe at Pine Trees Beach at the 8th (semi) annual Tombomb Wahine Classic is one of joy, camaraderie, sisterhood, and community. The sound system is blasting “This Girl Is On Fire”, the announcer’s voice comes through the PA system with words of encouragement and heat times, keiki (kids) of all ages are running around with and without parental supervision. The environment is safe – Surfrider Foundation is set up with a tent of knowledgeable activists as well as buckets and trash grabbers that the majority of attendants choose to put to use throughout the day. There’s an art table with crafts for the surfers to create their team trucker hats, a raffle table with incredible prizes all donated from the supportive Big Island surf community. Wahine from 1 year old (yes!) to 65 years old are paddling out in jerseys to surf this not-so-competition. It’s one of the most anticipated events of the year in the surfing community. The woman behind this incredible celebration of wave loving wahine is Keli Campbell.
Namiko Meheula, just after her first birthday, catching a wave in a heat with her mother, original Tombomb Mary Teshima-Meheula. Dad is also in the water for support! Photo by: Pete Orelup
Campbell was raised to be a community leader, citing her parent’s example as a source of inspiration. “We grew up with these two models of philanthropic behavior. They were always really involved in their community.” After her father began teaching her to surf at the local beginner spot, the inside at the Bay, Campbell began volunteering for Kohanaiki ‘Ohana, the non-profit fighting to protect the beach from irresponsible development. Kohanaiki, or Pine Trees as it’s often called, has been a surf community on the west side of Hawaii Island for generations. Historically, it was a place for gathering, surfing, and more specifically, caring for the young ones and teaching them traditions of the ancient Hawaiians. There are numerous breaks that supply all levels of surfer with a wave to satisfy the stoke craving. Most kids today still learn to surf the inside whitewash at The Bay just as Keli did. Nearly every surf grom of Kona has grown up surfing The Bay, and eventually (some before they’re even double digits) graduate to hanging on the outside or venturing to the more advanced breaks. This familiarity makes The Bay at Pine Trees the ideal location for this community competition.
Campbell started her brand Tombomb when she returned home to Kona after attending Pepperdine University. An abbreviation of ¨Tomboy Bombshell¨, she created it to represent who she aspired to be as a female and to encourage women and girls to embrace both their rough-and-tumble sides and celebrate being girly too. She was sporty- she grew up surfing, skating, and doing many sports that at the time didn’t really go hand in hand with cute dresses and feminine fashion. There were either tomboys or girly girls; Keli felt she was both and she knew she wasn’t alone. She soon found Tombomb helped gather a tribe of women proud of representing feminine strength, power, and general bad-assery.
BOOSTER WAVE! Surfers in the Tombomb Wahine Classic go for the extra points by holding hands while surfing the same wave. Photo courtesy of: Dave + Tate Arias
As a continuation of this female focused brand, Campbell and her team of Tombombs began the Tombomb Wahine Classic, a girls-only team-format surf event and beach clean up hosted at Kohanaiki. The contest is set up in heats, but the ladies surfing in each heat are team members, with the goal of bringing girls together rather than pitting them against each other. From tiny keiki to Tombomb Moms (the name affectionately given to the original generation of Tombombs who now have littles), whomever you´re out surfing with is a teammate. It creates a unique environment of support rather than contention. Opportunity for points is through exhibitions of camaraderie: if within the heat, all six team members stand up on the same party wave, or “booster wave”, the team gets extra points. If all team members stand up AND HOLD HANDS… that is double extra points. It’s no wonder this contest is looked forward to by everyone involved. “This is definitely my favorite contest of the year” says 15 year old Riley, who has participated in the contest for the last 3 years. “This contest is different – everyone is cheering for each other, it’s community building, and I always meet new people and have the best time no matter what the conditions are out there”. This sentiment is echoed throughout the participants, volunteers, families, and beach-goers at the event.
The Tombomb Wahine Classic is more than just a surf contest. It raises women up and facilitates camaraderie that continues far beyond the day of the contest. Although it began a girls only contest, it’s an evolving concept, and has grown to be inclusive of everyone. A few years ago, Campbell and her crew wanted to recognize the supportive males in the community as well. They introduced the guys’ heat, where males of all ages can participate- but only if they sport a bikini top to compliment their board shorts. Campbell’s overall goal, which she states at the awards ceremony before announcing the winning team, is for each surfer to make a new friend, and find someone new they can paddle out with or recognize in the lineup any day they go out surfing. With the way the groms were smiling, and from the females of all ages who are consistently seen shredding in the Pine Trees lineup, these Tombombs are accomplishing the mission.
LEFT: Surfrider Foundation provides buckets and trash grabbers for participants and supporters to use throughout the day of the contest.
RIGHT: Keli Campbell at the awards ceremony of the 2018 Tombomb Wahine Classic, surrounded by her tribe of wahine water lovers.
About the article:
After reading a couple of the “shero” pieces on the Changing Tides Foundation blog, Alli Adams was inspired to highlight one of many inspiring females in her community of Kaliua-Kona, Hawaii.
Keli Campbell in her element at Pine Trees. Photo courtesy of: Mike Varney