Oahu’s Banzai Pipeline crowned its first queen today.
Hawaii’s Moana Jones Wong, 22, made surf history by winning the first-ever women’s Billabong Pipe Pro in Loving Memory of Andy Irons. She is the first woman to take home the championship trophy, a surfboard shaped by North Shore legend Gerry Lopez; the day before, 11-time world champ Kelly Slater, 49, earned the men’s trophy with a near-perfect performance in towering, toothy barrels.
The event, which kicked off the World Surf League’s 2022 championship season, saw Wong defeat Hawaii’s 5-time world champ and Olympic gold medalist Carissa Moore as she charged dicey, still-big waves, emerging from barrels with a smile and calm grace that evoked comparisons to Hawaii surfing pioneer Rell Sunn.
“Carissa is my favorite surfer, she’s my hero,” a teary Wong told commentator Strider Wasilewsky during the World Surf League’s broadcast just after her win as the two sat on their surfboards in the water.
“I don’t believe it … this was the best moment of my life,” she said a few minutes later as she stood on the winner’s platform, her red helmet replaced by colorful haku lei and holding the winner’s trophy with its painted aqua-blue Pipeline wave by Phil Roberts.
In addition to winning the surfboard and the $80,000 for taking first place, Wong catapulted to the top of the WSL rankings and secured a wild card invitation to the next event on the championship tour, the Hurley Pro presented by Shiseido, scheduled for Friday through Feb. 23 just down the road at Sunset Beach.
Asked how it felt to be No. 1 in the world, “It’s crazy, all this happened so fast,” Wong said in a phone interview following the awards ceremony.
“I really thought I wasn’t going to win, because I was surfing against best girl surfers in world and thinking I was not on level they’re on. It’s super crowded everytime I go out, so I just wanted the opportunity to surf Pipe, that’s all I was really thinking about,” said the North Shore native, who was born in Haleiwa, raised in Pupukea, and paddled out to Pipeline for the first time when she was 12.
She gave credit to her mentor at the storied, lethal break — the late Derek Ho, Hawaii’s first professional surfing world champion.
“I would be out at Pipeline with Uncle Derek every day when it was bad and when it was good, and sometimes when it was bad we were the only two people,” she said.
“He was my favorite surfer out there and I learned so much.”
Wong added that she was proud to represent a watershed advancement for her gender and her sport.
“This was the greatest thing in women’s surfing to pretty much happen, to have a contest out at Pipe on the championship tour level,” she said. “It’s groundbreaking for women’s surfing and women’s history, and I’m so grateful to be part of this. I think it’s just the beginning for women’s surfing, and it’s going to get better and better.”