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The World-Champion Surfer Behind Honolulu’s Favorite Hoodies

With her new store, Honolulu Pawn Shop, Kelia Moniz is making space for family, creativity, and the freedom of saying ‘no.’

The World-Champion Surfer Behind Honolulu’s Favorite Hoodies
Jae Belu
Kelia Moniz
Grace Lacio, Isabella Arciniaga, Kyla Chan

Kelia Moniz’s latest venture, Honolulu Pawn Shop, is a clothing store that showcases Hawaiian culture with a New York sensibility. A native Hawaiian and two-time champion surfer, Moniz set out to create a store that showcases not only her passions and business acumen but also the New York upbringing of her husband, photographer Joe Termini. Moniz is Hawaiian surfing royalty. She grew up at her parents’ surfing school, Moniz Family Surf, where she spent her childhood learning the family trade alongside her pro-surfer brothers. After achieving world titles, fulfilling her childhood dream, and becoming a mother, she's now on a different trajectory.

With Honolulu Pawn Shop, Moniz is reclaiming her power and embarking on a new chapter in her storied career. The store’s merchandise marries Moniz’s designs and Termini’s photography—a perfect manifestation of their relationship's symbiosis. Their greatest collaboration beyond the extremely in-demand merch is their two children, Lava and Liwai. On a trip to Honolulu, I stopped by the shop to talk with Moniz about her latest venture and leading by example as she raises her two kids.

Coveteur: What first drew you to surfing?

Kelia Moniz: “My dad was a professional surfer, and it was just a part of my life. Growing up in Hawaii, there's not that much to do if you don't spend time at the beach. It's a part of our core. It's a part of our lifestyle.”

Was there a moment you realized you wanted to try it professionally?

KM: “I was probably around 10. My dad started his surf school on a beach in Waikiki, and my mom homeschooled me and my brothers. When he started, we had to do school on the beach because my mom needed to help him run the business. She would pop a tent on the beach and that’s where we finished our school every day for years.

One day, I saw this truckload of girls pull up, and they all had the cutest swimwear on. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up—I had the same bathing suit all year. These girls were with photographers and videographers, and they seemed so fun. Growing up with four brothers, seeing this group of girls going surfing together I was like, ‘I want to be a part of that.’ I remember following them, and I caught every wave they caught. I thought, ‘Who are these people, and how do I become one of them?’

Long story short, they were Roxy girls. My dad was pretty well-connected in the surf world—it’s a small industry—so I asked, ‘Dad, send someone my resume, please?’ He said, ‘No babe, you got to let the surfing to the talking. Keep surfing, and if it’s meant to be, it’ll happen.’ I’m glad he didn’t let me because it made me hungry. It made me dream. When the time came that I got sponsored, it was insane. I was getting good results in contests, and I felt like, ‘Wow, I can actually do this. Just a little Waikiki beach rat dreaming of being a part of this gang of girls.’”

What motivates you?

KM: “What motivated me as a young surfer is a lot different than what motivates me today. We live in an ever-evolving world, and with age there's a deeper understanding of who you are, what you believe in, and what you want. What motivates me right now is maximizing time with my kids, time at the beach, time with friends. How do I create a space for work that also creates good energy and community?

I host people at my house for dinner six nights out of the week. When we opened [Honolulu Pawn Shop], I thought, ‘I'm going to make this my living room. I'm going to make this my extension of my home where we can bring new people in.’ We have events. We have parties. We have photo shoots. I want the people around me to feel inspired, to feel like they're part of my space and the store, and it's ours—it's not mine.’”

Who are your biggest inspirations?

KM: “My mom. She homeschooled me with four brothers, and now that I have kids, I'm like, ‘What was actually wrong with you, mom?’ I admire her patience. I admire her ability to not worry about the pressures of the world that we live in, making money and capitalizing on things that don't matter at the end of the day. She prioritized family meals together—things that really matter.”

How has saying ‘no’ in your career created freedom for you?

KM: "Listening to a podcast this morning, a woman said, ‘If you aren’t growing your business at least 15-20 percent every two years, then you shouldn’t be doing that job.’ Yes, from a monetary standpoint, that is really important, but from a growth perspective as an individual, if you’re not growing, you should reposition yourself. Saying ‘no’ has a lot to do with finding what will help you grow as a person and in your field. I grew a lot financially in my career, but by the time I was a 30-year-old mom, I felt stuck creatively. Money isn’t always the answer. I’m probably in the most uncomfortable state financially that I’ve ever been in because I decided to open a business, but from a creative position, I’ve never felt more excited. I feel like I’m exactly where I need to be and it’s all worth it to feel like this."

When your daughter Lava looks back on that moment in time decades from now, what do you hope she learns from that situation?

KM: “Damn. I just hope that she knows who she is. I don't don't know why I'm getting emotional. As we all know, it's hard to be a confident woman these days. I don’t want her to worry about anyone else's opinion but hers. Know your value."

What inspired the creation of Honolulu Pawn Shop?

KM: "My husband and I always conceptualized a project that could blend our lives. He’s from New York, and that’s embedded in his life from the food to street style to art—all those cornerstones of what makes New York City what it is. So how do you blend it with the beautiful aloha spirit? Initially, we had this idea of doing a pizza and shaved ice shop, but long story short, we got access to this space, and they said, ‘Can you be open within a week?’ At that point, we had nothing. My husband is an artist, so we made the space a gallery for his work. Now we finally got the space semi-filled, but we can’t keep it filled because things just fly [off the shelves?]. We were inspired to bring the community together so we created a room that everyone can feel a part of. It’s less about selling at T-shirt and more about feeling you’re a part of a family. Have an ice cream if you want."

What would you say is the signature piece of the shop as it stands now?

KM: "Right now, we have two crew necks that did really well. We printed my husband’s art on it, and 24 hours later, my girls were like, ‘It’s gone!’ I would say that’s our signature. Before opening the store I worked on a 60-piece vintage upcycle collection with this designer from Tokyo I met via Instagram. We collaborated on a collection together and sold it exclusively in the store. So we made baby tees that said’ Honolulu and Tokyo.’ I’m half Japanese, so I loved being able to make a collection that defined both of our styles. I love that they are upcycled pieces, so we’re not adding a bunch of shit [to the environment]. We’re not a big business with a marketing team; we’re just making shit we like and hope others feel the same.”

How would you feel your personal style is reflected in the product of the store?

KM: “I wear almost everything I have in the space. I have a very laid-back, tomboy, street-style vibe to me, and I just wanted to make a store full of stuff that I wear. I wear my husband's clothes a lot, so it's a little bit of both of us in here.. ”

What's the best gift you ever received?

KM: “Maybe one of these bracelets. These are Hie Hawaiian bracelets, I got this one first when my daughter was born, and it was the first bracelet that they produced. It signifies a lot more to me than just the gold and the diamonds. Traditionally when you're 16, your mom gives you a bracelet. But these are the traditional ones.

My daughter's name is Lava. Three days before she was born, the volcano erupted. I thought, ‘Oh, my God, is this bad? Or is this good?’ I called my friend and he's one of the most well-educated Hawaiians that I know. He speaks fluent Hawaiian, and I asked him to name her. Traditionally in the culture, you ask your kumu or teacher to name your child. So the day she was born, I asked him to please give her name.I love the name, it's just so powerful and strong. It's one of the only sources of physical growth on Earth, —it's powerful, it's strong. It can destroy things, but it also can bring life, right? So her breath, her lava, is essentially life-giving, not destroying.”

Amazing. Okay, let's do some rapid-fire questions. What is your guilty pleasure?

KM: “Oh, fuck, a Mai Tai.”

Hidden talent?

KM: “I'm really good at making pasta.”

Any kind?

KM: “I make a good vodka sauce.”

Irrational fear?

KM: “Heights. Is that irrational, though? ”

Maybe living in Hawaii, it’s rational.

KM: “Edges, heights, hate it. Hate it.”

If you were a real housewife, what would your catchphrase be?

KM: “Oh, something about being, ‘I'm a sweet bitch. I am the sweetest woman until I'm not. Well, until you piss me off.’”

Something you used to hate but love now?

KM: “Spicy food.”

What are the top five most used emojis in your phone?

KM: “A diamond, probably the little crying, tearing eyes. And I always use the white heart, and probably the monkey closing his eyes because I'm always saying something I shouldn't say.”

What's your favorite SPF?

KM: “Oh, Feel Good Inc. They're an Australian brand.”

Who's your dream collaborator?

KM: “I think right now I'd have to say Levi's. Just classic.”

Yeah, I feel like with your history of upcycling, too, that could be a really cool collaboration.

KM: “I've always been interested in classics. I love the classics.”

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

KM: “My parents taught me to treat my elders with respect, and that's an important lesson forever.”

Art Director: Smiley Stevens/ Managing Editor: Hilary George-Parkin/ Casting Director: Yasmin Coutinho/ Executive Producer: Marc Duron

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