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Malu Kinimaka - Molded by the ocean, shaped by the reef

Malu Kinimaka Blog Page
Amongst the Kānaka Maoli, who are the Indigenous group that have lived on the Hawaiian Islands since time began, there are many ancient proverbs and spoken traditions that guide their communities to this day. One of these proverbs, “kulia i ka nu’u”, reminds the Kānaka Maoli to “strive to reach the highest”. This proverb, written by Hawaiian Queen Kapiolani, also perfectly describes Hawaiian professional surfer Maluhia Kinimaka, who is in constant pursuit of new heights as a world-class athlete and as a PhD student in the University of Hawaii’s Ocean and Resources Engineering program.
When Malu was growing up in the Anahola Hawaiian Homesteads on the East Side of Kauai, her father, world famous surfing legend and adventurer Titus Nihi Kinimaka, would bring their family to Kauai’s North Shore daily so they could operate their surf school. It was here, on the magical shores of Hanalei, that young Malu was shaped by the sea, learning to swim, surf, fish, and be a part of the ocean. By the time she was 14, Malu was a prodigious talent, regularly competing in big name surf tournaments — and alongside this competitive spirit, she also developed a desire to protect the environment that molded who she is. It was this desire that drove Malu to leave Hawaii at seventeen years old, enrolling in Atmosphere and Energy Engineering at California’s Stanford University.

After graduating from Stanford, Malu’s prolific surf career has continued to grow — as has her desire to protect the environment that made her who she is. Malu is now ascending to the next level of her academic journey, pursuing her PhD with the Ocean and Resources Engineering program at the University of Hawaii. Inspired by one of her mentors, Hawaii Island surfer, chemist and journalist Dr. Cliff Kapono, Malu is studying how coral reef morphology affects the hydrodynamics of a wave. Using data sampling and computer models, Malu simulates reef structure in order to derive the tensile strength (breaking point) of different coral species, and to predict how this tensile strength will be affected by major bleaching and storm events. Malu’s ultimate aim is that this information, in combination with applied weather modeling, will create a method to predict (and eventually bolster) the resiliency of coral reef populations around the world.

Another project that Malu is committed to is The MegaLab, a collective of scientists, athletes and artists focused on conducting underwater topographical mapping of the world’s best surf spots. The MegaLab’s hope is to monitor coral reef health at high-exposure surf breaks like Cloudbreak and Teahupoo, ultimately raising awareness of the critical role that coral serves both in wave creation and marine biodiversity.

Malu is a living manifestation of the ocean that molded her — and through her work as a dedicated protector of the reef and the sea, she is also a living embodiment of “aloha ‘āina”, which is the Hawaiian concept that describes the importance of “protecting and caring for the land and ocean you love”. Now that is a beautiful wave to chase.