• • • Kanoa Greene, a native Hawaiian, who throughout her life has gained an understanding of how to encourage others through her love of fitness, change of mindset, and her personal experiences of vision loss and body image. We chatted about her love of the ocean, her new fitness app, and her advice to other women.

Hi Kanoa, it’s so great to connect with you. Tell me, what does the ocean mean to you?

I come from a family of ocean lovers. I am a native Hawaiian, so my family has an affinity to the land, ocean and the water. That was very much integrated not just to my physical daily life, but from a cultural perspective. Because once we moved from Hawaii to Orlando (which is not on the water), we still spent a lot of time there. When you come from certain cultures it plays a part in your DNA language, it was always a part of me. I don’t think you realise that until you are much older, and not everyone experiences that, it is unique.

My uncle was a surfer, for many years, a legendary surfer. I didn’t know the magnitude of his stamp in that world, as he didn’t do it competitively. A lot of Hawaiian surfers are not known for surfing worldwide, as they don’t have that money. Until about 10 years ago, a book came out and they wanted to feature him, as there was a surf spot named after him that he didn’t know at the time. He is a simple, local boy, and for him, it was an extreme honour. That was the world I grew up in and I always had a deep love and appreciation for the ocean and surfing.

What lights you up?

Encouraging people… It’s taken all my life to realise that and it’s a gift I didn’t realise I had. Once I realised I had it, I realised how much I loved it. It gets me super excited. If I’m low in energy, if I know I can encourage someone, it really does spark me and gives me the energy I didn’t know I had.

What does adventure look like to you?

Adventure for me is not being afraid to do anything – or even try everything – at least once, because most of my life I was afraid to do anything.

Especially as being a plus-sized woman, people don’t realise your life is surrounded by questions that are fuelled by fear.

For me, coming from a family that wasn’t a similar size. Growing up in Orlando, I grew up in Disney World. When you get to the age of a teenager and no longer fit on the rides, it’s uncomfortable.

Then the world really changed, and that is when fear was instilled in me, just being in compromising situations, and I wouldn’t do anything. So for a large part of my life, it lacked adventure.

So now, in this state of mind, anything and everything can be an adventure for me. I don’t say no to anything, I want to try everything in this life.

So now, in this state of mind, anything and everything can be an adventure for me. I don’t say no to anything, I want to try everything in this life.’

Adventure for me… Is not being afraid to do anything, or even try everything at least once, because most of my life I was afraid to do anything.

Can you tell us about your surfing journey?

It’s interesting because when I started my journey, it started in a place about me. It was something I wanted to do for a long time. I had the opportunity to surf way before I actually did. but I was scared to do so. I was living in Hawaii as an adult and my cousin (who is my spirit animal, she is the person I was inside but I was too scared to outwardly take risks and be adventurous) – we were going to go surfing but those fears crept back up, ‘can I do it?’. It took me probably at least 2 years to go back to it. I finally made a decision in 2018, as I was very strong mentally, and I said it’s a thing that I am going to put out into the world. I was making that declaration of: ‘it’s going to happen’. Speaking that brought out opportunities to do that. That was when I was invited out to Costa Rica to a photoshoot for a size-inclusive surf line that was coming out the following year.

What has been the most challenging part about surfing?

Costa Rica was just an amazing experience, there were a lot of challenges for me mentally, as I went out there with a mission because that shift in me came from having to prove to myself and the women out there that they/we can do this. The weight of that was really hard for me. You have this expectation of ‘I have to do this, and I have to do it now’. I was out there with 15 other girls, all shapes and sizes. The first day, we walked towards the water and I could tell that these waves are not going to be kind to us. Most of us were ‘new surfers’ for the most part. It was tough. The second day had much better conditions but I just couldn’t stick, couldn’t get on the board. I was already crying. I felt so discouraged because I started to think “what if I can’t do this?”.

My instructor was like ‘it’s not about that all, the best surfers are the ones who are having the most fun, smiling and laughing, you need to let go of all of that.’ For the last day, I booked a private surf lesson and I got onto the board, and we did it again and again and again. The release of everything I was putting on myself, I could do anything I wanted.

What is one of your biggest fears that you have overcome recently?

The app was one of them. Originally, I was approached in 2017 to do the project, but I said no. I was thinking, ‘who the heck am I to start a fitness app?’. When they approached me again last year, I was in a mind-space where I didn’t have a fear of failing or looking silly – it was nice to overcome and see where I am now. I couldn’t imagine not saying yes when I did. I had moved forward into a new version of me, a more fearless version of me.

I couldn’t imagine not saying yes when I did, moving forward into a new version of me, a more fearless version of me.

Tell us a little background about the app?

It’s a fitness app that really meets women where they’re at. Based on when I started my fitness journey in 2015 and growing up in a larger body, there was a lot of diet culture. I had an eating disorder when I was at university.

I always approached fitness, with disgust for my body and how I could manipulate it. It was about exercising more and eating less, doing the things I hated to do but the things you have to do to lose weight.

When I started my fitness journey, I realised I wanted to do it from a place of loving my body how it is and appreciating it. I just wanted to get stronger, I wanted to do adventurous things, and I knew that fitness was the key for me to be able to move better. That’s where this spurs from. There weren’t tools and resources that were available to help me move while simultaneously celebrating my body at every stage of the journey.

When I started this journey I was 315 pounds. It was challenging for me to do moves that included fast transitions. I wanted to build my body athletically, but a lot of resources out there for heavier people were fluffy dance cardio workouts. I love to dance, but it just felt watered down. It didn’t feel as though they were trying to train me as an athlete. All of those experiences drove me to create something that hadn’t been done before for women like me, whether you are just getting started or you’re manoeuvring around injuries or just the shape of your body. You want to build the strength and endurance and stamina of your body and be focused on that, rather than, ‘I need to lose weight or look different’.

I never thought I’d enjoy moving my body or exercising because for so long it was a chore, something I had to do for all the wrong reasons. It’s so liberating to do things for you, it brings a deeper sense of joy. Now I know the worth I have, it helps me become a better surfer, a better hiker, to do other adventurous things on my list. The idea of movement and fitness brings me so much joy.

What advice would you give younger females who want to get into a more active lifestyle and or surfing?

Just go for it. I get a lot of questions, almost daily, ‘how do I get started?’, ‘how do I restart?’. My advice is to make the connection that you are going to start and you are going to finish. If you can tell yourself that, start there. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to do it. It doesn’t matter how long it’s going to take, just tell yourself: ‘I am going to commit to finishing it’. That speaks volumes. When I started my journey in 2015, that was the first time I had made that sort of statement, and I was so committed to finishing. Whatever happens, I will finish. I had no idea that I would soon lose half of my vision, and because I made that statement early on, even though I went through the most traumatic experience of my life to date, I did not quit, because I spoke those words and I was committed. That’s what I tell women, if you can dig deep and tell yourself that, you can do it.

I did not quit, because I spoke those words and I was committed. That’s what I tell women, if you can dig deep and tell yourself that, you can do it.

Can you share the story of how you lost your vision?

It was crazy and unexpected. Thanksgiving 2015, I had to take an eye exam. I’ll never forget the ophthalmologist who presented me with the results, she said, ‘you have a detached retina in your right eye, it’s so severe that I need to send you to a specialist right now’. I had retinal tears in both eyes. They were able to laser my left eye right there and then, but as the detachment in my right eye was close to the centre of my eye, I will never regain that vision 100%, as it has been compromised.

It felt heartbreaking, I didn’t expect it, I didn’t mentally prepare for it. That experience helped me discover a deeper sense of courage and determination that I thought I had before that experience. It grew me in amazing ways, it gave me the guts to say, ‘I’ve been afraid to do so many things, but I’ve lost my vision so whatever, who cares what other people think, I’m going to live this life for me’. It really grew me into who I am today for sure.

Are there any other fierce females you have drawn inspiration from

over the years?

I think all women. I don’t think there is not a woman who I have met who I don’t draw inspiration from, because we all have stories. If we are brave enough to share them, there is something for someone out there to gain inspiration, perspective and wisdom from. I am drawn to podcasts led by women (normally those who are interviewing other women), articles, women on social media. I am constantly inspired by what we are able to do, who we are as women and our ability to overcome and uplift, it’s incredible.

What are your biggest dreams?

That’s a good question. I’ve always been a dreamer. As a little girl, I’d not always be paying attention in class as I love to daydream, and now I’ve become a dream doer. Where I love to dream big but I know it’s going to become a reality. For me, everything has manifested. If it encourages someone to take action, then that is my reason and it’s why I have expanded into so many areas. It started as a vehicle of fitness that I thought would never be a career, and it would help me on my journey.

I have dreamt bigger, with the aim of helping other people. Then I got into all of these adventures: into these retreats, into fitness modelling, anything that can help someone out there. My biggest dream is to continue taking another step forward every single day to encourage someone else and not stop until my time on this earth is done.

What does the rest of the year and beyond have in store for you?

So we do have our fitness app release and the surf retreats. When you’re in the midst of these projects you don’t always have the magnitude to take it all in. You don’t understand the impact it has in the day to day, you just know, ‘I have to get this done’. We are launching our plus-size surf retreat in 2021 and it will be the first time we’ve seen something like this of its kind. Once we launch the first surf retreat, we are looking at expanding into other adventures. The goal is to create a safe space for women to be who they are and be confident in their bodies.

Thank you so much, Kanoa. It has been such a pleasure hearing your story.

June 26, 2020 — Janaya Wilkins