In Hawaiian, Hanalei means “crescent bay,” which is fitting for Hanalei Reponty. With her shy smile and angelic voice, the self-proclaimed “mermaid from the island of Tahiti” at first meeting gives a false impression of someone receding from an uncomfortable encounter. The impression doesn’t last long though as her attentive eyes and palpable warmth reveal a kind soul opening up to embrace every conversation, every opportunity, every moment.
It was this gracious spirit that first drew us to Hanalei—that and the many lives she’s lived as a professional surfer in Tahiti, a student in Sydney, a model in New York and LA, and now a swimwear designer in San Clemente. She has traversed the globe and has still decided to plant some roots in California. So we invited her to be part of the UGG Collective. Open as she is, she of course said yes. And we’ve been obsessing over her ever since. Join us.
What was it like growing up in Tahiti?
Well, you know, it is a cliché, but it was truly paradise. We grew up, always climbing trees, running in the sand, spending as much time in the ocean as we could, if it was surfing or diving or swimming, just anything possible. Everything smelled like sunscreen and wax and coconut. It was a fun childhood for sure.
What I really love now, looking back, is it taught me the simple life. People are really happy over there if they have a roof over their heads, they have fish in the ocean, they have the sun. It’s just the most amazing place on earth. It just taught us really to respect the environment, which is something I really cherish. I feel like, probably because of growing up in the islands, I’m able to see beauty in everything and everyone, which is a great thing.
How did you start surfing?
My dad is from Marseilles, the South of France. The Mediterranean Sea is not really well known for surfing, but there are a couple of waves. He started surfing quite late and he got the bug, the surfing bug. He loved it, so he traveled through his internship studying medicine. He went to New Caledonia and Raine Island and traveled the world. He met my mom back in France, and she was really into the ocean too. For his last year of medicine, he applied to go to Tahiti, and he got it. They were supposed to stay for a year, and then they just never left. They fell in love with the islands, and so his love of surfing I think brought us there, and then my story began there.
Can you remember surfing for the very first time? How old were you?
I don’t even remember because I think my dad put me on his surfboard before I could swim. My mom always tells me the story of the first time he pushed me on boogie board. I didn’t know how to swim. I literally went all the way to the beach and then tumbled in a short break. My mom was like, “What have you done?” But I think we always grew up in the ocean and we never had a fear of it.
My first memories of surfing are, I was probably four or five, and it was just surfing on a boogie board, which at the time felt huge. Just standing up and wearing my little rash guard all day and never wanting to come in. We would stay for hours, till it was dark.
How do you think the surf culture in California differs from Tahiti?
The surf culture in California is very strong. I think in Tahiti or in Hawaii or in Polynesia the surf culture is something that is in their blood. It is something that their elders and their kings used to do, so it’s very alive, but I feel like here in California there’s a really strong sense of a lifestyle. Some people move to California just because they want to be close to the ocean. It’s amazing to see that. Seeing all the beaches and all the kids just being in love with the ocean, even though they have to put a wetsuit on, I know it’s a different story, but it’s still a beautiful story. It’s the same love of the ocean and the passion.
What does the ocean mean to you?
I feel like when I’m in the ocean, and I’m sure a lot of people say that, but nothing else really matters. You’re just submerged in this immensity that is so beautiful. Surfing all around the world, sometimes you see cliffs, sometimes you see blue water, dark water. Everything is so alive and you feel like really small, and you feel so glad to be able to be part of this big world. I think that’s why people get hooked, either diving or surfing or being out there, because you feel so free and so alive.
How did you end up in California?
Love. Yeah, so I met Patrick [Gudauskas, now her husband] when I was 17 at a surf contest in France. Then I moved to Australia to study, so we always had a long distance relationship. A couple of years ago I was like, “Well, if I want to make it work I might as well move to California.” So as soon as my exams finished I was on the plane.
What do you think of when you think of this state?
California is definitely, I feel like, the land of dreams. Endless sunsets, cold water, really good food, really great people. I love it here.
Describe what it’s like working on your wetsuit and swimwear line, Abysse.
It’s just fun because I get to design and I don’t have anyone really telling me, “You’ve got to do this,” or “This is your budget.” I get to be really creative. My mom is my partner. She has a background in retail, so it’s been a fun family affair.
It’s also been fun to learn about making wetsuits and neoprene. Most people don’t know, but neoprene is made out of petrol, which is really bad for the environment. Some amazing people in Japan found, created, and patented geoprene, which is a limestone-based neoprene, so we’ve been using that, and everything is made here in America, in California, which makes me really proud because I’m able to give that work to people that I trust, that I see every day. I know they are getting paid well, and it’s just been really fun to have that relationship.
Recently I took it upon myself to expand into activewear. The ocean is definitely particular to someone that wants to enjoy it, but activewear really reaches a lot of different women. I found these people in Italy that recycle ghost fishing nets, which are fishing nets that have been discarded in the ocean. Those nets harm the environment; they kill all the ecosystems and fish. They go get those fishing nets and then they recycle them into nylon.
I’m so happy to see that people are willing to maybe spend a little bit more of money, but have a better product that is eco–conscious. I think if every company in the fashion world can make a little adjustment or a little step towards that, then we’re all going to a better place.
How would you describe your design aesthetic and personal style?
I think I’ve always had a really strong point of view. I know what I like. I think it’s my French side a little bit. My mom growing up was always reading awesome magazines and she herself, I think, really has a great sense of style. It’s like, you never wear more than three colors at once, or it’s just all those funny French sayings.
I think my style is very… I’m not going to say French, but I love anything that’s black or gray. You know, darker pieces that are different but in a subtle way. There’s always a little twist or a little turn.
What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I’m a black belt in karate. Yeah, so growing up I loved surfing. That was my life, my passion, but my sport was karate. When I was five, I was such a tomboy. My mom wanted to put me in a dance class and I cried, I cried, I cried so much. I wouldn’t do it. She was like, “What do you want to do?”
I did karate for 13 years. I loved it. Every day of the week I would train. I think the martial arts really gave me a lot of discipline and a lot of respect. I wish it was mandatory for girls. It’s such a great framework for people. It’s not necessarily about fighting. It’s about respect and learning. I’m just so glad I had that in my life.
Shop the Kari sandal Hanalei wears here.