For Airman 1st Class and Hawaii native Tiani Ray surfing is a way for her to connect with nature, and was a way to build self-esteem while growing up.
Now she’s thousands of miles away in the middle of the United States serving her country and finding that skateboarding has become the next best way to reconnect with her love of surfing.
“My favorite thing about surfing is that feeling of being connected to the ocean and just feeling like I’m with my ancestors,” said the 19-year-old. “It just helps me feel more in tune with Mother Nature, like I’m becoming one with the water. It’s indescribable.”
Her father started training her to surf at the age of 4 after an incident when she swam out to him in the water during high waves. She was screaming for him, but not out of fear ... for delight.
“I calmly responded by saying, ‘Swim to daddy,’ as I quickly started paddling in the direction of my daughter’s voice,” said Kalauokalani Ray. “I could see my little mermaid doggy paddling about 30 feet from me, and I could tell she saw me because in that moment her face lit up with the biggest smile.
“As I scooped Tiani out of the water to place her on my board, I knew at that moment how vital and challenging my role as her daddy would be in helping her find her identity.”
When she got older, the training got harder. She said he would have her run 6 miles every day, do 100 laps in an Olympic-size pool and then 100 push-ups before they could even go to the beach.
“I was honestly trying to be the best father I could be by using the activities that taught me so many life skills like patience, respect, humanity, perseverance, work ethic, consistency and love,” said Kalauokalani Ray.
Even though Tiani thought the training was difficult, she said she still really enjoyed it because it helped to build her confidence, and it always led to getting out on the water.
“I was kind of a chubby kid growing up, so girls would make fun of how I looked,” she said. “Surfing was my escape from reality, from all the negativity.”
Soon the comments didn’t bother her as much. She grew stronger and began surfing at a competitive level.
“Surfing is an aggressive sport, and I was often the only female out there, so it really made me more prideful,” she said.
She became so good at it that she was even offered scholarships for college. However, she wasn’t able to pay the rest of the tuition costs, so she joined the Air Force to advance her educational career.
She has been serving as a 437th Supply Chain Operations Squadron computer operations technician for almost a year, operating a system that helps bases worldwide keep track of inventory, as well as order new products ranging from aircraft parts to office supplies.
With nowhere to surf, she started skateboarding again as a way to simulate the feeling of riding a wave.
“I started skateboarding when I was a kid just because I thought it was cool, but then I realized it also helped improve my skills for surfing,” said Tiani.
Skateboarding reminds her of home and the sense of “Aloha” she misses so much, which she said means love, respect and people showing care for one another.
Ray continues to practice surfing through skateboarding because her hope is to one day return home and surf again.