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Sports Then and Now

Lani Doherty Remains Grounded Despite Her Life on The Surf

Posted on September 23, 2009 by Todd Civin
Lani Doherty ripping a wave on her way to ninth place finish in the world.

Lani Doherty ripping a wave on her way to ninth place finish in the world.

World-class surfer Lani Doherty’s full name is Kaiulani, a Hawaiian name which translates to “Highest Place in Heaven.” One can only imagine that when the 16-year-old phenom from Maui finds herself ripping through the surf enveloped by a 20-foot wave, that is exactly where she believes herself to be.

But things haven’t always felt “heaven-sent” for the teenaged ripper from the Aloha State, who recently finished ninth in the world at the Quiksilver International Surfing Association (ISA) World Event in Ecuador.

Doherty had to overcome her fair share of adversity on her way to the crest of the wave, and currently finds herself among the world’s elite female athletes in the popular offshore sport.

Lani was practically born on the waves, as both her parents were surfers. She began riding on the nose of her father’s board at the age of six months.

“I was riding my Dad’s board before I could even walk,” explained the affable teen with the golden locks. “I started riding my own board when I was five, and entered my first competition when I was only seven.”

Lani and her 13-year-old sister, Kulia (which translates to “Outstanding Beauty”), were raised by their father, Mike, after their parents divorced when Lani was five. The family often found themselves having to do without after her parents split up.

“My Dad owned a surfboard fin manufacturing company called Techno-Surf Products, explained Lani. “When my

Lani Doherty: Not Your Typical Teen

Lani Doherty: Not Your Typical Teen

parents divorced, Dad had to sell the company to raise us.”

“It was hard for us being raised by just one parent. My Dad tried to do the best he could to raise two daughters, but it wasn’t as easy as it could have been. Sometimes we had money problems, too.”

The money problems Lani speaks of forced her family to take in boarders and to rent out part of their taro root farm in order to make ends meet. Lani, however, exhibits the laid-back attitude of her surfer lifestyle when she explains how the Dohertys coped with life’s challenges.

“It didn’t really matter to us. We were always just having fun surfing and doing what we had to do to be a family,” she said. “Surfing has always been my outlet. It just makes life so much better.”

Lani and Kulia see their mom on holidays and for an occasional dinner, but spend the bulk of their time with Dad alone.

“We see her every now and then, but not too much. We love our Mom, but she kinda has her own family now,” she said. “She’s remarried and has two kids of her own.”

The typical day in Lani’s life indeed sounds a bit more casual than that of the average 16-year-old girl, and even Lani herself is a bit amused by the relative carefree, windblown life style that she leads.

“I usually sleep in and then my Dad and I go for a walk on the beach. Then we go out surfing for a while, come back home and wake my sister,” she adds, laughing. “Then we eat some breakfast, run a few errands, go for another walk at the end of the day and then we go surfing again.”

Sometime during her day in the life, Lani also spends three hours of class time, as she has been home schooled by her Dad since the age of nine. “I actually went back to school shopping for the first time in years. It was so exciting.”

Lani is attending public school this fall for the first time since fourth grade, not in Hawaii but in San Clemente, Calif., where the family now spends part of the year in an effort to keep Lani close to California’s many surfing competitions.

“I’m really nervous” she explained. “I don’t know how the girls will accept me being the new girl at school. I do have a lot of friends there and I’m sure they’ll help me out.”

Once Lani hits the surf, her nerves seem to disappear and life’s challenges dissipate quicker than the mist flies off of her Nu-Kreation’s Board.

“I live to surf. If I don’t surf for three days, I get really antsy and miss the surf real bad. I can free surf for hours and hours at a time,” she said.

Lani travels to most of her competitions with Kulia, who also competes, and her dad, who offers the girls support, coaching and waxes their boards when not wearing his dual-parenting hat.

When asked if she thinks her dad, a former competitive surfer, was living vicariously through his daughters’ success, she laughed.

“I don’t think he’s living the dream through me. He’s just here to help us and to be a good dad,” she said. “He’s the greatest.”

Though a big fan of her dad, Lani’s surfing idol is seven-time world champion Layne Beachley, who hails from Manly in Sydney, Australia.

“When Kulia and I were little girls we’d see her at competitions. We’d bring her pistachios and she’d talk to us. She is such a great role model and is so into her charities,” she said. “She goes out into the world and really helps people. It’s what I hope to do if I ever become that famous.”

Lani describes herself as fun, cheerful, and outgoing and tries to be polite to everyone she comes in contact with.

“I’d never be rude to anyone because I’d be afraid it would come back to get me,” she said.

When not surfing, Lani enjoys The Disney Channel and Hannah Montana, and looks forward to going to her first rock concert once her dad deems her old enough to attend.

“I love Lady Gaga and Rihanna. I may listen to a little Jack Johnson after I get back to my house from surfing. But when I’m getting psyched for a contest I usually listen to a little Metallica,” she laughs.

“And God plays a great role in my life. My dad has taken me to church since I was a baby and I love Jesus Christ,” she said.

Doherty’s sponsors, which include Oakley, Dakine, Surf Co., Future Fins, New Kreation and Sticky Bumps, have allowed the Dohertys to escape a bit from the family’s financial struggles. But, even while experiencing some of life’s finer things, Lani still has her feet firmly planted on the ground.

“In Maui we had a big old rusty suburban. We’d just load all of our boards in the back and head to the beach. We didn’t have a nice car, but my dad would always say that ‘people that have nice cars don’t drives themselves to work,'” she said. “I’d rather have dad drive me to the beach in a car that wasn’t so pretty then to sit in a school all day and be picked up in a really nice car by someone else.”

With her increasing fame and sponsors the Dohertys were able to trade in the rusty Suburban and replace it with a newer set of wheels.

“I was able to buy a car for us, an ’03 Chevy Tahoe. Surfing helped me pay for that,” she said. “Everything takes time I guess and I trust that God will continue to take care of us.”

Todd Civin is a freelance writer for Bleacher Report, Seamheads, and Boston Sports Then and Now. He can be reached at He is also a supporter of A Glove of Their Own, the award-winning children’s story that teaches paying it forward through baseball.

Please visit the site at and purchase the book under today’s donor code CVH113 Covenant House Foundation or RWF626 The Roy White Foundation, as $3.00 from each book sold will be donated to these wonderful charities, while an additional 30 cents will be used to purchase sporting equipment for underprivileged children.

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