Miss Hawaii USA

It’s tough enough to win the title of Miss Hawaii USA, but for Moani Hara, it’s a heroic achievement because she suffers from dyslexia

Like many little girls growing up, Moani Hara watched the Miss USA pageant on TV and admired the beautiful young women on stage. Well, this childhood tomboy from Nuuanu, who also was shy and quiet, is now 24 and has grown up to be one of those stunning ladies.

Crowned Miss Hawaii USA last October, Hara will be among the 51 contestants competing for the prestigious Miss USA title June 8 in Baton Rouge, La. (and televised live on NBC).


Image 1 of 5

It's tough enough to win the title of Miss Hawaii USA, but for Moani Hara, it's a heroic achievement because she suffers from dyslexia. Photo by Nathalie Walker

“I always was in awe of how gorgeous these women were and how confident they were,” recalls Hara. “You could just tell how much they were secure within themselves, and I really liked that.”

Aside from being shy, Hara also struggled in school, particularly with math. She says it was frustrating for her to see others get through the lesson while she was still stuck on the first step. But then she learned why. At age 10, she was diagnosed with dyslexia, and at the recommendation of her doctor, she was fortunate to transfer to Assets School the following year.

“Dyslexia is a learning disability that hits reading, spelling, math, comprehension and organizational skills, and it can vary from one to 10 (spectrum of severity),” explains Hara. “I was so happy to go to Assets. I felt confident there because you’re with other children fighting the same battles. At my other school I had friends, but you just feel like the outsider. Your friends are flying in all of the classes and you’re just at a standstill. The only thing I could really relate to with them was recess.

“At times I was teased – you are so slow; you’re so dumb; what’s wrong with you? I was getting more and more frustrated, so I started to push myself away from certain people.”

Since then, Hara has learned to cope with dyslexia, but she still faces some challenges as an adult, such as math, transferring her thoughts to paper, organizational skills and spelling certain words. The word she struggles with the most? “Definitely.”

Also, “When people make jokes like, ‘Oh, I’m so dyslexic’ when they mix up words, it doesn’t bother me anymore,” says Hara.

With a glittering crown on her head, Hara has made it her personal platform to raise awareness about dyslexia. She speaks to students at various public and private schools, and serves as a volunteer and board member for Hawaii International Dyslexia Association.

“I want to see that every child is being helped,” says Hara. “No child has to struggle with what they’re going through or feel certain feelings that I felt – even just having Q&As with children and their parents who have not yet gotten tested or have but can’t afford the proper education.

“It definitely brings me to tears when they’re telling me how much they’re struggling. They wish they could be able to learn like their fellow friends.”

As a teenager, Hara started modeling and was introduced to beauty pageants by her friend, former Miss Hawaii Malika Dudley. She entered her first pageant at 16, and won the title of Miss Hawaii Outstanding Teen.

“I thought a pageant might be good for me, especially if I want to be a communications major,” she says. “I was very quiet before, so it really got me to push myself, get out of my shell and really see if I’m able to speak in public. Also, I liked that the pageants offered scholarships for college.”

Hara graduated from Assets in 2008, and is a student at University of Hawaii-Manoa, where she is studying communications but is considering going into real estate. In 2012, she entered the Miss

Hawaii pageant, finishing first runner-up. Last year, she entered the Miss Hawaii USA pageant at the encouragement of executive director Alicia Michioka Jones, and now they are busy preparing for Miss USA.

“I’ve been doing interviews, watching the news, dieting and just remaining focused,” says Hara, who leaves May 25 for Baton Rouge. “I also work out three days a week with my trainer Matt Jones, and do a cardio exercise such as a 30-minute run on the treadmill or run around Kapiolani Park two days a week.”

The daughter of Robyn and George Hara, a receptionist at OHA and retired Hawaiian Telcom cable splicer, respectively, Hara is Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, Dutch, Irish and Portuguese. You may recognize her from a recent episode of Hawaii Five-0; TV commercials, such as for Vacations Hawaii; and countless fashion shows, print ads and editorials, including the recent cover of Waikiki magazine.

In addition to modeling, she also dances hula for Halau Hi’iakainamakalehua under the direction of kumu hula Lono Padilla and Robert Kaupu.

She lists Alexander Wang as her favorite designer, Tuesdays with Morrie as her favorite book, and River Monsters and Keeping Up with the Kardashians as her favorite TV shows.

And while she admits she can’t sing, her favorite karaoke song is Sunday Morning by Maroon 5, and she loves watching movies that are musicals, such as The Sound of Music, Pitch Perfect, Footloose and Frozen.

If you ever need to get ahold of her, you should know her pet peeve is when people call her, and then she calls back but they don’t answer. If you’re buying her a gift, make a note that she’s obsessed with turquoise jewelry, and don’t get her pineapples or a cat, as she’s allergic to both.

And while she used to be a tomboy who played sports and wasn’t afraid of getting dirty, Hara now loves to collect shoes – fancy high-heel shoes. Her favorites are her Christian Louboutins and Stuart Weitzmans.

She also collects ticket stubs from movies, concerts, events and her travels.

“I’m a sentimental person,” she explains. “I just like looking and reflecting on things in the past.”

She also likes to cook and claims to be really good at it (you have to try her shoyu chicken and lasagna). But, if she’s dining out, her favorite food is Hawaiian, especially at Helena’s, where she orders pipikaula, chicken lau lau, chicken long rice, poi and kalua pig.

The best advice she ever got was from her grandmother Anna Stone, whom she calls her role model.

“She told me to always be the better person,” remembers Hara, “to not fully judge unless it’s something you really stand for.

“She passed away when I was 11, but she was my best friend. She watched me a lot. I remember I would help her with getting the weeds out of the yard at our house, and we would always have talks.”

In addition to her dream of becoming Miss USA, Hara says she also wants to travel and eventually settle down with a career and family.

“Ten years from now, I want to be successful in the career I choose,” she says, “and be married with kids – hopefully a boy and a girl.”