Surfing As A Business, Way Of Life

As the saying goes: Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.

Joanne “Jojo” Howard was 10 when she rode her first wave at Haleiwa’s Alii Beach Park, and she knew she would be surfing for the rest of her life. But she had no idea she would be doing it as a career.


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Joanne ‘Jojo’ Howard catches a wave in Bali | Photo courtesy Jojo Howard

“The wave was small, just whitewash,” recalls Howard, who was introduced to the sport by her uncles. “But it was one of the biggest rushes I ever felt.”

Born on Guam and raised in Mililani, Howard graduated from Saint Francis School in 1999 and went on to earn a business degree from University of Northern Colorado, where she also played on the school’s rugby team. She followed with an internship in Italy for a year and then moved home, but had a difficult time finding a job.

She ended up spending that summer teaching surfing at Hans Hedemann Surf School, and then went to South America for a year until finally moving home for good.

Again, she couldn’t find a job, so she worked at various surf schools in Waikiki and built a following of repeat customers, including some who would call for private lessons. What began as a recreational hobby was turning into a career, and in October 2010 Howard opened her surf school Gone Surfing Hawaii, which is ranked No. 2 out of 229 activities in Hawaii on Trip Advisor.

“I never thought surfing would be my career,” she says. “I love everything about surfing and I love being in the water.

“As far as work, I love being able to make my own schedule and not having to wear shoes. Also, every day is different. I get to meet all these cool people who I wouldn’t necessarily meet outside of traveling.”

Gone Surfing Hawaii specializes in private and semi-private surf and stand-up paddleboard lessons for beginners from as young as 5, as well as those with some experience who maybe want to improve their skills. Instructors have all received ocean safety, first-aid and CPR certification.

Lessons usually take place at a surf spot called Pops off Waikiki Beach. Beginners learn the basics of longboarding, including how to paddle, turn and stand up. People who have some experience in surfing can learn to sharpen their skills, such as how to read waves better, how to position themselves on the board and in front of the wave, and how to read a lineup with two or three people in it.

“For somebody who’s never gone surfing before, I’ve heard them say it’s an experience of a lifetime and something they never thought they could do,” says Howard, noting that her oldest client was 86 years old. “They were so excited when they rode and stood up on their first wave.”

Howard says her business goal is to expand her staff from two to five full-time employees. The company also is a member of 1 Percent for the Planet and donates 1 percent of its sales to environmental groups around the world. Howard also is on the board of directors for a nonprofit in Africa called Peace by Piece. “It was an orphanage I volunteered at,” she notes. I traveled back and forth three times. We are building schools there now.”

And while riding a wave can be a thrill, it also is quite a workout. “You’re using a lot of your upper body strength and core, especially with standup paddleboarding,” explains Howard. “And it also keeps you in shape without knowing it because you’re having so much fun.”

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