Rell Sunn, (July 31, 1950, in Hawaii – January 2, 1998, in Makaha, Oahu, Hawaii), was an American world surfing champion. In the history of female surfing, she was a visionary.
Sunn was born in 1950 in Makaha, on the western side of the island of Oahu. Her family had Chinese-Hawaiian origins, and her middle name, "Kapolioka'ehukai" meant, aptly, "heart of the sea." The beach near her birthplace, Makaha, was popular among surfers for its waves, and she started surfing there at the age of four. Woman surfers were rare in those days.
Sunn was committed to the sport as a youngster and entered her first race at the age of 14 in 1964. As in many of the early events in which she participated, there were no women's divisions, so she merely registered alongside the boys. She was Hawaii's first female lifeguard; at times she was treated rudely by men she had rescued.
As a young woman in the early 1970s, Sunn pushed hard to create a parallel women's circuit with other early women surfing stars, such as Joyce Hoffman and Linda Benson and became a co-founder of the Women's Professional Surfing Association in 1975. When a ranking system was built up, Sunn had occupied the number one spot in the world for a while.
"The aloha spirit is real simple. You give and you give and you give . . . and you give from here (the heart), until you have nothing else to give." ~ Rell Sunn
She also was a key character in a project that gave underprivileged youth from Hawaii the ability to sail across state islands to give them a more in-depth feel for their cultural heritage. She was one of the five first people to be added to the Huntedton Beach, California Surfing Walk of Fame in 1996.
She recovered from a mastectomy and later a bone-marrow transplant, which she diagnosed with breast cancer in 1983. Shortly after she lost her hair from the treatment of chemotherapy, she surfed on a swimming cap; her surfers watched it, and the next day they arrived in matching strong headgear.
She continued to live as she had before for the next 15 years, surfing, diving, swimming, and paddling across open water as well as spearfishing, despite awful disease pain and continuous treatment. She was involved in chemotherapy, radiation, and the transplantation of the bone marrow. Sunn surfed happily for years and frequently did not have any external symptoms of poor health.
On 2 January 1998, Rell Sunn died, 47 years of age. More than 3,000 people took part in the memorial, where their ashes were dispersed off its native Makaha in the ocean