Surfing around the world. Working in movies. Isn’t that the kind of life many kids dream of?
For Megan Abubo, sales account manager at HMSA, it’s more than a dream. It’s a reality. This one-time professional surfer has led a life that she hopes will be an inspiration to young wahine throughout Hawaii.
Abubo grew up in Waikiki before moving to Oahu’s North Shore. “I had an instant connection with ocean since I was a baby,” she says. “We lived only a block from the beach.”
Abubo has fond memories of growing up in Waikiki. ”Everybody knows Waikiki is synonymous with beach boys and beach girls and the ocean lifestyle,” she says. “I was fortunate to move out to the North Shore in about the eighth or ninth grade.” That's when her surfing career really took off. “It's the best place in the world for waves.”
Riding the waves
Once she started winning national titles as a junior in the 1990s and traveling the world to compete, Abubo knew she wanted to make surfing her career. “I didn't really know that there was professional women's surfing. I knew there were professional female surfers, but I didn't know that you could travel the world make a living and see everything and meet so many wonderful people.”
Abubo has had a storied surfing career. Competing for the world title, she placed second in 2000 and fourth in 2005. Her major victories include the Women’s World Championship Tour (WCT) Roxy pro in Fiji in 2001, the WCT Figueira Pro in Portugal in 2002, and the WCT Rip Curl Malibu Pro in 2004.
A career highlight came in 2007 when she won the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing in Hawaii after coming back from a rib injury. “That was one of the most special days in my life,” she says. “There's something about waking up in your own bed and putting on a jersey and going out of your home break. There's nothing like surfing at home and being surrounded by friends and family. It was really special.”
With female professional surfing starting to gain popularity at that time, “A bunch of my friends and I were fortunate to capitalize not only for the betterment of our own lives, but financially. We were a part of a huge movement that went from being the only girls in the lineup to women picking up surfboards around the world. It gave me 16 wonderful years of traveling to nearly every continent in the world and fostering relationships.”
Surfing on the silver screen
Abubo’s surfing success opened a door to another career path — the movies. She was a stunt double in the groundbreaking 2002 surfing film “Blue Crush,” set on Oahu’s North Shore, which also helped usher in the female surfing renaissance.
“It involved me walking up the beach to do a lot of stunt doubling for Michelle Rodriguez, one of the ‘Blue Crush’ stars,” she says. “I learned a lot about behind-the-scenes movie production and what it's like to work on a movie set. And I got put in places that I never thought I would be, like big avalanche surf break outside of Hollywood, flipping jet skis and swimming in big waves and towing in my best friend, and 20- to 25-foot surf, which wasn't really common for women to do back then. It was really fun work.”
Following “Blue Crush,” Abubo did stunt work in commercials and movies, including “Soul Surfer,” which is based on the life of professional surfer Bethany Hamilton. Abubo continues to work in television as a commentator for World Surf League competitions.
“I like being able to be myself and talk about surfing and express my passion for the sport,” she says. “I enjoy the commentary aspect of television as opposed to acting.”
Along with her surfing and related careers, Abubo puts a lot of effort in supporting important causes. She supports a number of nonprofit organizations, including the Moore Aloha Foundation founded by Olympic gold medalist and five-time world surfing champion Carissa Moore, which helps young women gain confidence and empowerment through surfing.
Abubo is also a spokesperson for the Keep A Breast Foundation, which focuses on breast cancer prevention. "I lost my sister to breast cancer when she was very young,” Abubo says. “She was diagnosed in her 20s. I didn't even realize you could get breast cancer in your 20s.”
Keep A Breast is a nonprofit that centers on young people and encourages early screening, self-checks, and taking care of yourself. “You don't realize how important it is when you're young to look for those signs or to take care of yourself,” Abubo says. “It's never too early to create awareness.”
Abubo has taken her wealth of professional experience into her latest career at HMSA, where she’s worked since July 2023. What’s the biggest lesson she’s learned up to now?
“Work-life balance,” she says. “One of the biggest takeaways from my previous careers is that you put 100% into your job, but at the same time you need to replenish yourself to help others, since we’re in the business of servicing others. And that’s something that I believe everyone on our team and everyone I'm involved with at HMSA seems to do quite well. We have work-life balance. That's really important.”
Photos courtesy Megan Abubo