GIRL ON: Holly BeckJan 04 2007 / Los Angeles, CA
This is one surfergirl who knows how to make the most of everything that has come her way
When Holly Beck first started surfing she was embarrassed about being a kook. In fact she was so shy about anyone seeing her flailing about in the water that she and a girlfriend would get up at five a.m. and catch a ride to the beach with her friend’s older sister who would go down to work out. “When they guys came out to surf as the sun came up we would hide the board and sit on the beach and act like we were watching them,” Holly says now laughing at her early days as a surfer girl.
Times have changed and Holly has not only shirked the shy side, but she’s gone on to become probably one of the best known women surfers in America. This is not through being a world champion necessarily though, but through appearing in ad campaigns from Freestyle watches to Body Glove, from appearing on the WB reality show “North Shore” and from her involvement with the industry. She has become such a favorite across the board in mainstream America that in 2001 she won the Teen People Choice award through fans voting for her. This kind of recognition still shocks her but she says on the other hand she’s always known that it wasn’t necessarily her surfing (although she is an incredible surfer) but her total California surfer girl look that makes people remember her. “I have always known if I wanted to keep living this lifestyle I needed to take advantage of the fact that I have that look brands are looking for and people associate with surfing.”
But surfer girl looks aside, LAT34 likes Holly because she’s not afraid to surf big waves, say what she’s thinking and take any adventure put in front of her. Take last year for example. She was invited on a trip to a remote part of Africa for a trip that didn’t guarantee waves, but would be an amazing cultural experience and she didn’t even have to think twice about it. “For me surfing is about this amazing ongoing journey around the world where you make amazing friends and have experiences you could not have at your own break.”
LAT34 caught up with Holly just before she jetted off to the North Shore for two weeks of surf and contests. Here’s what she had to say about her life as a surfergirl.
LAT34: Why do you live in Redondo Beach when you grew up in Palos Verdes, which is such a great surf spot?
HB: It’s close the airport and family and it’s easy to come home to Redondo. I loved where I grew up though.
LAT34: How old were you when you started surfing?
HB: I was older than most pro girls. I grew up with an old fashioned mom and she thought surfing was for boys and not for girls. She thought I would never meet boys if I was a surfer because I would be too sporty. I was a tomboy from a young age so she pushed me toward dancing and horseback riding. In junior high you do start to care if boys are going to like you so I thought I should be more girly. Then I started boogey boarding one summer and fell in love with the ocean and at that point I didn’t care anymore what the boys thought. I realized I was going to be a surfer.
LAT34: How did you get started surfing?
HB: My mom had so ingrained in my head that surfing was wrong for me so my friend and I would borrow a board from a neighbor and surf at 5am in the dark and then sit on the beach and watch when the other surfers showed up.
LAT34: When did you start competing?
HB: Pretty much right away. A guy at school heard this girl making fun of my wetsuit tan and I was defending it saying, hey, I don’t care because I think it’s cool that I have a surfers tan. When he heard I surfed he said I should join their team because they needed more girls. I started competing before I could even surf but that made me get better quickly. In my first contest I got second because I caught more waves than anyone else. That started the fire in me for competing.
LAT34: But over the years things changed for you right?
HB: Because I started late I didn’t feel I was as good as a lot of the girls I was competing with. Luckily I had that blond hair blue eyed look. Winning wasn’t everything for me and I was still able to travel as a surf model and represent companies. My passion was for surfing not necessarily competing, but I saw early on to get sponsorship you have to use what you are strongest at. I could stand there in a photo shoot and had that look that allowed me to continue living the dream of surfing. When I realized I wasn’t going to be world champion I decided to just be the best surfer I could be and utilize all different aspects of myself for surfing. I was smart, good at organizing, I could write stories, market myself and others. Surfing isn’t just about the competitions.
HB: I never wanted to be a model, that was just sort of given to me and allowed me to continue on and travel the world. It started with Rusty seeing me and bringing me on a photoshoot as a model with all of these girls who had fake tans and long nails and bottle blond hair. The trip was to Cabo and I was sixteen. I was a knobby kneed skateboarder girl. From the beginning I wanted to do it for surfing but they wanted me for modeling. On that trip I showed the guys I could surf and that led to a sponsorship. I have no idea how my parents let me go there as a 16 year old.
LAT34: So what came next?
HB:I didn’t ever consider pro surfing as a reality for me until I was in college. Where I grew up there weren’t girls who surfed or pros, so it was a whole foreign world to me. I was a dorky tomboy. My freshman year of college Jim Russi, this big surf photographer, offered to take me on a trip when a girl had flaked. There were these top level girls on the trip and while those girls were a lot better surfers than me the gap wasn’t as big as I thought it was. At the end of that trip they were going off to Australia for a contest and I was going home to school and I realized then that was what I wanted to do, so I pushed through school fast and made it happen.
LAT34: So how is the contest circuit?
HB: So amazing. So fun traveling seeing all of these places and hanging out with girls. Growing up I was a tomboy and I didn’t have many girlfriends and then suddenly I was traveling to all of these places with girls who were like me. We would play soccer on the beach and run through towns and check things out. I didn’t do that well in the contests that first year. It was about experiencing those new things. I was getting paid to do this and it was like a dream come true. I was just in awe of my life and kept thinking, Wow, I am a pro surfer.
LAT34: Did that wear off?
HB: Definitely. After a few years that wore off and it gets hard to lose repeatedly and your luggage gets lost and you are away from family and boyfriend. The downside of being on tour started showing itself to me. Surf contests are hard in that your self worth is placed on 20 minutes in the water and a fraction of a point makes all the difference between a win and a lose.
LAT34: Did you think about quitting it all?
HB: I spent a year and a half questioning if this is what I should do. I was like I went to college…I am smart….I am going to these killer places but I am just seeing the same beaches and the waves aren’t good. And I miss my friends and boyfriend. I took a little downtime and then realized that surfing was a part of me and the contests were pretty cool too. I just needed to shift my thinking. Now I look forward to being with the people instead of focusing on the contest. I have gone through the full range of how I feel on tour and suddenly I seem to be doing a lot better too.
LAT34: What are the coolest places you have ever been?
HB: Brazil was so cool. Cruisy and rootsy and good hiking. There are all of these waterfalls and good waves. Recently I went to West Africa on a documentary trip. This writer Sam George had been there six years before and it had been communist for many years. The year before he got there it changed. He found this tribe of kids who were surfing on old pieces of canoe even thought they had never seen surfing. They taught the kids how to surf stand up. He wanted to go back and so we went to go do that and see these kids seven years later. To see a white girl in a bikini surfing was amazing to them. Sam brought a blow up canoe and the girls would get on that but they were too shy to surf. It was amazing watching them surf. Every time I paddled out there were like five naked African kids surfing with me. They speak Portuguese. Surfing was our common language
LAT34: What was it like riding their boards?
HB: Nearly impossible. I would pearl on them and by the end I got a few good ones. They also had these raft things they made by putting logs together and they would paddle and ride them sitting down.
LAT34: How has surfing changed for girls over the years?
HB: I would just say the Blue Crush movement changed everything. It went from surfer girls being a side thing to being everything in surfing. One crazy story is that Chanel hired me to be a guest of honor at one of their parties during fashion week in New York. There I was watching anorexic women with four-inch heels carry Chanel boards on the runway. That was weird. But it’s a good thing to see how much exposure women’s surfing is getting these days.
Sponsors: Body Glove, Rusty, Freestyle, Paul Mitchel, Sector 9, Dakine and Betty Belts
READ ABOUT HOLLY'S NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE IN TAHITI.
STAY TUNED FOR HOLLY’S TRIP TO AFRICA NEXT MONTH.