Keala Kennelly, 30, is one of the world’s best female surfers and loves to take on the boys. With a cupboard full of trophies and the record for being the first woman to tow into Teahupoo, Keala has shunned the comp circuit to concentrate on what she does best – surfing on her own terms.
Photos courtesy of Billabong.
Have you always loved watersports?
Yes, I was a water baby and had no choice but to love the water. My mom was surfing five months into her pregnancy with me!
How did you get into surfing?
When I was a baby, my father used to take me surfing on the front of his longboard. My brothers and I got into boogie boarding and then our dad bought us surfboards and I was totally hooked.
When did you decide to commit yourself to the sport full time?
I was reakky young. I didn’t even know there was a World Championship Tour, I just knew I wanted to be the best surfer in the world. I think when I entered my first contest and I beat somebody, that really got me motivated.
Do you consider yourself to be an adrenaline junkie?
Yes. I love the rush you get from surfing big waves and more specifically big slabbing barrels. If you adrenaline isn’t up at that point then there is something seriously wrong with you!
Can you give us a run down of your average day?
It depends on where I am in the world and how the waves are. If I’m on a photo trip, my focus is on surfing and shooting. If I’m at home in Hawaii in the winter time, I am up in the morning and having a latte with my computer on Surfline checking Pipe and Rocky Point. If there is no swell I like to go to the gym and catch up on emails.
And if you could have the perfect day, what would it include?
My perfect day would be waking up in Tahiti and Teahupoo is 6-feet, uncrowded and perfect!
What are your plans for the autumn?
I want to do a trip to Puerto Escondido with Scott Aichner. I had planned to go to Puerto Escondido for the X Games but it was cancelled.
What’s your favourite surf spot?
Definitely Teahupoo, Tahiti.
How do you prepare for a big competition?
I just try to surf a lot and get familiar with the spot and get familiar with my boards.
Do you still get nervous before a big contest?
Yeah, I get nervous. I like to put on a good show and have my abilities shine through. I Don’t like thwn I go out and misrepresent myself by having a shocker and losing. I think nerves are an important part of a competition, when you stop getting nervous that means you have stopped caring.
What is the atmosphere like behind the scenes?
It depends upon where the event is… Huntington Beach is a hectic zoo circus, events in exotic places can be way more mellow because there are a lot fewer people. Any time you have a WCT event there is going to be a lot of hype around it which is going to add pressure to any athlete that is involved. Every competitor has her own way of psyching herself up. Lots of us like to listen to our iPods and shut out the rest of the world and focus on the task in hand. I prefer photo trips and free-surfing. More surfing, less drama. No jersey, no time limit, no groveling in sub-standard waves… It’s all on your own terms.
You must travel a lot: what are your suitcase essentials?
Old school Italian espresso maker, hand milk frother, laptop, sunscreen, iPod and H20 audio gear, a good book and a hot pair of boots.
What have been your biggest career setbacks?
Having the World Title slip through my fingers. Losing close heats in terrible waves. Struggling for equality in a male-dominated sport.
What have your greatest achievements been so far?
Making history by being the first woman to tow into Teahupoo. X Games Gold medal. Runner-up to the World Title in 2003. Triple Crown Champion 2003. Billabong Pro Champion 2000, 2002, 2003. OP Challenge Champion 2001. ESPN Sports and Music Awards ‘Surfer of the Year’. ARBY’s Action Sports Awards ‘Surfer of the Year’. Freesurf Magazine Awards ‘Surfer of the Year’.
Who or what are your inspirations?
I’m inspired by people that follow their dreams. People who meet fear head on. People who dare to be different. People that crush stereotypes. I have always had a lot of respect for women like Madonna who does all those things.
What affect does your career have on your personal life?
When I was on tour, it was difficult to have a personal life. Now that I am not on tour any more, it’s got much easier. People kind of have a pre-conceived idea of who I am from seeing me on TV and in magazines. They think I am a lot more gnarly than I actually am. When they meet me, I think they are surprised at how nice I am, but who knows how many people are too intimidated to even come up and talk to me?
How do you relax when you get the chance?
Sometimes I lay out on the beach or by the pool at my place. I love to cook, I like to go to the movies and I like to mix records and make DJ mixes for my friends.
What’s up next for you?
The goal now is to continue to break new ground for women in the sport by being the first woman to be a successful professional free-surfer / photo surfer. There are so many guys out there doing this and not one female – it’s time to create new opportunities for women in the sport.