While the elite of the female surfers gathers in Biarritz today, to kick off the penultimate stop of the ASP Women’s World Championships, but a couple of years back the event was still called Roxy Jam and was dedicated to the longboarders. So allowing ourselves a tiny pang of nostalgia, we’ll share our cover girl interview from the April/May issue in 2009 with UK longboard icon Candice O’Donnell
Interview by Sam Haddad, action photos by James Burns, lifestyle photos by Babette Pauthier
Hailing from Cornwall, Candice O’Donnell is the reigning British female Longboard Champ and forever styling it out with world’s best noseriders. We caught up with her for a chat, and exclusive cover shoot, while she was on the road in Morocco with the Roxy team.
We first met Candice two summers ago at the Roxy Jam. It was scorchio but as ever she was super-chilled, in spite of being the only Brit in a field of world-class longboarders. Just being there was an overachievement. We hung out again last autumn on a Vans surf trip to magical Bundoran in Ireland. That time we got to surf with her and watch those smooth sweeping turns, part of her distinctively laid-back style, close up. She even let us ride her board and gave us tips without laughing too much at our ongoing ineptitude. Aged just 24, Candice is the reigning British and English Longboard Champion, but also one of the nicest and most humble surfers you’re ever likely to meet.
So when did you get into surfing?
When I first joined the beach life saving club when I was 12 or 13 years old.
Were you scared?
When I first started surfing I wasn’t really scared, I was more amped on what I was going to achieve in each session. Although of course when conditions got crazy I would get a little anxious. In contests I think nerves are good, as they show that you care. It’s learning to control those nerves, and to focus your energy into a good performance, which is key.
How quickly were you surfing green waves?
Pretty much straight away. I’m a typical Aries, straight into something new, believing from the start I can do it, no matter what, haha.
Why did you focus on longboarding?
I enjoy riding all styles of boards, be that a single fin, twin fin, or bodyboard. I started out on a bodyboard at first, but then transitioned to a longboard. I was forever asking the boys in the surf if I could swap my bodyboard for a go on their longboards. And then in the end my good friend the shaper Bevis shaped me my first sponsored custom longboard, a 9’0 retro pintail single fin (that boards a beauty!). From the minute he dropped the board off I didn’t once put it down until I got an upgrade. Since I was born surfing has pretty much been ingrained into me. From a young age I’ve been travelling from coast to coast with my parents, so I really feel at home with the ocean.
What’s so special about longboarding?
I like to ride short and longboards but have chosen to compete as a longboarder because I feel that longboarding offers more variety (due to the progressive and traditional elements), and opportunities for self-expression within the competitive arena.What is most important though, I stress, is to better oneself, learn new moves, and gain confidence in all of surfing’s domains.
What are your favourite moves and what moves do you hope to master in 09?
My favourite moves are big clean, smooth round house cutbacks, stalls, fade take offs and of course noseriding.For 2009 I would like to master busting an air on a longboard.
How would you describe your style?
Without actually seeing myself surf, that’s a hard one. But from what I feel when I surf, I feel, relaxed yet energised, and individual.
What advice do you have for people wanting to work on their style?
The best way to work on your style is to ride a traditional single fin log, preferably surfing a point break. The traditional style single fin will make you appreciate longboarding and the long history that comes with it, and secondly it helps you slow things down a little.Riding a single fin will allow you to pivot the board from turn to turn making sure that you stand right over the fin at the back. These boards are great for working on your noseriding, fades, drop knee turns and a variety of other old school manoeuvres.
How did you get sponsored and what tips do you have for girls wanting to get sponsored?
I was very lucky to be picked up by my first major sponsor Roxy in 2005. They mean a great deal to my surfing career and me. They back women’s longboarding and enable events like the world championships to take place. It’s opened up a lot of doors for me and the other girls involved. Seabase who provide me with world-class longboards later picked me up, and Vans Shoes. If you’re looking to get sponsored, first of all make sure it’s for the right reasons. Sponsorship is a serious commitment between you and the brand. You need to be ready to work hard, and play hard.
Right now women’s surfing is growing leaps and bounds and companies are really listening to what we have to say.
Have you always lived in Newquay?
I was nursed by the ocean. I was born in south Africa alongside the tides, I moved to England with my parents at the age of six, only to relocate soon thereafter in the vicinity of Hossegor and Biarritz in the south of France. Once again at the age of ten I uprooted to England, where I have lived ever since.
What do you like most about it?
I like the fact that Europe is on our doorstep – we’re so lucky to have all these amazing countries so close and Cornwall is a very beautiful place, with its rugged coastline and quaint little fishing towns tucked away.
How do you feel about Londoners crowding your breaks!?
Surfing has grown so much over the last ten years, it’s no surprise that we now have all these “surf pods” springing up all over town. Yes of course I get frustrated when I go surfing at my local break in summer and it’s full of tourists who don’t know the rules of the ocean and don’t actually care, as it then becomes a danger for everyone. And with the exchange rate between the Euro and the Pound I think more people will be heading to Cornwall for their holidays, which will be great for the local economy.
Is there a lot of localism on your favorite breaks?
Like any surf break there is always some form of localism. It all depends on what area, and wave you’re surfing. You always need to respect the locals if you’re surfing their break, it’s key to remember.
What has been the single biggest thing which has improved your surfing?
I think commitment on all levels has been the foundation for my improvement, as without it I would have never progressed so quickly. Working closely with my board shaper to come up with some magic boards, surfing in contests, and definitely surfing with the cream of the crop on surf trips around the world.
Is sewage and pollution a big problem in Cornwall?
Surprisingly the breaks that I surf in the UK have very little visible pollution in the water, but it’s when you get out of the surf and walk up the beach, that you really see the truth of the matter.
Sewage has always been an issue, and it’s only through supporting associations like SAS (Surfers Against Sewage) that we can really make a difference. For every amazing wave claimed in a session, you should pick up that same number in rubbish on the shore on your way back up the beach. That way everyone’s doing a little to help a lot.
What can we do to minimise our negative impact on beach and water quality?
Pick up your pet waste. Reduce, reuse, recycle, and stop using single-use plastics. Pick up your rubbish, hold on to your cigarette butts, and join a local action group to get more involved.
Who are your heroes?
My twin sister, people who believe in themselves and have the patience to succeed, and all the girls that I surf with on tour, and while travelling.
Have you ever hurt yourself badly?
Yes I’ve had injures such as broken Ribs, fractures, lacerations, cuts and bruises, and mild concussion, all while surfing.
Could a British girl ever win the Roxy Jam (World Longboarding Championships) without moving abroad to train?
Never say never but I do feel that in order to become a world champion you need to have the skills, knowledge and the experience, which can only come with travelling abroad and putting yourself out there. It also depends on the individual.
Big shout out to my sponsors Roxy, Seabase and Vans, who help make everything possible. Thanks guys!