She’s stunningly beautiful, travels the world surfing and helps underprivileged people where ever she can. A combination you could very easily be incredibly jealous of. But we managed to overcome our smaller self and caught up with this hugely interesting woman, who also wrote the Haiti travel story for our last issue, to chat about waves, beauty and her surf camp in Nicaragua.
Interview by Anna Langer
Hey Holly, what are you up to at the moment?
Right this moment I’m hanging out on the porch at my house in Nicaragua watching the rain pour down while enjoying a steamy cup of coffee and some time catching up online without worrying about the surf today.
Less specifically, I’m at the end of a three month trip down here and starting to think about heading back to California. I definitely do not want to leave what I’ve started to consider as “home” but it will be good to catch up with friends and family for 10 days before heading off to Fiji to film a surf and dive documentary with Body Glove.
You wrote the story on surfing in Haiti for one of the last issues of Cooler. Have you been there since the earthquake?
I haven’t been back. It seems like there is a lot of rebuilding to be done before Haiti can start accepting surf tourism once again, but at that point I’d love to revisit and do some more exploration.
Are you involved in the help effort?
I am not. All my energy has been focused on Nicaragua. The good thing (if you can find a silver lining) is that disasters in places that need help like Haiti end up shining the global spotlight on the situation and people from around the world rush to help. Hopefully when infrastructure is rebuilt it will be more functioning than it was before.
Can you tell us a little more about your surf camp in Nicaragua?
Nicaragua is my fav place on Earth. It has warm water, excellent surf, incredibly friendly people, and is really undeveloped – no McDonalds or Starbucks or big chain hotels. I wanted to be able to spend more time here and show others how wonderful it is. I had always thought that after pro surfing I would like to run womens surf retreats, so it all fit together really nicely. I can bring groups of ladies down, help inspire them to improve their skills in the water, introduce them to the magic of this place, and also help them to do some volunteer work with people that need a little help. We do week long retreats at a beautiful private home right on the beach that include daily surfing, yoga, and adventure plus a few opportunities to give back such as bringing food and clothing to kids that scavenge at the town dump. I’m only doing a couple retreat weeks this summer but starting in November will do many more.
You work with non profit organisations there to help the local community. What kind of projects do you support and how does that work?
SYRV.org is run by a friend of mine and focuses specifically in the area of Nicaragua where I have my house. They have built water purification systems for schools and families without other access to clean water. Their current project is turning a shipping container into a community center where local people can access computers, sewing machines, clean water, and after-school tutoring.
There’s also a nurse that runs her own health clinic and sponsors school kids and another hostel nearby that runs an after-school program. Those things combined with a church group that feeds the kids at the dump create plenty of opportunities to plug in smiling volunteers and do some good.
You have travelled the whole world as a surfer. What other exciting places have you been too?
I’ve been incredibly lucky. Whenever I try to list off all the countries I’ve visited thanks to surfing, I always end up forgetting a few, but here’s the ones that come to the top of my head: Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Brazil, Australia, Fiji, Tonga, Tahiti, Indonesia, India, Andaman Islands, Maldives, Sao Tome, Haiti, Seychelles, Portugal, England, France, South Africa, Gabon, Hawaii, New Zealand
What/where impressed you the most?
Well, Nicaragua is my favorite and I love all the latin American countries too. I would have to say that the Seychelles were the most jaw-dropping beautiful, Haiti had the most interesting culture, in Australia I made the most friends, Sao Tome had the most memorable single surfing experience, but I would most like to return to New Zealand.
How did you get into surfing in the first place?
I wanted to learn to surf when I was 13, but my mom said no. “Surfing is for boys. You should be sitting on the beach looking cute in your bikini not out competing with them, you’ll never get a boyfriend that way!” She was super old fashioned and never approved of her tomboyish daughter, but by the time I was 14 I had saved up enough babysitting money to buy a surfboard and wetsuit at a garage sale and by the time I was 15 I had friends that could drive me to the beach so she couldn’t stop me. I was so determined to prove her wrong about surfing being just for boys that I picked it up really quickly.
You also competed professionally for a while, is that right?
I turned pro in 2001 after graduating from college and did the WQS for 7 years. It was really fun. I’m a very competitive person and I made a ton of friends from all over the world. But the tour isn’t all glitz and glamour. You go to the same exact place every single year. You are there for 10 days and don’t really get to go explore because you have to practice at the contest beach. But there are 200 of the best guy surfers and 72 of the best girls from all over the world all trying to practice at that same beach too, so it’s really crowded. I’ve been to Durban South Africa 8 times but never been on safari or really done much exploring. It got to the point where I was spending so much money to do a contest that I’d end up getting frustrated and then flying home without seeing the place or interacting with the people much at all. Now when I travel I go to more interesting places and the whole purpose is exploration and interaction. It’s a lot more fun and rewarding.
You also modelled quite a bit in your life, how do you like that part of your job?
The modelling part is the “work” part of being a pro surfer. I don’t particularly like it, but being able to do the modelling and surfing is a big part of how I’m 29 and still getting paid to surf while a lot of my peers that didn’t do the modelling part are now “retired” from pro surfing. Sometimes it’s fun. If the people you’re working with are awesome, that makes all the difference.
There’s a quite a debate about girl surfer being sponsored for their looks rather than their skills. How do you see that?
It happens a lot. I was just on a trip with a girl who can surf ok in small waves and is really beautiful. She is in a ton of ads and a lot of American surf mags because she’s hot but she would only surf for 40 minutes at a time and then go lay on the beach. The days the surf was bigger she was only taking the little inside waves, and she calls herself a pro surfer! But, the truth of marketing is that pro surfing exists to sell product. If you aren’t attractive you aren’t going to sell any product so sponsors aren’t interested. I have a Masters in marketing but you don’t need that to understand the situation.
Did people ever give you hard feelings for being a pro surfer and a model at the same time?
I’ve done a lot of modelling and in the beginning of my career I felt a lot of pressure to prove that I wasn’t one of those girls just sponsored because I was tall with blonde hair and blue eyes and could pose in a bikini. Some of the older girls doing the contests definitely gave me a hard time at first because a lot of the ads that were run of me in the beginning just showed me standing there with my surfboard not actually surfing. It took some time to get past that image.
Right now there are a lot of young girls coming up in the sport who totally rip and are also super beautiful like Alana Blanchard, so hopefully that will help settle the debate. Ideally, if you want to make money in surfing especially over a long time, you have to have both: looks and skills.
How do you think girls should deal with situations like that in general?
If you model and want to call yourself a surfer, you’d better work on surfing as well as you can or else you’ll have the same problem. But no one should be ashamed of looking good and getting paid better for it. Use what you’ve got to get what you want!
What do you do to stay fit?
I’m one of those annoying people with good genes that can eat anything and doesn’t have to work out to look fit. Fitness is still important for surfing though. I HATE the gym and have never had a gym membership in my life. I play! I surf, chase my dogs on the beach, go for a hike or a paddle, etc. Living in Nicaragua without electricity, I have to pump a well to get water, carry that water to the toilet to flush it, wash clothes on a washboard, etc. I actually end up losing all body fat living down here! Just taking care of the chores necessary to live is a full on core body workout!
What goals do you have you still wanna reach?
I want to be able to sustain myself financially while living in Nicaragua, so getting that women’s surf retreat going and keeping it up is a big short term goal. Longer term, I’ve been working on writing a novel based on my experiences learning to surf and going on tour for about 2 years. I spend a couple months working on it and then forget about it for 6 months. I want to put in some more time and finish that.
What’s up next for you?
I’m headed to Fiji next month to film a dive and surf documentary with Body Glove. We are going to be surfing all over the place and diving with tiger sharks. I can’t wait!
Wow, we wish you great times then!
Intrigued? Find out more about Holly and her surf and yoga retreat on surfwithhollybeck.com and hollybecksurfs.blogspot.com