This week we caught up with the British surf veteran Ashleigh Bennetts, to see if the multitasking twen has already frozen in the water or still juggling comps besides her own surf school
Interview by Anna Langer
Hey Ash, how’s your summer going so far?
I’ve been run off my feet! Having an amazing summer so far, working hard and surfing hard. It’s not been the sunniest of starts to the year and surfing conditions have been poor. Luckily we can surf until about 10.15pm here right now so have been getting some late sessions in after work has finished! That’s one thing I love about Cornwall in the Summer – there definitely is enough hours in the day in the Summertime to do everything.
You’re running the O’Neill Surf Academy in Watergate Bay, Cornwall. How’s that going and how did it all start?
I’ve got the best job in the world right now running the O’Neill Surf Academy. It’s the surf brand O’Neill’s flagship Surf Academy in Europe where I get to teach all ages and abilities of surfers, not just beginners!
It all started off when I completed my work experience with my school when I was 14. I remember my career advisor telling me it was a bit of a lame excuse for ‘work experience’ going surfing every day, but I was inspired and determined to follow my dreams. It led to me completing my surf coaching and lifeguard qualifications and being taken on at the Surf School as a full time instructor. I was pretty young when I started coaching at 16, but after a couple of years of working my way up the ladder my boss moved to warmer climates and gave me the opportunity to buy the surf school… I had my heart set on it and somehow managed to get it all together… Here I am 10 years on from my work experience days living my dream, surfing every day and with my own fantastic surf academy. They say you can do anything if you put your mind to it, and I’m definitely a firm believer!
So you didn’t set out to be a coach?
If you’d asked me a few years ago if I wanted to be a surf coach I’d have probably said no. I’ve always wanted to do something ocean based and have always enjoyed teaching people. I think being torn between the life I love and working life, I’ve managed to find my perfect balance!
Any vital tips for lands(wo)men like us to get from whitewater to green waves?
Grow your confidence… Confidence is so hard to gain and so easy to lose. Start off at a beach where you can get out easily, most coastlines have sheltered bays where you’ll be able to get out through the waves easier and spend more time surfing than getting washed up on the beach.
As you get more confident you can move onto bigger waves on more exposed beaches. So many people throw themselves in at the deep end… Surfing takes time and commitment, but all in all don’t take your surfing to seriously – the best surfer out there is the one with the biggest smile!
You’re holding Girls Only Surf Days in August, is it better to coach girls separate from boys?
I really enjoy coaching groups of girls. Naturally we have a different approach to surfing than those gung ho men! It’s nice to have the opportunity to ditch the boys and focus on some of the specifics that are more applicable to us women. I love meeting such fantastic girls who all just want to surf – some of them for the first time ever, and some of them who’ve been doing it for a while and are in bit of a rut. Mixed groups are always fantastic lessons too, but I do like the chance to get the girls together and have lots of fun out in the water. The girls only surf days are always my favourite dates in my calendar for coaching thats for sure!
How did you get into surfing in the first place?
I grew up with sand on my toes and salt in my hair. Living just yards from the beach it was my back garden, so surfing just came naturally. It was a great way for me and my friends to entertain ourselves over the long school holidays and weekends.
You’re competing in the longboard comp at Boardmasters, right? Are you looking forward to that?
I’m really looking forward to the Boardmasters this year! I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit nervous though. I competed in the Boardmasters last year for the first time and it’s a huge event. Last year the waves were massive and scary for longboarding so have my fingers crossed that conditions are a bit more friendly this time around. There’s also lots of spectators and it’s shown on big screens all over the beach and on a live webcast so there’s a lot more pressure than with most national and regional contests. The standard of surfing is really high, and it’s totally inspiring to see the other girls shredding.
What’s special about this event?
The women’s Longboard Contest at the Boardmasters is the biggest 5* event on the Women’s LQS (longboard qualifying series for the world tour). It attracts the top surfers from around the globe so there’s lots of famous faces and world class surfing. It’s one of the few contests that’s got some prize money up for grabs too, which always pushes everyone that little harder in their performance.
Do you prefer longboarding over shortboards in general?
I’m always torn between my love of Longboard and Shortboarding. I’ve not actually ridden a shortboard much this summer here in Cornwall though as we’ve had a run of small and inconsistent waves. I definitely prefer longboarding when conditions are like that – I can get all the waves whilst my friends struggle on their shortboards. However, when the conditions get a little heavier thats when my shortboard comes in handy!
What plans do you have for the rest of the year?
I’ve got lots of training to do for my contests, and lots of coaching work over the Summer months at my surf academy… But after that I’ll be jetting off to California for a few weeks surfing the long point breaks and warmer water. I’m also planning to head out to my favourite wave in the world at Noosa Heads, Australia early next year to compete in the Noosa Festival of Surfing. In between all that I’ll be teaching surfing and getting plenty of waves for myself too.
Anything else you wanna get off your chest?
Does anyone know where the sun is this summer?? My wetsuit tan lines are hideous….I need some bikini days on the beach!
Ash is an O’Neill Womens Surfing Ambasador and rides in O’Neill Wetsuits