Jen Smith is one of the most powerful and styley longboarders in the galaxy. At just 24, she already has two ASP World Longboard titles in the bag and this July will be gunning for a third at the Roxy Pro, Biarritz. Out of the water she takes being super laid back to a whole new level. We got her longtime mentor, friend and fellow surfer Kassia Meador to shoot her in their hometown of San Diego
Interview by Sam Haddad, photography by Kassia Meador
How did you enjoy the cover shoot?
It was killer because Kassi is a friend of mine. We travel a lot together and she’s been taking pictures of me for years, so it’s just very easy. Usually I’m really awkward being photographed, especially with people I don’t know. For video stuff I can sit there and ramble on no problem but having your photograph taken is always a little bit strange I think.
When did you first start surfing?
I started surfing when I was a little kid and I was probably like seven when I started getting really into it and asking my parents, “When are we going to beach?" My Dad’s a surfer and he used to push me into waves on his shortboard.
I’ve always grown up around the beach in San Diego. I started learning at Pacific Beach, and caught by first wave right in front of the pier. From then I always had an ambition to surf. Sure there were times when I was younger and I’d end up getting smashed by a wave or pretty scared by a wiped out but I always went back, I always loved it.
I did my first contest when I was 10 years old. I made the final, and though I got last in final it was so much fun. It was an all girls women surf contest, the only one of its kind at the time, which was pretty cool.
Who were your heroes growing up?
My Dad of course. From 1993 he ran a skateboard store, which used to be next to Skip Frye’s shaping room and he was always someone my Dad looked up to. He’d say, “There goes Skip he’s so rad." So naturally I looked up to him as a kid. Living in San Diego I’ve had amazing surfers to surf with and my Dad would go to trade shows for his business and come back with signed posters from surfers like Lisa Andersen and Prue Jeffries. I’d realise, “Ah ok there are a couple of professional women surfers out there." And it was a dream of mine to be a world champion one day, or a pro surfer as I’d seen these girls do it.
When did you get into longboarding?
In fifth grade (around age 10) my teacher pointed out a magazine article featuring the local longboarder Joel Tudor. Al the other pros I’d seen until then were shortboarders. There were no female longboard role models, but then when I was 15 my Dad introduced me to Kassi at a surf contest in Malibu. A couple of years later she started letting me tag along on trips with her and she really helped me out as a kid, in terms of breaking me into the whole longboard scene.
What else appealed about longboarding?
The fact that I could get way more waves on a longboard, as opposed to a shortboard. On smaller days my Dad would be out there on a longboard noseriding or hanging ten and I thought that looked fun. Also watching classic old surf films like Walk on the Wet Side and Endless Summer really inspired me, as it looked like those guys were just having a blast. I really wanted to learn to noseride after watching that stuff.
Was it hard learning to noseride?
For me, it was a long process. I don’t think I got my first legitimate noseride until I was like 14 years old in terms of hanging five and cross stepping off. I grew up surfing beach breaks so there isn’t a lot of time on the wave and the kids my age were all on shortboards, so I was doing a lot of tail surfing until I started to noseride.
When did you get your first major sponsor?
Roxy approached me in 2006 at the first ever Roxy Jam in Biarritz. It was cool as I’d been trying for years to become a sponsored surfer but it just wasn’t happening so I kinda gave it up. Well I didn’t give it up but I just started surfing purely for the joy of it and as soon as I changed my mindset things started happening for me. Roxy picked me up and started paying me and then as soon as I won my world title they started paying me well.
How does your Dad feel about you being a pro?
He’s stoked. It was like one of his dreams as a kid to do nothing but surf and he’s really proud that I’m doing it for sure.
Are you better than him now?
It’s kind of weird as he can do things I can’t do and I can do things he can’t. We sometimes surf together but not as much as I’d like.
How would you describe your style?
I think I surf pretty smooth and you know I don’t try and force things in the wave. I’ve been surfing for so long it’s all pretty natural to me. Noseriding is always a great feeling and I have this thing I do with like a backwards take off, where I stand up backwards and then naturally on a surfboard your fins will pull you around.
What’s your longest noseride?
One time in a contest they were timing everyone and I did 13.5 seconds. Though maybe in Scorpion Bay once I might have had a longer one.
And your favourite conditions?
I have the most fun in head high waves, like surfing the reef breaks at La Jolla, San Diego with nice drops, a little bit of power and a good long line to surf.
I like a good mix of both. The Roxy Jam is so exciting and it’s so rad to go and surf with all your friends from all over the world. The really cool thing with longboarding is that a lot of the girls aren’t pro surfers, even though they have the ability and are the best in the world. They just do it because they love it and want to be there rather than because it’s their job, so the vibe is always friendly. It’s rad as we just have a good time and hang out. Compared to shortboarding contests, it’s so much more fun.
I also love Biarritz. The setting is amazing, it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to, in terms of architecture, the set up of the beach and the cliffs. And I like that they make it a huge festival for a week rather than you just go surf your heat and go home. Everyone hangs out all day, looks at the art, gets excited about the band that’s going to play that night.
And you have your best performances there, winning two world titles?
Yeah the waves really suit my style as I grew up surfing beach breaks and the contest is held at a beach break. The waves are super fun and pretty natural for me.
Do you get nervous before contests?
The night before a contest I’m pretty relaxed and just hang, have a nice dinner and get my focus, rather than going out drinking and dancing. But sometimes I get really nervous like in Costa Rica recently when I was doing a PLA (Professional Longboarding Association) event at Boca Barranca. I was sitting on the beach before the semi and I just felt like I was going to lose, I had a horrible feeling. I did make the final and then won it, which was a shocker to me as I hadn’t had that many good waves throughout the contest but I managed to lock into a run of good ones. Before that I was in Noosa and around Australia for a Roxy Girls Trip, which was a blast. In Noosa it was literally the best anyone had seen it since the 60s, in terms of shape, size and consistency of swell. It was pretty magical.
Does longboarding suit girls more than shortboarding?
There are some girls who look really beautiful on a shortboard but for the average girl it’ll suit her style better as you don’t take an aggressive approach you just sort of go with the flow. It can look so beautiful for example Kassia Meador and it’s something anyone can appreciate, even people who don’t surf will look and go, “Wow that’s amazing!"
Do you train much out of the water?
I really try to work to stay fit. I go to the gym and go jogging every couple of days and ride my bike just to change my mindset every now and then, and it’s good exercise. I skate a lot for transportation and that’s good cross training for me and I skate for Sector Nine and they have this big wooden bowl out at this warehouse so I like to go skate that now and then too.
Do you eat healthily?
Yeah generally. I’ll spend hours in the day making a meal. I spent a year taking care of my Granny, living at her house three days a week and we’d cook for the whole family. She was from London so the meals she taught me were all good English stuff with gravy. I love to eat all kinds of food, I just made this curry which is pretty off the hook and I cook a lot of fish as my Dad used to fish and my cousin’s a fisherman.
What music are you feeling at the moment?
I just got this album called The Bird and the Bee. It’s insane, all covers of the 70s dudes Hall and Oates, so I’m pretty into them. And Empire of the Sun and Beirut, and The Smiths will always be a staple to get me psyched.
Do you listen to music before comps?
Sometimes it gets me psyched but it’s not something I really need. It can definitely change your mindset sometimes though, you can be in a horrible mood and listen to a song and it changes your mindset for sure.
Stay tuned to find out if Jen can win yet another title at the (newly named) Roxy Pro in Biarritz this year!