Teenage Kicks

Meet Lucie Donlan, the 17 year-old sponsored surfer from Cornwall who knows a thing or two about pursuing your dreams

Lizzie Churchill

Words by: Nina Zietman

From the outside, Lucie Donlan is your average teenage girl. The 17 year-old from Cornwall loves skiing with her family, scrolling through Instagram and hanging out with her mates on the beach. But Lucie is living the life most girls would dream of.

Since the age of 13, surfing has been her passion. After first standing up on a board with the help of her dad, Lucie has pursued her dream of becoming a sponsored surfer.

You have to be hard, committed and hungry for the win to be a competitive surfer. I think I’m too soft…

Now – when she’s not studying for her A-Levels or coaching other young female surfers – she’s a team rider for Protest and modelling for companies like Northcore Surf.

She’s even auditioned to be the lead role in upcoming surf movie, Bluer Than The Sky, based on the novel by Lisa Glass about a local girl from Newquay who falls for a pro surfer from Hawaii.

We sat down to chat with Lucie about what it’s like to learn to surf and why it’s important to not give up on your dreams.

What made you want to start surfing in the first place?

My dad is a surfer, so he used to encourage my sister and I to give it a try. I started taking lessons at a local surf school when I was 13 and went to as many all-female surf days as I could.

I also noticed a couple of boys at school were competing and picking up sponsors. I used to dream that I’d one day be good enough to enter a surf comp and catch the eye of a sponsor.

Can you remember that feeling of learning to surf?

Yes! I felt so awkward. I was in a big group with everyone around me struggling in the white water. It just made me all the more determined to learn the basics and practice by myself, where I wouldn’t be so conscious of people watching my struggle to catch a wave.

What was the hardest part about learning to surf?

Having the courage to paddle out back. I knew the only way I was really going to learnt to surf was by picking up a decent size wave. This meant taking myself out of my comfort zone and learning to duck dive through bigger sets.

It clicked for me on our first trip to Fuerteventura when I was 14 years old. I signed up to a week’s surf course and they took us all around the island to some amazing beaches.

The sea was so warm, I remember feeling really relaxed under the watchful eye of the instructors. I felt more confident duck diving, paddling out and catching green waves. Once I knew I could do it, there was no stopping me!

You used to compete in the British Nationals. What made you decide to stop competing?

When I first started surfing, I thought I had to enter all the competitions to be respected as a surfer – but it just wasn’t for me. You have to be hard, committed and hungry for the win.

I think I am too soft when it comes to competing. I liked all the girls so much that I didn’t want to put myself against them. I just wanted to surf with them.

I have the greatest respect for those girls that are totally committed to their surfing. The standard of women’s surfing in the UK is so high now. You can’t afford to not train or have a training plan in force.

I’m not competing right now, but I don’t know what the future holds, so it’s definitely something I’d consider when I’m ready.

When did you first get sponsored by Protest?

I’ve been working with Protest for about eight months now. I basically grew up wearing Protest clothing – my mum always kitted us out in Protest fleeces, coats and ski trousers when we went skiing. I really identify with their unique designs and their ethos that surfing is essentially about having fun.

This summer they launched this awesome online Mix & Match bikini tool – I’m loving the Aka top and Miral bikini bottoms (pictured here). The top is underwired, so it’s very flattering and supportive.

What’s your experience of surfing as a woman in a male dominated sport? Do you feel there are more women surfing today around you?

Yes, definitely. Surfing appeals to women because it’s not only a great way to stay fit, but it’s also a way to bond with other women and have fun.

Guys are taking female surfers more seriously now – but it hasn’t always been that way. When I was younger, I was constantly teased about my ability and technique by male surfers at the beach.

I was constantly teased about my ability. Male surfers thought it was entertaining to shout at me when I turned up with a pink flowery surfboard…

They thought it was entertaining to see me turn up at the beach with a pink flowery board and would shout out at me. I even remember a time when I was actually threatened by a male surfer because he thought I had dropped in on him and “taken his wave”.

However, it’s definitely changing. Male surfers now seem to have much more admiration and respect for women taking part in the sport.

Do you think there’s pressure for women in surfing to look a certain way?

Yes, I do. It’s more appealing to see a female ripping in a bikini than covered up by a heavy wetsuit

I personally haven’t felt the need to look a certain way while actually surfing, but out of the surf, I have felt under pressure to have a slim physique and bronzed body.

We should try and focus more on women’s attitude in the surf – and champion those that are happy and having the most fun.

Let’s face it – anyone that surfs knows it’s not physically possible to look perfect after you’ve been pounded by waves for a couple of hours – so why worry?

What do you love about surfing in the UK?

I love the fact that I switch off when I’m surfing.  You can have a thousand things on your mind, but when you are out surfing that’s the only thing you think about. I’ve made so many friends through surfing – both male and female.

I love it when the evenings are lighter and I can surf with friends and end up on the beach with a BBQ.

The worst part about surfing in the UK has to be the stormy weather and cold water. Winters are quiet, but the sea is so cold, you really have to be keen to surf at all.

What advice would you give a woman who thinks she’ll never be a good enough to paddle out back and catch unbroken waves?

Invest in some one-to-one surf lessons. They will help improve your confidence, technique and mindset, which is so important when paddling out back.

Read up on surf conditions and know what to do if you get caught in a rip tide. Being able to keep yourself calm and handle tricky situations is essential in surfing.

It’s a great idea to surf with someone better than you – you can look out for each other and they’ll help push you to venture further.

You can try out Protest’s Mix & Match bikini tool online for yourself here. Photographs by Lizzie Churchill unless otherwise specified.

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