This article was originally published by VICE Sports AUNZ
Alana Blanchard has grown up in the public eye. Raised on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, she was a close a friend and early sparring partner of the sublimely talented Bethany Hamilton (in fact, she was in water the day a Tiger Shark ripped off her arm). Later, Alana would graduate to the elite World Surf League Championship Tour and forge a reputation in her own right as one of the most valuable professional surfers in the world – though not on surfing ability alone. Her genetic gifts of beauty and curves have proved just as important, leading some to liken her to the Anna Kournikova of surfing; i.e good looks, average talent. For the most part Alana has been reluctant to elaborate on such views, until now.
Sitting around a wooden table in the lobby of a hotel in remote Indonesia, we chatted about the recent changes in her career trajectory, how she's come to grips with a non-competitive life, and how it's affected her view of the public and their criticisms.
VICE Sports: After starting out on the World Tour you're now paid to be a professional free surfer – i.e to travel the world doing photo shoots and scoring perfect waves with not pressure and no contest obligations. Has it been hard coming to terms with being a freesurfer?
Alana Blanchard: Hmm, I'm a freesurfer. I've never thought about that. But, I would say that this year I've been the most free that I ever have been. It took me a while to get to this point though.
It was honestly very scary for me to say, "Okay, I'm not going to do contests and I'm okay with that." For instance, last year I was freaking out, saying things like "What am I doing with my life!?" And things like that. But I wasn't that happy doing contests, and I had the opportunity to do something different... so I thought... why don't I just do it and make it as good as I possibly can, because this is my life and I want to be happy.
Not that I wasn't happy back when I was competing. But it's just that I want to radiate my happiness and passion for what I'm doing, even though that sounds so corny. I just want to constantly grow, and for some reason I didn't feel like I was when I was competing.
VICE Sports: At what point did you wake up and think, man, I don't even enjoy this anymore?
Alana Blanchard: I was on and off Tour from the ages of 18 to 25. I guess that when I first started I really wanted to be on Tour – it was hard but I liked it. Then there came a point where I was just doing a lot – I was doing every shoot for Rip Curl, plus my other sponsors, plus other photo shoots, plus the Tour, and then just trying to spend time at home. I think that was the point where I was like, okay, what side of this do I like and where do I feel like I fit in here?
To be honest I never really felt comfortable in the contest scene – I was never like, oh I'm here and I want to be here with everyone!
A lot of people think I retired, which is kinda funny. I actually travel more now than I ever did before, but thanks. It's funny. It's just a whole new thing and I think it came at a perfect time for me. I'm in my mid-20s now and it's a new chapter in my life, and it's cool.
VICE Sports: When you were freaking out last year about what you were doing, how'd you get over that?
Alana Blanchard: I think that it took me a while to just be okay with where I was, and where I am. It took me a while to make my first trip happen, too – it was to Mexico and I paid a filmer to come. That was weird to me, because I've never done that and I've never planned my own trip, I've never had to look at swells or windows or spots. That whole aspect was really scary to me and I didn't even know where to begin. But I did it and over time I got more and more comfortable with it, and I think that at the end of 2015 I looked back and thought, that was actually really cool. I can do this, but I can do it so much better now.
VICE Sports: Do you ever feel like you have to justify yourself to people – prove your talent?
Alana Blanchard: No, I guess I never even thought about it like that. I seriously just don't even care. I just want to put out cool edits and hope that people watch them, and show people that I can surf in those edits...
I do sometimes see the competition girls surfing an amazing wave, like Cloudbreak in Fiji, and I'm like, oh my gosh I wish I was there – but that's the thing about being happy with where I am. I can honestly sit here and talk about contests, and I have no competition with my friends anymore. I can finally talk to them as a person about competing, and it's a cool thing and it's so good to be easy with. It's weird. And I'm really happy for what the girls on Tour are doing, too – I don't hate on what they're doing or anything. I'm like, "What you guys are doing is so sick, and it's so stressful, and it's amazing – but I just can't do it. It drove me crazy."
VICE Sports: When you're told your whole life that you can't surf, and you have to justify that you can – does it irk you when you see girls who can't surf present themselves as surfers? There's that weird dynamic of hardcore surfers hating on women that model alongside surfers, and then the opposite as well.
Alana Blanchard: I think I used to for sure. I used to be like, oh my god she can't surf at all but she's just trying to look like it. But now? I don't care. It doesn't matter. The whole world is selling something, right? If they want to do that, then that's fine. If they want to pretend they're surfers, then why not? That's cool that we're actually at a point in surfing where people want to pretend that they're surfers.
Yeah, I guess it would be annoying for some people who are like, "Hey, I've worked my butt off to surf this well, and you're just selling your body with my sport and getting more attention for it!" That would suck. But it's not all about that. It's not all about the attention. It doesn't annoy me, personally. I think it's funny.
Who says you can't hold a surfboard and pretend you're a surfer? It doesn't bother me – I just think it's interesting. I wouldn't go around hating on girls who do that.
VICE Sports: This might sound super wanky, but how do you balance the way you present yourself to the world, in terms of image? Like, surfer versus model.
Alana Blanchard: It's a hard one because people are always going to say something. If you don't put enough surfing out they'll say, "Oh, she doesn't surf." And I've gotten that my whole life. That was why I wanted to be on tour in the first place – to show the world that I could surf. And that didn't even work anyways – people think I still can't surf – and it's all good. I don't care. But then on the flip side, if you do put a video out, they're like, "Oh yeah, whatever, she sucks anyways." You'll never win. And I don't need to justify myself to the world, because we're all just humans – we're all the same.
To me I'd rather be a real person and authentic, rather than spend my time caring about justifying whether or not I can surf. I'd rather just go out and have fun, because that's when I surf my best, when I'm in the moment and having fun.
VICE Sports: Do freesurf trips with competitive teammates, like Tyler Wright and Nikki van Dijk... do they give you a bit of perspective? Let you step back and realise you're happy with where you are?
Alana Blanchard: Perspective on my life? Yeah. I think freesurf trips with my Rip Curl teammates are just amazing – us three girls are all really different, and it's rad to see how we all work together. It's nice just to get away from society and be back in nature, just surfing. It's core surf. As surfers, we get pulled away from that – doing photoshoots, training, whatever. I love doing things that are just about surfing – it makes it so fun, because at the end of the day, I really like surfing!
VICE Sports: Looking forward, what's next for you?
Alana Blanchard:I think I definitely want to do a few more things – I want to do a few more edits, and I'd love to go somewhere like Sri Lanka to do one. Then just a bunch of different projects, even outside of surf. I don't know, I'm even thinking about writing a book or something. I just want to keep growing and keep feeling like I'm living and getting better. And I think not ever feeling like I'm stuck, like I can always do something, that's what I want. I don't know yet, and it's all exciting – it'll be good. I just feel lighter in a way, and I think that when you feel like that, good things happen.