By Léo Azambuja
The girls from Kaua‘i’s newest generation of surfers may still be in their teens, but they are destined to leave a mark in surfing’s history, whether they become full-time surfers or choose to free surf while globetrotting.
“My main goal is to make the tour,” 18-year-old Tatiana Weston-Webb, of Princeville, said of her bid to qualify for next year’s World Championship Tour.
Hanalei’s Natalia Smith, who turns 18 this month, got her first surfboard at 3 years old, and learned how to surf at Hanalei Pier. She switched to longboarding at 11 years old, and later got into stand up paddling, where a surfer rides a wider, longer surfboard and uses a paddle to get into waves and do turns.
“We all grew up competing against each other,” said Kilauea’s Kiana Flores, who was state champion for girls under 18 for three years in a row before leaving Kaua‘i last year to attend college in California.
Currently taking a soft break from competition, Kiana, 19 years old, says she is now some kind of surfing ambassador, away from most contests but still shredding waves on the Mainland. However, as soon as school is over, she says she’ll be back to Kaua‘i and resume competing full time.
Pioneers in their own way, these girls have inherited the all-or-nothing attitude of previous generations, including daredevil tube riding and massive power gouges. But they are also bringing a bag full of the latest tricks.
Tati’s impressive resume includes two world junior titles two years in a row. Last year, when she was only 17, she was one spot shy of securing one of the 17 spots in the women’s WCT. So when a WCT competitor got injured earlier this year, Tati was called to compete in Rio de Janeiro and Fiji, where she did considerable damage.
In Rio, Tati surfed like a veteran, forcing an interference call and eliminating WCT surfer Bianca Buitendag from the event. In Fiji, she blew minds with fearless tube rides over razor-sharp coral and nearly dispatching two-time world champion Carissa Moore.
While in Fiji, Tati won a special $15,000 prize for videoing herself inside a deep barrel, with a GoPro camera attached to her mouth. And yes, she beat an entire field of WCT men — hairy, testosterone-laden blokes — who were competing for the same cash prize.
“The girls didn’t even try, I was the only girl that tried,” Tati said.
Today, she is the highest-ranked Hawaiian woman in the Watermen League Stand Up World Tour, ranking 11th, even though she missed the last of the first three contests this year. She also competes in special longboarding events sanctioned by the Association of Surfing Professionals, and is cross-walking to a bright representation of the Garden Isle.
Kiana was on a surfboard before she even learned how to walk.
“My dad is a surfer, and when I was 10 months he took me out on his board,” she said. “He said I was super excited and from then on he knew I was going to be a surfer.”
At 7 years old, Kiana started surfing on a longboard, and two years later she bought her first shortboard for $20 — from Tati’s brother, Troy.
“He wanted food or something,” said Kiana, laughing.
Tati was also exposed to surfing at a young age. When she was 8, she wanted to “copy cat” her brother, and got a surfboard.
Perhaps it might’ve helped that Tati’s father and uncle are avid surfers. Or perhaps that her mother and her auntie belonged to a group of Brazilian bodyboarders who took the world by storm in the 1980s, setting the standard in women’s competitive bodyboarding.
“My mom is crazy,” Natalia said of her mother’s big wave skills.
Aside from influences at home, just being from Kaua‘i is enough inspiration for women to grab a surfboard. After all, this island has bred many talented women surfers such as Rochelle Ballard, Sanoe Lake, Keala Kennelly and others.
Kiana and Tati said the generation before them, with Kaua‘i girls Leila Hurst, Alana Blanchard, Malia Manuel, Bethany Hamilton and O‘ahu’s Carissa Moore, laid down the path they have been following.
The newest generation from Kaua‘i also includes some promising talents such as Brianna Cope, Nage Melamed, Maluhia and Mainei Kinimaka and others.
Progressive maneuvers is where women’s surfing is headed said Tati. Surfboards have become thinner and smaller, and fins have become “complicated,” she said. This progression is also true in all branches of surfing.
“First, they only had huge stand-up boards, now guys are doing airs and surfing them just like surfboards,” Natalia said. “It’s kinda cool to watch (the men), and as a girl try to get better.”
Another change in women’s surfing is attitude.
Looking beyond professional surfing, Tati, a self-described “secret nerd” who loves studying, said she wants to go back to school. But for now, her sole focus is to do well in professional surfing.
Kiana is majoring in communication and business, and her love for digital midia, photography and nonprofit organizations may all melt together and create something big. She said she admires when foundations such as Life Rolls On and Mauli Ola share the love for surfing with children with disabilities.
Natalia’s enrollment at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa next semester is a calculated move. O‘ahu has several world-class longboarding waves, and she says she is used to balance school, work and surfing. And she’ll likely major in international business so she can keep travelling the world.
Whatever they do in the future, they intend to keep surfing.
“It keeps me sane,” said Kiana, revealing a feeling shared by Tati and Natalia.