I faced a lot of doubters--folks who didn’t understand the value of writing and the written word. There were a lot of people who also did not respect the career, but it never really bothered me because I know it’s what I’m supposed to do in life and to just keep going.
Recently, I got to catch up and chat shop with one of surfing's most authentic and fiery voices. Jackie Connor is the author of the blog Confessions of a Surfer Girl, the Editor-in-Chief of Rising Tide magazine, and a passionate ocean activist. I'm so stoked to share our chat with you. Aloha!
- Kayla, Surf Soap CEO
Tell us about your upbringing. Where/how did you grow up?
I grew up in Georgia, just outside of Atlanta and went to high school in Austin, Texas. So, I grew up in the south--lots of heat, humidity and weird bugs! When I was a kid, I used to play outdoors a lot in the creeks and the woods, climbing trees and falling out of said trees! Haha So I guess you could say nothing has changed! I still love to play outside.
How did you enter into the world of surfing?
When I was 4 years old, my mom and I moved to California to be closer to her sister and we would all go to the beach. My mom and I moved back to Georgia when I was 7 and I was really bummed. I missed the beach, sooo I started listening to The Beach Boys because it reminded me of California! Everyone else was listening to Boyz 2 Men, but not me--all I could think and dream about was going back to California.
Not long after that, my dad took me snorkeling for my first time in the Caribbean. It kind of ruined me because it was so beautiful! Haha It solidified my love for the ocean and all its creatures.
But just like many folks before me, I was drawn to surfing because The Beach Boys were always singing about it! Haha I was terrified of sharks, but didn’t want to let that stop me. Over the years, I visited my aunt and cousins in California every summer and when I was 14, my aunt signed us up for a surf camp at Doheny State Beach--that’s when the bug officially bit me HARD.
After that, it was all over--I skated to bide my landlocked time, but I knew I was getting out to California to surf come hell or high water!
How has writing and surfing shaped you as a person?
Writing and surfing are kind of similar in that they have both been a journey of discovery for me. Writing has always been a platform for me to express myself creatively, to tell the stories of others and to share experiences with my audience, even if the audience is just me--writing is a reflection of the world as I see it and if I can also be a platform for others to express themselves or tell their stories, even better.
Surfing has played a HUGE role in my life (obviously haha), I don’t think I would be in California had it not been for surfing. It is a constant challenge, which I love. Much like writing, I am constantly learning and I LOVE that. I never want to stop learning. Surfing has given me the physical outlet to continue to do so. It has forced me to be uncomfortable, to face my fears no matter how big the wave or how steep the drop-in. I think A LOT, my mind is very active and surfing reminds me to cool it and stop overthinking, it helps me leave my thoughts at the beach. It’s also opened up a whole world of folks who I have so much respect for--all the big wave women surfers are my HEROS!
What challenges did you face as you built your writing career? What about surfing?
Building a career in writing is challenging in and of itself, there’s a lot of competition, especially in California and New York, but I am so very thankful to have the stamina to build it. I faced a lot of doubters--folks who didn’t understand the value of writing and the written word. There were a lot of people who also did not respect the career, but it never really bothered me because I know it’s what I’m supposed to do in life and to just keep going.
For surfing--oh where do I start!! From the get-go, learning how to surf was not easy, navigating the lineup was not easy, paddling into bigger stuff is not easy...but I suppose, after 17 years of surfing, the biggest challenge that I still face (I think a lot of women can relate) is the way that I have been treated in the water, as a woman. It has gotten A LOT better over the years, but improvement is still needed. There are guys in the water who don’t respect women and aren’t afraid to let you know. Same thing on the beach--I catch guys watching me towel change and it makes me either want to wear a cardboard box to the beach or throw a rock at their face. Haha but seriously...
What’s most concerning lately is I’ve noticed other women not supporting each other in the water, not being aware of one another.
Gals, let’s smile and support each other and not drop in on one another!
Surfing is full of metaphorical opportunity - which lesson/metaphor is your favorite?
Surfing, to me, has always been a metaphor for life--there are ups and downs, the times where you are paddling against the current, the epic days and the not-so-great days, but I think the most important thing to remember is to keep going, never give up. And enjoy the lessons that life/surfing has along the way.
Tell us about a breakthrough you had in your career that really moved you into your current path in life? (And what you’re up to now?)
There were a few small breakthroughs in my career. When I was a freelance writer/reporter, I covered some stories that got syndicated nationally and that was cool.
The biggest breakthrough so far has been developing and launching a magazine at my day job--Rising Tide magazine. At my current day job, I’m editor-in-chief of this magazine and the journey to developing it has taught me A LOT of lessons about print media, communications, leadership, partnership...you name it! I also was under the direction of a fabulous mentor/manager who guided me and gave me a voice in my department. I look up to her tremendously for leadership skills and I’m fortunate she’s so amazing because I’ve translated that a lot through my professional and personal/surfing life.
I am really fortunate to work with an amazing team and an ultra-amazing creative director on this magazine. I don’t know how she does it--everything she creates is amazing. I am so fortunate to work with her. The magazine is now award-winning (two years in a row!) and we just want to keep making it better.
You are passionate about ocean conservation; what aspect of it is most important to you?
There are so many to choose from! I try to incorporate many ocean conservation activities into my everyday life. I am always picking up trash at the beach and it helps me avoid using plastic crap, like straws, disposable water bottles and baggies. I was volunteering with Coastal Playground, a local beach cleanup group. I also use reef-safe sunscreen, Avasol--it’s amazing! Never been burned and I know it’s not ruining our reefs, like many sunscreens do.
I was volunteering with the Cal State Long Beach Shark Lab, where they are researching Great Whites and their behaviors and migration patterns. The health and safety of this apex predator is imperative to our oceans, like many other critters. I enjoy watching their research unfold and learning the latest nuggets of info at the Shark Lab. Covid has put a damper on their educational programs, but hopefully when we can be in-person, they can get back to educating the public about white sharks.
How can other surfers make ocean conservation a bigger part of their lives?
The little things go a long way--from picking up trash on the beach or in the creeks or wherever you can--it all ends up in the ocean, unfortunately--to choosing eco-conscious products, like the stuff we put in our hair, on our bodies and on our equipment.
By making small changes to these everyday things, you can make a big difference! Look for products that are reef safe, don’t use plastic bottles or wrapping, use recycled materials and do not test on animals.
How can our ohana find and support you?
Check out my blog!
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