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Marissa Miller: Surfing as Art and Self-Expression


Here you will find reports of women surf events around the world, surf-related community projects, ways we as surfers can help our environment, short interviews, writings, and more!

Marissa Miller: Surfing as Art and Self-Expression

Charlotte Ross

Marissa Miller, learning to surf at a young age at home in Oahu, Hawaii. Photo provided by Marissa Miller’s family.

Marissa Miller, learning to surf at a young age at home in Oahu, Hawaii. Photo provided by Marissa Miller’s family.

In this profile piece on Marissa Miller, a surfer on the Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo (SLO) Surf Team and President of the Cal Poly Surfrider Foundation Club, Charlotte Ross shares how Marissa got started surfing, what Marissa’s thoughts are on being a female surfer, and what her experience has been like as a member of the SLO Surf Team.

Surfing has always sort of been “her thing,” and the ocean, “her place.” At just two years old, Marissa Miller was put on her first surfboard. Her dad threw her on a shortboard that was more of a longboard for a little kid like herself, and at eight years old, she really got pulled into the art of it all.

Growing up in Oahu, Hawaii, Marissa was always around the water. She gave up surfing for about a year because she didn’t want to just follow whatever her dad was doing, but eventually she got back into it. Since then, she says, surfing has been a huge part of her life--the ocean is where she belongs.

Unless it was a shortboard that was too big for her, Marissa always grew up on a longboard--“I just love how you can stand there [longboarding] and look so graceful. It’s so fun and you feel the power of the ocean without really having to do anything.”

When she moved to San Luis Obispo last year for college, joining the surf team was a big priority. And she didn’t want to be just an alternative; she wanted to compete. The longboarding division is co-ed so most of the time, she says, the boys get chosen for that team, which is why she decided to try out shortboarding and has been competing with that over the last two years.

When I asked Marissa what it meant to her to be a female in such a male-dominated sport, she laughed a little and said, “It’s funny because most of my life I joked, ‘I wish I was a boy, I wish I was a boy’ because it was always harder finding a community of girls to surf with.”

She spent the majority of her life wishing that she could surf more like the guys, and growing up all of her favorite surfers were male. All of that has now changed; her favorite surfer is Stephanie Gilmore, she says, and, in college, she found a community of female surfer friends where she belongs.

Marissa realized when she joined the SLO (San Luis Obispo) surf team that she didn’t need to surf like the guys or be one of the guys--there are enough surfer girls, though only a few, that she connects with really well.

Back home in Hawai’i, she says, it’s more of a competition between females in the water. Rather than the mentality of, “Hey you’re a girl that surfs too, we should be friends” it’s more like, “Hey you’re another girl who surfs, and I have to be the best one at the lineup.”

Having such a strong female surfing community in college has helped her to ease the transition from Hawai’i to California, she says. All of the girls on the team are friends, on land and in between waves.

For Marissa, surfing is an art. The waves are like a moving canvas and the surfer, she says, creates the painting with a graceful motion.

“The best surfers have a style that is almost more feminine,” she likes to notice. “They have a blend of power that could be considered masculine and a style that could be feminine.”

Being a female surfer, Marissa believes there is a greater reward for doing something “exceptionally well.” While it can be difficult to always feel like she has to prove herself and earn waves rather than just have them taken away or handed directly to her simply for being a girl, she describes how fulfilling and illuminating it feels when she does get to finally show who she is in the water.

Photos below by Kalani Minihan; you can find him on Instagram at @kalaniminihan