For any male surfer, being called a little girl used to be a terrible insult. But now, considering how well little girls are surfing these days, there might be no better compliment. Pound for pound, punching way above their division, members of this new weight class of female surfers are breaking the age barrier in reverse. Consider a just turned thirteen Ziggy Aloha Mackenzie (4’11”, 77 pounds) and her latest performances in big Uluwatu and it becomes very evident that the belt don’t make the fighter, the fighter makes the belt. Ziggy and her family, Australian by birth but long time residents of Bali and owners of the Drifter surf shops here, are the new age version of the modern surf family. With the parents raising a sea brood of talented surfers without the horrors of the soccer Mom mentality.
Of course, living in paradise with four of Indonesia’s best waves at the end of the street helps. So does having access to perfect, pandemic empty waves and the best
kid-specific-designed surfboards on earth to surf them. But still, the actual act of the sport itself is up to the kid. It takes gumption to step into the ring all alone. It’s a solo act for a kid.
And this is what a lot of hopeful parents like the Mackenzie’s get. And a lot of other parents don’t. Beyond the potential, and one must say it out loud, the desire to manufacture a multi-millionaire teenage surf star, lies that thing, that truth. That the ability of that kid, the magic of that kid, no matter how a parent protects and promotes and hovers, is all up to the kid to make it happen.
Parents all believe their children have what it takes to be a champion. Sure. It’s there in all kids, they believe. That craving. And they could be right. But what alot of parents miss is whether or not their child has the ability to activate that craving. Indeed, life will fix what needs to be fixed. And it just as easily breaks what can be broken. Professional surfing has never been a perfect sport, and it never will be. But it will always be about young people who can rise to the best of what is within themselves. And therein lives the magic.
Surfing with kids can be so delusional to a parent. But the truth is that surfing with kids is about kids craving something only surfing can provide. Despite needing direction, discipline, glory, fame or fortune, an authentic champion is about becoming the impossible. These dreams are born everyday, literally. From San Clemente to Uluwatu. And as long as kids need to find something inside themselves, the waves will call. But, as elemental as stepping into the ring, the key is in being smart enough to hit and not get hit. Being tough enough to get knocked down and get back up even if it means getting hit again. And again.
And so it goes in this modern surfing world of ours. For families like the Mackenzie’s and for little girl surfers like Ziggy who are taking it on. Sometimes right on the chin in big surf. And out there, right now, in pockets of talent around the world, surfer children, both boys and girls, wrestle and toil with all the challenges and the passions and the daring that it takes to belong to a surfing life. And hopefully, and hope is sometimes all they have, parents recognize this, and are treating these kids as though they are already the individuals that they are capable of becoming.
Interviews: Ziggy Aloha Mackenzie, 13yrs:
On Beginnings: I have been around surfing all my life but I have only been enjoying it for two years now. It scared me at first. But then I caught that one wave that changes your life and it changed mine.
On Bali: If Covid didn’t happen I wouldn’t be surfing. I wouldn’t have fallen in love with it. Because here we were isolated and school was messed up and we just had all this free time and these perfect waves and I got to surf places with just me and my friends and we got pretty good really fast and it was just a dream world. Still is.
On age: I mean, I still get the looks when I paddle out, alot of my friends and I do. I mean we are so young and small. But all we have to do is catch one wave and then everybody sees what’s going on and we can get the waves we need.
On big Uluwatu: I didn’t know it was that big that day. And my Dad surprised me by saying I could paddle out with him if I wanted to. It felt like one of those moments that if you didn’t grab it, it would be gone forever. So I said yes before I had the chance to say no. But there was just so much water out there. Like a giant river. So my Dad gave me the plan and a float vest and I felt pretty comfortable. But I got real quiet, you know? And then this giant set rolled everybody, broken leashes, boards everywhere and I had my doubts again. But we were already walking through the cave so…no choice. But I had my Dad and three uncles paddling out with me, so I got my act back together. So half of it was just getting outside. Took a half hour. But once I got outside, I couldn’t believe it, I felt calm. I waited an hour. Then it happened. All I remember was the paddling for the wave. It got quiet, just my breathing and then I felt this big push from behind and I was screaming along on this big wall of water. I was just surviving on my Dad’s 7’4”. But that feeling, that speeding feeling, chasing down that power. Wow. And when I kicked out I realized I hadn’t breathed, so I took a big breath and looked outside at the rest of the set coming in all I could think of was how bad I wanted another one.
On Tube riding: When I am in the tube it’s like the opening of the wave is my new eyes. And so if I just follow where my eyes are looking, I feel comfortable and I can make it. The calm has to be natural or you mess up your line. Surfing is so magical when you’re calm.
On Professionalism: Of course I want to be pro surfer on the CT. But now that I love big waves, there’s that life too. I mean, I want to surf Jaws…someday. But that world is a very big step. But that’s how you get up stairs, I guess.
On Surfboard Art: I‘m really into painting my boards now. Their is a special feeling in it when you paddle out. Like wearing the right clothes. The clothes that are you. A surfboard should be you too.
On Parents: My Dad has let me be who I am in the surf and I think that’s really valuable. We hear so much about that in school and stuff, how to be an example, but until you have someone to follow, you really don’t know what it’s all about. That’s my Dad. I am not sure if what I am gonna say is gonna change anybody, cause I’ve seen parents get pretty crazy about it all, but I like the way my parents have just let it happen for me. And once it happened, then I got support. Not in-my-face support, but belief in my own act. Not anyone else’s but my own.