Me, Myself and Surfing: Rachael Tilly

Words by Mat Arney, images by WSL, Fran Miller, Hunter Johnston, & film by Fran Miller and Hunter Johnston



2016 womens world longboard surfing champion rachael tilly with american flag after winning the world title in china

Last December, at the age of just seventeen years old, Californian Rachael Tilley became surfing’s youngest ever World Title winner (across all categories) when she won the Women’s World Longboard Championships in Hainan, China. Still a High School Senior, Rachael has juggled her studies with her competitive surfing career and last year was also crowned the WSL North American Champion and the Under 18 Champion at the Noosa Festival of Surfing in Australia, not to mention her competitive achievements in the years leading up to her World title. A savvy and driven competitor, it would be fair to assume that Tilly’s competitive tour de force to date is just the beginning, and that we’ll likely be seeing her standing atop plenty more podiums in the years to come. Having just returned home after a visit to Australia where she was presented with her trophy at the 2016 World Surf League Awards on the Gold Coast, Surf Simply caught up with Rachael to find out more about her relationship with surfing.

Name: Rachael Tilly

Current Age: 17

Location: San Clemente, California

Occupation: Student

2016 womens world longboard surfing champion rachael tilly holding her surfboard in front of a graffitti covered wall
  • My earliest memory of surfing… is my dad taking me down to Doheny State Beach on a very foggy day at 4 years old for my first session ever. He was skeptical of going out because it was very cold and the fog was extremely thick but I wasn’t going to let anything stop me! On my way out to the water, I found a dead leopard shark on the beach and rather than getting scared off, I got a picture of myself holding it and then went out for my first session ever!
  • Surfing to me is… a way to relax and have fun. I have always used it as an outlet to get away from the stress of life and enjoy the beauty of the world God has given us! I am also naturally competitive so surfing has been a sport for me to set goals and work toward them.
  • Home is… any beach in San Clemente, California. I spend a lot of time down at the beach whether it be for surfing or just having fun with my friends. I also spend a lot of my time down at Dana Point Harbor. During the summer, I am a sailing instructor for kids. Having surfing and sailing as my passions has been perfect because when it’s too blown out to surf, it’s perfect conditions to sail!
  • My first overseas surf trip was to… Oahu, Hawaii. My mom grew up on Oahu so I grew up taking trips about twice a year with my family to visit my grandparents. I was about 9 years old when my dad finally had my brother and I pack our own boards and we got to surf the north shore on some small swells. It was so cool to surf some different waves and I remember coming home and feeling so relaxed when I paddled out at San Onofre.
  • I still want to travel to… somewhere in Indonesia. I have heard only great things about exploring the islands, culture, and waves over there!
2016 womens world longboard surfing champion rachael tilly in crystal water shot from a drone
  • I wish that I could… ride a cow! It’s a very odd wish I know but I love cows so much and I think that would be so fun. I love thinking outside of the box and setting odd goals, especially ones that people don’t expect.
  • I’d love to share a few waves with… (alive or dead) Terry Martin. He was my shaper for the last couple years of his life. We grew extremely close and he spent a lot of time in the shaping room making boards and then down at the beach watching me ride them. Unfortunately, he could no longer surf at the time we worked together due to a knee injury he had, but I heard many awesome stories. I would have loved to experience that with him.
  • My magic board/piece of equipment is/was a… the board I’m riding now. The board I’m riding is a Hobie Surfboard shaped by Josh Martin, Terry Martin’s son. This board is a result of many hours in the shaping room and a series of boards made with Terry and then with Josh to get it exactly to where it is now. I love being in the shaping room and being a part of the experience. I feel it helps make for a better surfer as well to understand one’s equipment on a deeper level.
  • Wetsuits are… essential for the winter! Although southern California isn’t the coldest place, the winter mornings are very crisp and I would freeze without a wetsuit!
  • Localism is… hard to deal with sometimes. It’s great to know the locals down at the beach and create a good group to surf with. However, when surfing at an unfamiliar place, sometimes locals are not accepting and it makes adapting to a new spot harder.
2016 womens world longboard surfing champion rachael tilly noseriding
  • Before I get in the sea I always… say a quick prayer. My family and I are very faithful Christians and growing up my dad always prayed with my brother and I before paddling out. Now, before I paddle out I’m sure to say a quick prayer.
  • My most memorable session was… a session my brother Michael and I got out at Rincon. My family and I were driving home from a surf contest up north and decided to stop by to check out Rincon. It was about 2-3 foot and super foggy. No one was out and my brother and I traded off on catching little runners into the bay. It was so much fun and so peaceful!
  • The last time I scared myself surfing… was when a guy ran me over and knocked me out of a couple seconds. It split my head open a bit and got a concussion from it. I wasn’t wearing a leash so my board went all the way in – luckily a guy pulled me up on his board so I could catch my breath. I ended up in the hospital to get scans. Fortunately, everything turned out alright. It was just a major turn of events for my Sunday morning and has made me nervous surfing in large crowds since!
  • My favorite surf movie is… North Shore! Its such a goofy movie and its fun to see all the surf legends acting. My brother and I know every line and have seen it probably 20 times!
  • My guilty pleasure is… eating gummies. Any gummy type of candy is so yummy and I can’t help myself!
2016 womens world longboard surfing champion rachael tilly hang five on her way to winning the world title in china

 

  • If I didn’t surf then I’d probably… live on a farm by a lake, sail, and ride horses. It is definitely a complete opposite of how I live now but I have always found myself intrigued by that lifestyle.
  • My greatest fear is… thunder/lightning storms. I’m not scared of much but for some reason I have grown up always scared of thunder/lightning storms and still get a bit nervous whenever I’m in one. I had a contest this past summer at Malibu and a huge electrical storm rolled in while we were down on the beach. We were stuck there and the contest was put on hold since the lightning everywhere was making it too dangerous to be out in the water. It was a huge moment for me to deal with and face my fear.
  • I’m happiest when… I’m with my good friends and down at the beach. I have a really solid group of friends and when I can go down and have a fun day at the beach and surfing with them, I feel so peaceful and happy.
  • I check the surf forecast… not very often. My brother and I surf every morning with our high school surf team so not going down to the beach isn’t really an option. We evaluate the conditions once we’re down there.
  • I dream about… random things! My dreams are never constant and always very vivid. I love going to bed wondering what I’ll dream of tonight.
2016 womens world longboard surfing champion rachael tilly carving a turn
  • If I could travel back in time I’d set the dial to… 1950s. I love the way the women dressed and the whole stereotype of families in the 1950s. It would be fun to experience.
  • In the future… I plan on being a surgical nurse. While I love surfing and competing, I also have a strong passion for the medical field. I plan on doing both for as long as I can. I also hope to further the sport of longboarding in these years. It is such a beautiful sport and I know with some strong encouragement, the support will come!
  • When I get barreled I… go for it. In beach breaks, I love to try and pull in and and see if I can make it out. A lot of times I get completely destroyed by the wave but it’s so much fun that way and when I do make it out, it is that much more rewarding.
  • Surf culture… is one of a kind- especially longboarding. Not only does longboarding embody the sport of surfing and its competitive side, it also has its own lifestyle that I feel so blessed to be apart of. I think it is a very unique part of surfing that longboarding represents as one can continue to do it no matter how old they are.
  • The ocean is… something that helps you feel at home no matter where you are around the world. I love going surfing and unwinding- especially during times when my life feels stressful. It feels like the ocean is able to wash away those concerns and I always feel rejuvenated after. I’m so thankful for the ocean and its unpredictable quality that keeps surfing exciting.

 


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