Our Catamaran rocks listlessly somewhere in the deep blue Caribbean.

Malia Manuel, Nikki van Dijk, Tia Blanco and Coco Ho are hanging inside the boat, hiding from the midday sun. They spent the last three hours surfing a 4-foot, crystal blue wedge. All alone.

Over lunch they discuss Tia’s early morning barrel. That thing was sooo sick. Tia blushes. Thannnkks. (She’s the sweetest.) Conversation shifts to Malia’s mid-morning frontside air three (it was rad), Coco’s boyfriend Mark’s slopestyle Gold at yesterday’s X-Games and Nikki’s upcoming travel schedule (it’s hectic).

We’ve spent the last week here shooting these women for a portion of this year’s SURFING Swim Issue, and also for this feature. Because they’re beautiful, of course, but mainly because they absolutely rip. They’re four of the most talented females in the world today, and we wanted to bring them together to hear their thoughts on, well, a little bit of everything. Media. Social media. The CT. Being surfer models and model surfers. Their ultimate goals.

With lunch banter winding down and an hour to burn before the second surf of the day, I jump in the conversation.

SURFING: The surf industry puts a huge premium on looks. Look at us: Here we are shooting our annual SWIM Issue with the four of you. Do you ever struggle with that?


Coco: It is a gnarly topic of conversation. Like, where is the line drawn between being successful as a surfer and being successful at being pretty? My biggest thing is, I want to prove to girls that athleticism is pretty. Confidence, charisma and character will outshine beauty as “beauty” is so often defined. I somehow knew that when I was younger, but I think a lot of young girls struggle with it.
Malia: There’s a lot of pressure when you’re 14, 15, 16, because you’re trying to find yourself, make your mark in the surf world, and there’s so much competitive nature going on between women in general as far as looks go, but it’s been nice to have the tour and working to get better at surfing to draw myself away from focusing on just trying to be pretty. I feel like it’s coming around full circle now, where people don’t care as much about looks. To me, as long as you’re focusing on your surfing and your passion and what you’re trying to accomplish, that’s what matters.
Nikki: The industry as a whole does seem more accepting now than ever before.
Tia: I struggle with it sometimes. I’m really critical of myself. But I just think it’s important to love yourself and to embrace and take care of your own body, no matter what. It’s the only body you get.

How do you view men’s and women’s surfing? Do you view them differently?

Tia: I do. [laughs]
Coco: They’re definitely different.
We’re built different. We’re everything different. [laughs] But on that note, I think the men in surfing are the most supportive in all of sports. I’ve been around snowboarding and I’ve seen the dynamic and it’s not the same. The guys in surfing are supportive and helpful. They’re down to watch our heats and cheer us on. They take us seriously, and I feel like they are proud to see the progression in our surfing. And that’s just not the same in other action sports.
Nikki: And that’s changed recently as well, because of how good everyone is surfing. It’s cool — it makes me want to surf better.
Malia: Guys deserve everything they get, that’s for sure. And there are more of them — there are hundreds of good guys on the QS and the number of girls just isn’t there yet.

Coco, two years ago in an interview in our magazine, you said: “The feminists are going to kill me, but all I’m saying is, right now, we don’t deserve as much as the guys.” Where do you stand today?

Coco: [laughs] I just meant the guys deserve what they get! And like Malia said, that’s still true. Women have come a long way, but we still have work left to do. I took some heat for that comment but only because some people took it out of context.
Tia: I understand what Coco was saying. I love to watch the ladies surf. Obviously it’s a lot different, but I like to see the combination of femininity and aggressiveness in women’s surfing. It’s beautiful. It’s super graceful. But it’s also different.

The sentiment of: “That was good, for a girl,” is still thrown around as it relates to surfing. Does that bother you?

Malia: It doesn’t bother me, because I don’t want to look like a guy [laughs].
Coco: If it’s in a demeaning fashion, it’s kind of a bummer.
Nikki: It depends on what it’s referencing. Sometimes it’s said because girls are constantly surfing to a new level, and it’ll just take some time for everyone to get used to that.
Coco: I haven’t had to hear that much lately. It’s come to a place where the guys know we’re getting better and now they’re just saying: “That was sick.” Period. And sometimes, like if you get drained at Backdoor and come out and someone is freaking out, like: “That was a girl!? Did you see that?” That’s a compliment. I’m proud of that.

Generally speaking, what is the biggest limitation women face in surfing?

Coco: Overthinking [laughs].
Malia: The guys just think less; I think [laughter all around]. See what I mean? Seriously though, the guys will just pack a huge closeout without considering the consequences. And they don’t care if they go face first into the reef.
Nikki: It goes without saying that guys are stronger. But like Malia said earlier, I don’t want to look like a guy [laughs].

OK, what is the greatest thing about being a female professional surfer?

Nikki: I just really enjoy watching all the girls ripping good waves and being a part of it right now. I’m living my dream and being pushed by everyone else, and we’re all working toward the same thing.
Malia: I think we’re a part of a really good generation right now. The opportunities for us are really huge. The support is there. And we’re lucky that we’ve been supported from a really young age.
Coco: This is the absolute best time to be a female professional surfer. I grew up watching Megan [Abubo] and Rochelle [Ballard] and it was a different story for them. It was a lot harder. They were winding down their careers on tour during my rookie year, and they were always stoked for me, but that was the beginning of my generation getting five-year contracts and they never had that. So it was bittersweet for them. They laid all the groundwork for us to reap the benefits. Now the prize purse is big and we can make a good living; but those girls worked just as hard as any of us and they weren’t rewarded on the same level.
Malia: And because of that support, more girls are getting more opportunity, so more girls are surfing at a high level right now. Not to take away from the generation before us — those girls ripped — but when Steph [Gilmore] won her first title against all of them the competition just wasn’t as tough. Now everyone is surfing so well; it’s not just a couple of girls dominating anymore.

It was almost like the early ‘90s, when Kelly Slater came on the men’s tour. He forced the level of surfing so much higher. He set a new performance bar.

Coco: That’s true, though I don’t want to discredit any of the girls before us. Those girls ripped.
Malia: Exactly. There were just fewer of them surfing at the very top level.

What is your view of the way the media, us included, is currently portraying or supporting women’s surfing? Is there something we could be doing better?

Coco: I’m not sure. My schedule is so busy with the tour, QS and Volcom that it’s hard to squeeze in editorial trips. But that goes for the men, too, which is why you see so many magazines made up of the freesurf guys. It’s hard for the girls and guys on tour to go on magazine trips, but there aren’t really professional freesurf women, so if the CT girls aren’t able to go on the trips then girls just aren’t making the magazines very often. So I understand. It’s hard. There isn’t a Craig Anderson of women for you guys to cover [laughs all around].

But could there be?

Malia: It’s risky. The guys on tour can do anything the freesurf guys can do, and they can do it in a heat. But there are sooo many good guys that some can take that different route. I think eventually we’ll get there. But we aren’t there yet.
Nikki: There are some girls taking a different route. Maya [Gabeira] in the big-wave scene. Same with Keala [Kennelly]. But all the best girls are on tour or trying to get on tour.
Coco: Quincy [Davis] would be the best freesurfer, or Tia...but Tia competes.

Making the tour is your goal, Tia?

Tia: Heck yeah.

How many of you have done an editorial surf trip?

Nikki: This is my first one.
Tia: Yeah, this is my first one, too.
Malia: This is my second one. My first was when I was 14, with SURFING. So that was a long time ago [laughs].
Coco: I’ve done a few. But not a ton. A couple with my brother, because everyone loves Mason [laughs].

What are your thoughts on social media?

Nikki: I love it. I think it’s a good way to connect with fans. I don’t like getting wrapped up in it and spending too much time on other peoples lives, but I like that we can share what we do and hopefully serve as positive role models. There are negative comments, but I try to ignore or delete and move on. You can’t let it affect you.

Malia: I’m split down the middle. I like it, because I like that you can market yourself and keep sponsors happy. I try to share substantial things. I don’t want to post to get followers. But there is a fine line between being professional and keeping everyone intrigued. It comes with a little bit of a false reality. Instagram isn’t what it used to be. It’s now a full business, and I don’t know how I feel about that.
Tia: It’s a fake world.
Coco: I try to look at it as a positive. I like to show my real life. My brother, my dad being a dork, my boyfriend, quotes...basically, a look into my real life and not a filtered reality. Like Tia said, it’s a fake world. But you can try to keep it authentic and keep it you because it’s the most fans will get to know you. I look up to Beyoncé and I like when she posts photos of her baby or an inspiring quote. So I hope I can bring my fans into my own world. Show people what my brother is really doing [laughs].
Malia: Not what he’s realllyyyyy doing [laughter all around].
Nikki: It’s just about knowing what’s real and what’s not. I use Instagram for my own enjoyment but it’s not all-consuming. I’m not defined by it. I think that’s important for people to realize: It’s a part of your life but it isn’t your life. But it can totally be a positive thing.

Growing up as surfers you’ve inherently spent a lot of time around the boys. What’s been your biggest takeaway from that?

Malia: Humility.
Coco: [laughs] They will definitely put you in your place.
Malia: And respect. Guys are really good about respect in the water and it’s helped shape me as a surfer.
Coco: I feel pretty spoiled. They’ve helped with my comfort as a person and my comfort in the water, which has been a huge positive in my life.
Tia: I’m a pretty sensitive person, so the boys have toughened me up. If girls are mean to each other, they take it so personally. But guys don’t take anything personally. They’ve helped me become a stronger person, and watching them has definitely made me a stronger surfer.
Nikki: When I’m in the water and I get lit up, the boys laugh. That’s just what happens. So it’s definitely made me a better surfer, growing up surfing with boys all of the time.

What are the pros and cons of dating a pro surfer or a pro athlete?

Coco: Dating a pro surfer suuuuuucks. [laughs] Sorry, Tia. No, I don’t mean it. Dating the wrong surfer sucks. For me, dating Mark [McMorris] has been the coolest thing ever. He’s supportive and understanding of what I do but also super intrigued by it.

And watching him have success makes me want success, also. It’s super encouraging and inspiring.
Malia: And you both enjoy trying to get better, living a healthy lifestyle...it’s kinda nice that he gets all of that.
Coco: And he rousts me. He’ll be like, c’mon, Coco, friggin pull in!
Tia: It sucks that we are always traveling to different places. [Tia is dating Colt Ward.] But it’s awesome because we get to share our passions and sometimes travel together. Is that a little cheesy? [laughs]
Nikki: No, I think it’s great. But as far as this question goes, you can count me out [laughs].

What is your ultimate goal as a surfer?

Nikki: Of course I’d love to become a world champion. But more than anything I want to be the absolute best I can be. I never want to stop pushing myself and my surfing.
Tia: If I can make it on tour with these ladies that would be the coolest thing ever. Being on this trip is a dream. These girls are the best role models I could have. When I was 12, I went and asked for Coco’s autograph at a surf contest [laughs]. It’s really special being here and watching them surf. They’ve pushed me so much this past week. If you would have told me back then I’d be here today, no way I’d believe you. So, hopefully, I’m in for some more awesome surprises down the line.
Malia: I want to have a good style. And surf like Kelly [laughs]. And when I retire I want to rip like Lisa [More laughter]. No, obviously I want to win a contest one day, but more than anything I want to have good technique. Even when I don’t have a sticker on my board, I still want to look good.
Coco: I just want to reach the potential my dad thinks I have. He has so much faith in me. I want to make him proud. Oh, and I want to start packing some more barrels.

Special thanks to Sunsail for making this trip a possibility. For more information about booking, visit sunsail.com.