I have been extremely lucky to have been able to spend some quality time in the sunny climates of southern California. Over there you come across so many outstanding talented surfers riding all kinds of equipment from tiny finless boards to thrusters and longboards.
The history and the heritage coming from California is absolutely amazing, It has really influenced my surfing and set the tone for surfing all around the world. I have seen a lot of extremely talented lady longboarders from Kassia Meador to Jen Smith but Mele Saila has really caught my eye in the longboard, surf scene.
She’s the granddaughter of Larry Gordon of G&S surfboards and entered her first contest at the age of 14. As one of the world’s top competing longboarders, she’s had the opportunity to travel the world. She talks to James Parry about growing up in California and her hopes and aspirations for the future.
JP: What’s your biggest influences in surfing and what board do you ride?
MS: I find people such as Erin Ashley, Devon Howard, and Mick Rodgers who have a unique style inspiring. Whether it be smooth or corky it inspires me. Style is everything and moving in ways that are your own seems beautiful to me. I like to slow things down and flow so longer boards really cater to that. Right now I’m riding a 9’2 Bing Elevator.
JP: I know you have a great family history. Please tell us more.
MS: I come from a family of surfers, craftsman and artists who have been a great influence in the surf industry since the early days of surfboard manufacturing. My grandfather is Larry Gordon of Gordon and Smith Surfboards, my father was a shaper for him and my mother and grandmother ran most of the business. I’m so fortunate to have such a solid surfing foundation, to have been brought up in such a family.
JP: If you had to set a goal for the future what would it be?
MS: It would probably be travelling to Japan for the Greenroom festival and showcasing some of my art there; that would be amazing.
JP: You are an extremely talented artist, where do you get your inspiration from?
MS: I get inspired a great deal by tattoos and Art Nouveau style work. Any kind of intricate line work is influential to me. I’d always draw on things growing up and thought for a long time that I wanted to be a tattoo artist but then I discovered painting.
JP: I see you as one of the best longboarders in the world. I personally think that lady surfers in general are a lot more marketable; surely that’s a huge benefit for a big company to jump on board and support that?
MS: At the moment, support is scarce for many girls on the longboard scene, although it’s slowly changing. I think the talent is reaching an undeniable point of recognition. But it’s still a challenge breaking into a bigger brand. You still have to be a model firstly and then a surfer secondary to make it. Once brands catch on that they can market women as “cool” instead of “sexy” then it could be quite the revolution.
JP: Looking back over the years I see the fashion for lady surfers has changed a lot from wearing sensible attire too hardly anything, where it takes your eyes away from the actual surfing. I see you taking the fashion back to a sensible stylish. What are your thoughts?
MS: I think women should be able to wear what ever makes them feel beautiful. But getting attention by wearing a small bikini is too easy I think, I’d rather be noticed in the water for how I’m surfing. That’s why getting involved with Seea has been such a blessing. They are revolutionising women’s surf attire towards a more functional direction. Giving ladies more options to look feminine in a more classic and stylish way than before.
JP: What’s the best part about living in southern California?
MS: The desert meets the mountains kind of feel; sometimes I have to stop to appreciate how beautiful it is here in San Diego. Another advantage to living here is the variety of surf, if one spot isn’t working you can usually just drive five minutes to the next one and find a wave.
JP: What’s the scene like at your local beach? Do you have some local legends or classic characters who like to tell stories about the 60s or “back in my day?”
MS: I grew up surfing in Pacific Beach at Tourmaline surf park. Where my grandfather has surfed for decades. There are so many generations of surfers there who like to share stories and take you back in time.
We have our own characters like local legend ‘Kneeboarder Steve’. People call him ‘The King’, he’s famous for being the parking lot meet and greet, babysitter, and all over good guy. No matter how old he gets, as long as he has a pair of fins and a board, he’s stoked.
Another usual face is Skip Frye. He’ll be down at the beach checking the surf and playing his harmonica. Then he’ll paddle out on his 10ft glider, as stoked on surfing as any grom would be.
Once in a while my brother and I will take my grandfather out in the water. Since he has Parkinson’s disease, he can’t stand up any more but just one wave on his knees gives him a smile which lasts for the rest of the week.
JP: Do you have a job outside of surfing or are you a full time professional surfer?
MS: There’s not a great deal of money in being a professional longboarder, especially for me right now as I don’t have a big corporate surf sponsor. I surf and travel as much as I can and when I’m home I work at Bing Surfboards in Leucadia, selling boards. Once in while I even sell my art for some extra cash.
JP: What advice would you give to the younger generation of female inspired surfers?
MS: Just keep pushing the barriers. Growing up as girls we’re treated like we’re fragile timid creatures, which makes us think that we are. I’d like girls to break these barriers, try new tricks and do more critical surfing. Times are already changing and I’m excited for what’s ahead.
JP: One last question: If you had the chance to meet with anyone in the world past or present who would it be and why?
MS: That’s easy. Alphonse Mucha, to tell him how much his art has inspired me.