No matter how you slice it, parenthood is incredibly disruptive (also somewhat rewarding, or so I’ve heard). That is true whether the parent in question is a janitor, software developer, stock broker or ancient alien expert. In each case, the set of challenges is wholly unique, and being a parent/pro surfer is no different. In the wake of bringing her bouncing baby boy Banks into the world late last year, Alana Blanchard was gracious enough to talk us through her own experience as a new mom, and what juggling childcare and surf sessions looks like for a pair of world-class surfers (her partner, Jack Freestone, is also a top tier pro).
So your son, Banks, is a little over six months old now. I'm guessing things are pretty wild for you at the moment.
Yeah, it's the most amazing thing ever, but it's also probably the hardest thing ever. It's a learning process just trying to maintain your own lives while still being the best parents you can be, and you figure things out on a daily basis.
Obviously the decision to become a parent is never straightforward, but it probably gets even more complicated when you're a professional surfer in the prime of your career. Were there other parents/professional athletes you looked to for inspiration in how to pull it off?
The person who I looked to most was probably Bethany [Hamilton]. I've always looked up to her, but seeing her as a mother and still surfing at the level she does was really an inspiration for me. Now that I'm a mother, I look up to her even more. She's killing it, still living her dream, but being an amazing mother at the same time. But there are a lot of women out there who are very successful and achieve whatever they set their minds to while still having kids. I mean…Beyoncé, just to name one [laughs.] But it does have a lot to do with who you have helping you, and everyone raising children has different circumstances to deal with and different ways they want to go about it, so you can't really compare yourself to other parents too much. Jack and I decided to be as involved as possible, so we've never even gotten a babysitter or anything, and that definitely affects everything else you want to do.
When you look at the World Tour, there are a lot of fathers competing, but I can't think of a single mother on the women's side of the World Tour. In terms of your surf career, being pregnant and having a child must just be so disruptive as a woman.
Yeah, being pregnant obviously makes doing physical activities hard, but even when your baby is born, the baby is extremely attached to you. It's definitely hard to have a surf-orientated life. For the first four months after Banks was born, I surfed maybe once a day, maybe for an hour because Banks was so attached to me. Especially if you're breastfeeding, it's definitely constant and it's draining and you don't have the energy to go surf three times a day like you used to. But it's definitely a funny thing with women in sports. It feels like there's this expectation for you to just go, go, go for your entire career, and then you can have kids after. But it's natural, it's life, and I think more people are starting to figure out that you can have kids and still compete and still surf at a high level.
What has it been like for you coming from a place where you were barely able to surf to now surfing contests again and trying to restart that part of your life?
It's been pretty hard. Jack and I thought before that we'd just switch off watching Banks and we'd both get to surf as much as we wanted [laughs.] I guess sometimes that happens. But we don't really have an example to look at for that, because usually in these situations, one of the partners is a pro surfer and the other kind of supports them. With both of us being pro surfers, it's definitely harder to find that balance. But now that Banks is six months old, it's just getting easier. Now I can leave him with Jack for a couple hours and go get in the water more.
If another woman approached you and said they were thinking about having kids, but were worried about it taking away from their surfing or their career or whatever it happens to be, what advice would you give them?
I would say that you can't really know how it's going to work beforehand, because every person and every situation is different. But if having a family is what you want, then you should go for it. I think the most fun part is finding that balance between being a mom and a surfer or whatever it happens to be, and it is a totally crazy thing to go through, but it's also so rewarding. I don't think we, as women, should ever be scared to say, "Yeah, I want a family and I want to keep my career." Oftentimes it feels like you're either supposed to be this "strong woman" who has a career, or a stay-at-home mom, but I think you can definitely do both if that's what you want.
[This interview first appeared in SURFER Volume 59 Issue 6 as a part of the feature "Surfing in Tongues," which includes enlighting conversations with experts on a variety of surf-related topics. To buy the issue, click here.]