By Todd Prodanovich
Kauai's Alana Blanchard rose to worldwide fame in 2009 when, at the age of 18, she qualified for the ASP World Tour. She quickly became one of the most recognizable figures in surfing. Not only could she keep pace with the best female surfers on the planet, but she also possessed something fans just couldn't get enough of. Blame it on her bottom turn, or the surf world's strange obsession with it—just whatever you do, don't underestimate her ability in the water.
So you fell off the Tour in 2011, which has allowed you to spend a little more time at home this year. What's that been like?
Kauai is kind of my place where I go to get centered. It's always my place to come back and feel normal again. Everyday is different when I'm home, but mainly I just surf. There's no nightlife, or shopping, so it's pretty mellow, but really nice to come back to after a trip or an event. If you're traveling, you're all stressed out, then you get to Kauai and nothing matters anymore.
So do you plan on trying to re-qualify?
I kind of had a bad start to the year, but I finally made some heats in France, so I was stoked on that. Whatever happens, happens—I'm happy both ways. It's kind of nice not having to do all the contests and being able to work more with Rip Curl and work on my bikini line with them and get to do more fun trips like that. But it is amazing to be on Tour too—with a group of girls that pushes you that much harder.
Besides a successful competitive career, you've also managed to become the de facto sex symbol of the surf world. How do you feel about that?
I think it's kind of funny. I can't say that I hate it, because I did it. It wasn't intentional, but I guess that's just how I go about stuff. Honestly, I think every girl on the Tour now is beautiful—it's not just me carrying that around. It's really cool showing that we can be feminine and girly and still go out there and surf well. I definitely think it's a good thing for all the girls.
Do you ever worry about your image overshadowing your surfing?
I guess so, but I don't really care. People can think what they want. I'm just going to do what I love to do and not worry about it. Surfing makes me happy, so that's just what I'm going to keep doing.
Were you surprised by how much attention your bathing suits got?
Yeah, seriously every girl on Kauai wears small bottoms. When I was growing up, if you wore big bottoms, you would get teased for it. It's funny because looking back at my first contest, I was 15 and surfing the Haleiwa contest wearing this tiny bikini. I remember not even thinking twice about wearing it—I just thought it was normal. But back then no one wore those bathing suits, especially in contests. Now I'm a little more conscious of it. There's a picture on Google of me just standing there in a tiny bikini when I was so young and I'm like, "What was I thinking?"
Recently, we've seen women's surfing get a lot sexier—with photo shoots where the lens is completely off surfing and focused on sex appeal—do you think that's good or bad for women's surfing as a sport?
I think it's always good, no matter what. If you're getting in magazines, that's a good thing. But recently there hasn't been as much actual surfing. It's all about them being hot, and there's no surfing anymore. It's almost to that level. But I guess it's still a good opportunity and you have to take those when you can.
Do you think that it's harder for a girl to have a career as a freesurfer than it is for a guy?
No, I think it's harder for guys. There are so many of them and you have to be one of the top freesurfers to have a good career. If you want to be a competitor, then you have to make the World Tour. I see a lot of girls who get picked up just for freesurfing and modeling. I think it's easier for girls to find sponsors based on the lifestyle. It doesn't really work that way for guys.
How many times have you heard jokes about your bottom turn?
The most jokes probably come from like my dad. He'll always say, "Wear bigger bottoms!" I don't hear too many jokes. But yesterday I was going to surf this reef and my boyfriend's mom said, "You should wear trunks so you don't scratch your bottom up. That's your moneymaker and you don't want to hurt it." I was just like, "Oh my god…"