Santa Cruz Waves chats with the bubbly barrel hunter Kim Mayer.
As far as influential local surfers go, we hear a lot about “the boys” of this town. And don’t get me wrong—they’re great. But even the boys would agree that Kim Mayer—with her potent combination of style, wit, power and genuine stoke—gives them a run for their money out in the water. Kim’s surfing transcends gender conventions. She doesn’t surf “like a girl,” nor does she surf “like a guy.” She does, however, accomplish the tricky task of making saltwater look like the natural habitat of Homo sapiens, yet is equally mesmerizing atop a set of wheels, carving smooth lines into steep concrete faces.
Kim is an alumnus of both the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), and the Women’s World Qualifying Series (WQS), which makes her part of a rare but growing breed of contemporary surfer; she knows how to stay grounded in the process of dreaming—and going—big. A true daughter of Santa Cruz, Kim is as organic, homegrown, and refreshing a soul as the cherry trees she tends to. Basically, Kim rips at life. I sat down recently with this dynamic being for a brief but intriguing peak into her formative years, daily adventures, and visions for the future.
Name, Age, Hometown, and whereabouts in town?
Kim Mayer, 29, Santa Cruz, Midtown for now.
How long have you been surfing, and how did you start? Favorite boards?
I learned to surf when I was thirteen. I grew up at Pleasure Point, started boogie boarding at 26th, did Junior Guards, and spent a lot of time at the beach. Both my dad and brother surfed, so it seemed pretty natural for me to give it a go. I love my 5’2″ Stretch “pug” for speed. I’ve also got a couple of old Freeline kneeboards for summer days, a Carl Olsen longboard for Second Peak, and a 5’9″ Lance Ebert for shortboardable waves.
Who inspires you, in and out of the water?
Oh wow, I get inspired every day by someone new. We all have so much to share with each other. Specifically though, I love seeing Zeuf Hesson out in the water. She’s such a bright, strong, beautiful spirit. Anytime I’m up on the cliff and see her out, I suit up and paddle out; I feel so blessed to be out there with her. Really, I just love being around people that are passionate about what they do, people that are sharing their gifts and living healthy lifestyles. And I love seeing the groms, but mostly up on the cliff. (Laughs.)
As a girl, what was it like growing up surfing in Santa Cruz in the pre-Blue Crush era?
Pre-Blue Crush…I like that. It wasn’t that much different than it is now. The generation before me kind of paved the way for me and my friends. And there were a few rough years in the beginning, but that’s the treatment all the groms our age were getting.
So what is the average day like in the life of Kim Mayer? Is there an average day?
The average day changes with the seasons. But it might involve teaching a surf lesson, a surf for myself, eating homegrown organic veggies, playing guitar, planting fruit trees, having a pint with the friends, going for a skate or a hike…like I said though, I’m a seasonal creature. Winter dormancy, Spring chicken, Summer work, Fall in love.
You work with trees, right? How did you get involved in that line of work and what is it like?
Yeah, I work with an Orchard Keeper. We do ecological fruit trees all over the county of Santa Cruz. I studied Sustainable Agriculture at UCSC and basically got connected through one of my best friends. I love it. We work on orchards with over 200 trees or just home backyards. We’re basically nurturing and tending to the land, replacing lawns with edible food forests.
You also teach surfing. What do you like most about teaching surfing?
It feels good for me to pass on a passion of mine. Teaching it feels so natural. Learning to surf was such a life-changing experience for me that I can completely relate with the stoke when I see people standing up for their first time.
How long have you skated for? Have your surfing and skating influenced one another at all?
I started skating before I surfed. I think I was probably five or six. My brother and I were always building quarter pipes and ramps in the backyard. Now I mostly just skate around on my Sector Nine as transportation, where the pavement eventually takes the shape of a giant wave.
How long did you do the WQS? Do you ever miss contests?
I competed for so many years, doing the NSSA (National Scholastic Surfing Association) and then the QS. I loved getting to experience the different cultures around the world and I made so many international friends. I guess that’s what I miss the most: all the friends. We traveled around the world together for about five years and now we’re all kind of doing our own thing in our respective countries. The actual contests themselves, I don’t miss that much. A lot of stress to perform well in a small window never really felt that good at the end of the day regardless of the outcome.
Recently you were invited to and participated in the Bud Light Lime Surf Series. Tell us a little about that.
Yeah, that was a really fun contest—no pressure. Everyone who showed up got paid so that took a lot of stress out of it. Serena Brooke rides for Bud Light, so she invited me. It was such an honor to surf against the women that I had looked up to growing up. Surfing against Lisa Anderson was probably the highlight. And then the dance party was pretty epic, with Chris Coté on the turntables.
Any lesser known passions or talents of yours you’d like to share with us?
I do pottery with my mom.
What is the gnarliest situation you’ve ever been in?
Heavy things happen a lot, but there isn’t one incidence that sticks out in my mind. Sorry, no big story to tell! I crashed a car recently; that was intense. And I went skydiving once and the chute got stuck, but eventually released. I am constantly reminding myself how lucky and amazing it is to be living on this planet right now.
How often do you travel? Do you have a most memorable trip?
I travel about four times a year. Every trip has it’s own memorabilia. The most recent was a Sector Nine trip to the Galapagos Islands: beautiful place, exotic wildlife, and fun waves.
So where in the world is Kim amping to go next, and why?
I’m loving Santa Cruz right now with all this swell and nice weather, but I’d like to go to Mexico, India, and the Sierras. It’s also a goal of mine to go on a long sailing trip before the year is over.
What do you appreciate most about home?
There’s something so sweet about being home. My family lives here—that’s huge. Both grandmas live in the Upper Westside, Mom and Dad at the Point, Brother in Ben Lomond. Mom and Dad met while at Santa Cruz High and we’re all still here, drawn towards the natural beauty of the place and the community of creative and inspiring spirits, I suppose.
Have you lived anywhere besides Santa Cruz? If so, for how long, and what was it like?
I lived in New Zealand for a year on a study abroad program through UCSC. It was truly amazing; I got to know that entire country better than I know California. I cried when I left and think about going back all the time. It’s a magical place. I also lived in Southern California for a year to switch things up. I was living in Carlsbad and working at an organic cafe in Leucadia—shot a lot of photos with JettyGirl Online Surf Magazine (www.jettygirl.com) and soaked up some warmer water.
If you could pick any place in the world to set up shack for good where would it be, and what do you think you’d need to be happy?
Well, some friends and I are looking for some land to buy in California. We’re saving our money and hope to start an institute for the healing arts/music/ sustainable living sort of thing; the dream is in its early stages of development but I’m hoping that we turn it into reality and make it happen.
Dina El Dessouky is co-editor at Kurungabaa: a journal of literature, history, and ideas from the sea: