Malia Manuel: Life of an Elite Surfer & All-Around Lovable Yogi

Pro surfer Malia Manuel talks about fitting yoga into her routine and finding inspiration all around her.

Wanderlust O’ahu is right around the corner! Catch a wave with us Feb. 25-28, 2016 on the fabled North Shore. 

Malia Manuel surfs with equal parts grace and grit. The way she cuts fearlessly across those tumbling sheets of water, you can tell there’s surfing in her blood. Indeed, her parents met surfing in Hawaii, and when she was just two years old her dad would paddle out with her so she could catch waves on his shoulders.

At the age of 14, Malia became the youngest ever female or male to win the US Open of Surfing. Today, at 21, she is a top-10 surfer who competes with the most elite surfers on the pro circuit. Yet even with the world watching, she’s usually smiling.

We talked with her about the reasons she keeps paddling out, how yoga fits into her routine, and what keeps her inspired.

Starting young: Malia surfing on her Dad's shoulders.

Head Start: Malia surfing on her father’s shoulders

What do you love most about surfing?
I think it’s the passion that it’s brought me. I’ve never loved anything more than being in the ocean. I’ve always just expressed myself through being in the water.

Do you have a favorite surfing memory? 
Every day is different and unique. If I’m ever in a bad mood, it will put me in a better mood. Every time it’s exciting, because every time it’s different. And the career surfing has brought me is such a blessing, it’s insane. To be on the elite World Tour with only 17 other girls in the world is amazing.

How did you get into yoga?
I really got into it about five years ago because my friends from home in Hawaii were into it. I’m away from home so many months out of the year, but when I come home we’d do a yoga night. It was a social thing. We’d do yoga and then make a delicious, healthy meal.

What’s your yoga routine like these days?
I do a lot of side body poses, things that will open up my hips. And I’ll do Bikram at home. I love hot flows now.

maliamanuelyogaWhat aspects of yoga do you find most helpful for your surfing? For your life?
I’m pretty competitive, so whether I go to a restorative class or a flow class, it really helps me be in the moment and not worry about stretching as far as I can, or holding a pose as long as I can. It helps me to be centered and balanced. And then, of course, for the body it’s really good cross training.

Do a lot of surfers on the pro circuit do yoga?

Yeah, I’ve noticed a lot of surfers practice yoga. My friend Coco [Ho] and I both do YogaGlo all the time on tour and talk about how it’s great that it allows us to practice while traveling so much.

Now that surfing is becoming more of a full-on sport and not just a hobby, people are really looking for ways to innovate and try different styles, especially because you can never master surfing. Yoga helps with [giving more depth to your surfing].

What rituals do you have in your life?
Music really helps me as a pre-surf ritual with heats. It gets me in a different mental state, competitive wise. And I just love leading a healthy lifestyle—eating healthy, practicing yoga, finding farmers markets, living green.

I read that you paint your own surfboards. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Sometimes when I have time in between events I love to paint on surfboards—it actually makes them last longer! I’m kind of a perfectionist; art wasn’t really my thing. So it’s good practice to just throw paint on it like a blank canvas. It’s relaxing and takes my mind off everything else, so that I’m not always thinking about the next event, or what I have to plan or practice for.

What’s your mantra? What keeps you motivated?
Just being positive. I don’t have a mantra as far as competitive heats go, but in general for me I just remind myself to stay positive and count my blessings. That’s huge—always counting my blessings.



Photos courtesy of Malia Manuel.