“Living in Hawaii everyone wanted to be a professional surfer because Andy Irons and Bruce Irons are from there, and it’s just something that everyone looks up to.”
The late and legendary Andy Irons—the three times world champion, who suffered a drug-related heart-attack aged 32, when his wife was eight months pregnant—had a big impact on Blanchard.
“[Andy] was actually my neighbor, so ever since we were 12 we wanted to become professional surfers…we would always go and spy on him and stuff when we were little girls. We were pretty obsessed.”
There’s a genuine sadness in her eyes as she reflects on his passing; “It was super sad.”
Surely no surfer ever burned as brightly as Andy Irons, and his is perhaps the ultimate cautionary tale on the nature of fame and the darker side of the seemingly perfect life of a professional surfer.
The 21st century has seen the arrival of a new currency for celebrity (and infamy). Social media. As a young woman with a high aptitude for one of the most aesthetically beautiful sports on the planet, the camera-confident Alana is a lightning rod for public interest. By the metric of Instagram, Alana Blanchard is the most famous surfer on the planet.
“It’s definitely weird… I just live a way different life than a lot of people and [am] going to all these cool places being a surfer. I think it’s just nice to look up to girls that are not models or something…to someone who’s healthy and doing something cool.”
Blanchard seems to have a pretty mellow take on the lifestyle and the fame, though she admits that the competition can be trying. Surfing is one of the ultimate free-sports, so caging the pure pleasure of the thing, and transforming it into a high-stakes competition can be corrosive.
“I’ve changed throughout the years. When I’m doing good in contests I’m like; ‘Oh, this is cool…this is sick’ but it’s just really draining if you’re losing…there’s only one winner so you just get down on yourself.”
But Blanchard’s passion for pure surfing is hard to dent.
“I still have so much fun…I mean sometimes you hit something where you’re like; ‘I might take two days off’ but then after a while you get antsy.”
I laugh when she tells me that. Having grown up amongst surfers, I know that these are indeed a tribe of people for whom two days out of the ocean is a trial—the surfer’s is a bond with the natural world that tends to be quite perplexing for outsiders. I ask her what her longest time away from the water has been.
She contemplates then answers, “I hurt myself, so maybe a month. But I still saw the water.”
The lure of the sea can prove incredibly intoxicating, but there are always risks involved.
“If you’re not used to somewhere, I think it’s just scary no matter what. Because for me home isn’t scary, because I’m used to all the waves, but when I go to Indonesia or Teahupo’o, even if I’ve surfed bigger waves I’ll be scared because you’re just not used to it.
“There’s a certain point when your body’s going to be fatigued but I think that it’s a lot to do with your mind. You have to do it by yourself. No one else is going to help you.”
It’s easy to perceive a more rigid core in Blanchard than the relaxed smile and affinity with a bikini might suggest. It’s that salty grit and determination that the ocean can forge in a person. Yet when she describes growing up in the eternal summer paradise of Kauai, a more sedentary—or certainly less productive—lifestyle seems like it might have been the more predictable outcome.
“[Growing up] if we weren’t surfing, we’d be rollerblading or going down to the rocks and jumping off, and swimming through the coral caves…we were just really adventurous.”
Yet Blanchard’s adventures continue to encompass an ever-broadening map. Last year she spent a total of 10 months traveling, and her Instagram reads like an endless pilgrimage through different shades of paradise.
Her appeal to the public eye is obvious, but fulfilling the role of idyllic surfer girl comes with its own pressure too.
“[T]here’s a lot of beautiful women in surfing and I think I feel pressure to stay thin and stay like what they say a surfer girl is.”
I end the interview a little abruptly—and as it turns out, early—in order to get her to the shoot on time. I visit the set only briefly, and my last sight of Blanchard is with her back to me as she’s pored over by the hair and makeup artists. She’s quite as much at ease in the high fashion environment as she is amongst the waves, and I can’t help but feel that it’s Alana Blanchard, who can tell the world what a surfer girl is.
Photographer: Frederic Auerbach for OpusReps.com.
Stylist: Leila Baboi at LeilaBaboi.com.
Hair: Dimitris Giannetos for Opusbeauty.com
Makeup: Paul Blanch for Opusbeauty.com.
Digital Tech: Haris Sarantis.