Holly Beck ’01
- Major: Psychology (verified on LinkedIn & ESP)
- Hometown: Palos Verdes, CA
- Currently Lives: Nicaragua & Costa Rica
- Career: Founder, Surf Instructor & Video Coach – Surf With Amigas
What inspired you to join the surf team?
I learned to surf as a freshman in highschool and immediately fell in love with it. During that time, I started competing in amateur surfing and was on my highschool’s swim team. So when I went to UCSD, joining the surf team seemed like just an obvious thing. There’s no reason I wouldn’t; I was a competitive surfer who had already had experience with being on a surf team.
I got into UC Irvine and UCSD, and I had to decide between those two schools. But when I went down and checked out how close UCSD is to Black’s, that was the end of my decision-making process.
What’s one of your favorite memories or a meaningful story from your time on the UC San Diego Surf Team?
The memory that comes to mind is inappropriate to share, but let’s just say that the surf team had the best parties in my opinion. My final year at UCSD I lived in a house in Del Mar with 5 girls and a big garage and backyard where we hosted the surf club/team parties. They were always a good time. I guess that doesn’t really count as a meaningful story but that’s what stands out in my memories. Good times with cool people, letting loose in a garage filled with wetsuits and surfboards.
What does Black’s Beach mean to you?
Black’s is incredible. It’s an amazing, world-class beach break wave. I grew up in Palos Verdes, so I surfed South Bay beaches. Those are nice, but Black’s is next level in quality, size, power, and natural beauty. During my freshman year of college, I spent a lot of time surfing Black’s. I was in Eleanor Roosevelt College, but I lived at Revelle because they didn’t have enough housing.
At first I was bummed about not living in my college, then I realized that Revelle was actually really close to Black’s. I actually had a little ocean view from my dorm room- it was teeny tiny, but it counted. I would walk down and surf Black’s. In the winter, I would walk back up in my wetsuit, and take my wetsuit off in the dorm showers- it was really cool just having the freedom of evening classes and being able to surf during the day.
Back then, it wasn’t as crowded during the day. Now, so many people work online or have flexible hours that time is different in Southern California. I feel like 20 years ago, it still felt like that. You could walk down at 8 AM, and people would be leaving to go to work. It was relatively uncrowded and the best waves that I ever regularly surfed in my life up to that point.
What did you gain from your experience on the surf team?
I gained a social scene. I’m naturally an introvert and super shy, and I didn’t have a lot of self-confidence in those days. So I started to form my identity around being a surfer, and being a good surfer in particular. I got access to an accepting social scene where I could be myself and be friends with the boys that surfed. It was a way to get to know people.
What lessons from surfing have you applied to your real life?
One thing that was really frustrating for me is that I’m a super dedicated person that prefers to actually go to bed early and get ready to perform at first light. At that time, I wanted to become a professional surfer. So surfing was very, very important to me and something I took seriously. It was a little bit of a challenge because it seemed like a lot of the other members of the team didn’t see it that way. It was more like a fun social activity for them, so the contests were held on Sundays. We would have a big party on Saturday night before the contest, which to me seemed so backwards because I was such a nerd.
I thought we should go to bed early and wake up feeling rested and ready to perform our best. Stay up late partying and being hung over and tired the next day. It was a learning experience for me to let go of trying to influence everyone around me and just say, “well, everyone’s going to make their own choices and if they want to party, there’s nothing I can say.” I’m just going to worry about myself. Each person has their own path, own motivations and goals, and I just have to respect that.
At what point did you decide to be a professional surfer?
I didn’t learn to surf until I was a freshman in high school. My mom said that surfing was for boys and that a nice young lady wouldn’t be out competing with the boys; she should be sitting on the beach looking cute in her bikini. I wanted to start surfing when I was like 13, but I wasn’t actually able to do it until I was 15 and had friends who had driver’s licenses. Because I was a little older, I could say to my mom, “I’m going anyways. You can’t stop me.” By the time I graduated high school, I’d only been surfing for three years. And while I had some crazy fantasy to be a pro surfer, there was not really any part of me that thought that I had a chance at that.
It was just one of those dreams, like when you’re a kid and dream of being an astronaut because that sounds cool. Some people don’t really think they’re going to be one, and that’s what pro surfing was like for me. Plus in those days, women’s surfing was really just starting, so it wasn’t like there’s this clear career path. But then as a freshman in college, right before finals, there was an opportunity to go to Mexico on a photo trip for SurfGirl Magazine. A photographer friend of mine invited me when someone else couldn’t make it last minute and said I had two days to decide.
I was scrambling. Well, I have finals, but I think I can do it. I went on this trip, and I was the youngest, most novice outsider of the other girls. But I realized on that trip that while these other girls were better than me and were pro surfers, the gap wasn’t as big as I thought.
When we got back, I went to a lecture hall, and they were going off to Australia the next stop on tour. That trip was when I realized I wanted to be a pro surfer and that it was actually viable. So I hustled, and instead of dropping out of school to pursue this, I’m going to try and graduate as soon as I can. I started looking at my schedule and how I can get as many credits as possible so I graduate as soon as possible. I started taking summer schoo, and I was able to graduate in three years.
What was it like to win a national title?
All throughout college, I was competing in the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA), both for the team and individually. I remember I would leave campus early in the morning on Sunday and drive to wherever the contest was and compete. When I came home at the end of the weekend, I’d take the elevator in the dorms with a big trophy. I felt like I was living a different life from a lot of my peers who just partied on the weekends, but it felt good because I was working towards a goal. I decided once I graduated, I was going to go on tour, and it worked out really well. I was able to win my first national title that year. It was a great way to end my amateur career by winning the nationals. I started surfing professionally after that.
Winning was epic, and I was stoked. It was really validating because I started surfing as a model actually. Back in high school, I won the league and contests every year. When I was just learning to surf, some friends on my high school team told me about Rusty’s Surfboards looking for girls to sponsor. We put together a little portfolio and sent it to them, and Rusty called me into their offices.
They said, “Thanks for sending that in. We want you to meet some people.” I drove down there just thinking I was going to come home with some free clothes or stickers, but they actually invited me to go on a photo trip with them. I thought I was going to possibly get sponsored, but I learned when I got there that they had hired me as a model. We were there on the marketing trip and didn’t even really know I surfed. I ended up saying that I want to surf and borrowed a board. They ended up sponsoring me, but the first appearance that I had in the magazine, I was standing there in a bikini holding my surfboard.
I always felt like I had this stigma that I was just a model that surfed and posed with surfboards. So winning the national title really validated me; okay I might be a model, but at my core, I always saw myself as a surfer. It was a step to show people “look, I just won the national title- take me seriously.”
What was it like to travel and surf professionally while being at student?
During college, I had my nose to the grindstone because I was trying to graduate quickly. I was always balancing surfing and high level academics.
All of a sudden, I graduated and had all this free time. It was a little bit weird. I had a hard time adjusting with filling my time. Traveling was really exciting and new, and I had traveled a little bit during school.
I used to work ahead of due dates and talk to my professors. I’d say, “I have this opportunity to go to Australia for two weeks. Can you give me the assignments ahead of time? Or can I take the final early?” I was always able to work with professors because I always had good grades.
Professional surfing then is not like it is now. Now it’s so much more professional; they travel with coaches and dieticians. 20 years ago, especially for the women, you were on your own. It was fun and crazy, but I did feel a little alienated sometimes just because I was the only woman on tour that had gone to college.
It was a serious culture shock to go from being in such a hard, educational, and mentally stimulating environment to a party pro tour with no rules and no structure. I was bringing my school books through heat while a lot of other surfers wanted to party. It took me a couple of years to relax and adjust.
I wasn’t in the top five, but neither was I the bottom five. I was always solidly right in the middle of the pack. Eventually, I just learned to relax and accept that I’m not going to be a world champion. I decided to have fun and enjoy exploring all these amazing places. After a certain amount of time, I started feeling stagnant and getting kind of bored with it a little bit. It was frustrating to have your self worth determined by catching two good waves in 20 minutes. It was such an emotional roller coaster. After living out of a suitcase and never being home on birthdays, holidays and family activities, I realized I was missing out on the stability of a real relationship.
Tell us a little bit about your journey post-graduation and what you are up to now.
I went pro and was able to make a living off of surf sponsorships from 2001-2011. I was on a reality tv show back when those were new and exciting. It was a program called Boarding House: The North Shore on the WB in 2003. I did some fitness modeling, appeared in commercials, and did some stunts for Hollywood, but eventually wanted to explore a more simple life revolving around good surf in warm water. I moved to Nicaragua full time in 2010 and started a women’s surf yoga retreat business called Surf With Amigas. I had been a little mentally bored while on tour and pursued an MBA in Marketing online while traveling. One of the business plans I wrote during the program was for a surf retreat business which was the inspiration and background behind founding what would eventually be called Surf With Amigas. It has been incredibly rewarding over the past 10 years to teach groups of women to surf, but also introduce them to a simpler life, connect with the local community, yoga, and adventures. We also have a strong giving back component and sponsor a women’s kickball team to promote women’s empowerment through sports. We also support sea turtle conservation programs in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and a kid’s art therapy program and school books for indigenous kids in Southern Costa Rica.
I have a 6 year old daughter and 4 year old son who are really excited about boogie boarding these days, so it’s really fun to get back to my surfing roots and just experience joy flopping around in the whitewater!
I am currently working on a Masters in Counseling towards getting licensed as CA counselor to pursue a private practice as a surf therapist. Now that I have a couple of kids I’m looking at possibly spending more time in the US so they can be closer to their dad and also have a better education than Central America seems able to provide, so this new educational journey will be a step in that direction. But I can’t ever imagine myself living in the US full time after I’ve experienced the Central American lifestyle.
What is your favorite surf move? (if you have one)
I’m all about the tube ride. There’s nothing better!
What would you like to share to someone thinking about joining the UCSD Surf Team?
Definitely do it!!! That’s where all the cool kids hang out!