I remember back in the day when I was starting out my surfer journey. The main talking point with girlfriends on the beach was scrutinizing the size of the waves, discussing whether or not one could muster up the courage to paddle out. I have even had dreams of paddling into massive cavernous pits that are moody and dark, to scramble to my feet and take the 'wide-high' line, to get the hell out of there! But I recently conversed with Hawaii's Mercedes Maidana (that assures me her home town in Argentina is squished between the Andes mountain range and the Atlantic Ocean. Not really a place big on wave's) who shared her love of surfing the big stuff. Mercedes efforts have earned her back to back nominations as a finalist for the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Billabong XXL Awards in the Girls Overall Performance category.
How long have you been surfing?
10 years, I started on a trip to Brazil when I was 20 years old.
Everyone talks of surfing being a life changing experience but how has surfing change everything for you?
I used to live in a big city, in Buenos Aires. Now I live in a small island, in Hawaii, because of surfing. I left everything I knew until I was 20 years old behind me, and I created the life of my dreams, surfing everyday in paradise :) Since I started surfing, my life changed in all kinds of ways. Today I am healthier, happier and more in peace than in the past.
Most ladies I know shy away from anything over 6 foot, how did you get into surfing big waves?
It was a natural progression, going up the ladder slowly. As I spent time living in Hawaii and surfing Sunset Beach, I started expanding from 6 foot to 8 foot, to 10 foot, etc. As I was getting comfortable in those size of waves, then I pushed myself just a little bit more and tested my limits. I did it slowly, growing my confidence by gaining experience, spending lots of hours in the water, surfing every swell at Sunset and getting used to it. For me it was a desire from my heart, it was all I dreamed with and wanted to do. If it calls you, then you just have to follow it.
What equipment do you use, do you paddle into your waves or use a jet ski? boards? sizes?
I paddle most of the time into big waves. I had towed in only a handful of times, and even though it was very fun, it is just a very different feeling that I get from paddling. I love paddling, it gives you that inner sense of accomplishment where it's just me and the Ocean and my board. I have to rely just on myself to choose the wave, to get into it and to be safe in the water. There is nothing like that feeling of making a big late drop, it's beautiful.
I use boards that go from 5'7'' for small waves, all the way up to 10'6 for big Waimea. For big waves I am using now a 10'2'' FCD gun, with a quad setting,but I also use a lot an 8'3'' quad for Sunset, a 9'6'' thruster for different big waves and when I tow I use a 5'9'' tow board that I got shaped with the help of Darrick Doerner (it is a little rocket!).
You talk about staying super fit to take on the big conditions in the ocean, if you could run us through your fitness regime?
Aside from surfing I do a lot of cardio training out of the water to keep myself strong and fit. To surf big waves you need to be in great shape, because you could run out of air and be in trouble. So I do 4 times a week a max high interval training that is very strenuous, but gives me amazing results. I complement the hard training with Yoga 2 or 3 times a week. I do Bikram Yoga that helps me stretch and work on my lower back and leg strength to avoid injuries and recover from any pains.
Who inspires you and where do you draw your courage from?
So many people inspire me! Greg Long, Jamie Sterling, Kohl Christensen, Maya Gabeira, Savannah Shaugnessy, Keala Kennelly, Derek Dunfee, Shane Dorian, Andrew Marr, Clark Abbey, and I could go on and on and on.
I can learn something from everybody. I don't consider myself anything special, I just do what I can. Sometimes I am turned on, and I want to really push myself and go for the big sets. Other times I am intimidated, scared, who knows...I don't feel that I actually have a lot of courage, which I wish I had! For me is more about being in the moment, and some moments I feel very confident, and other moments I just don't. For me it isn't about having courage, but about really wanting the waves. When I really want them, then I go for it. So it is all inside, I guess.
What is it like to acknowledged by your peers in the Billabong XXL Awards?
It brings a nice sense of accomplishment to know that you did your very best, you gave it your all for the whole year, and you see results on the outside as well as on the inside. For me it's enough to be able to do this amazing lifestyle, chasing big swells around the world and improving in my surfing. To be considered one of the few women that had a good performance during the year, is the cherry on the pie, it feels great!
What is the best wave you have paddled into?
The one I got the morning after the Eddie Aikau contest in Waimea, on December of 2009. It was just beautiful, green, glassy,steep and I was all by myself in the wave! It was a dream came truth to me.
What is the worst beating you have had? by what wave? and how big?
I got some heavy beatings at Waimea during the El Nino season in 2009/2010. I remember one that I fell on the first wave of a 6 wave set. It was very west and I was in a deeper position that I wished for. The wave was flat at the bottom, I just lost all my speed and waited for the beating. I got the whole set on the head, never being able to get out of the impact zone. It took everything out of me. But my heaviest situation was this year in March at Sunset Beach. It was 8-10 foot, very west direction. I did the same thing, went too deep and the whole west came to me, so I straightened out. When I fell to the water I got inside of a cave/ledge at the reef in Boneyards. It took me a while to get rid of my leash that was stuck on the reef. It was really ugly because I wasn't able to move and reach to my ankle to release the leash. I spent 2 waves underwater and then got out when I finally reached my ankle and was able to pull from the quick release hook that I had on that leash. It really messed with my confidence. I feel that I had to start all over from zero since that day. I am still scared at Sunset and I really want to overcome it because I love that wave.
Everyone wants to know...What is the biggest wave you have ridden?
I don't know exactly the size, cause I don't have a photo of it. It was at Jaws, on the left. It was a small day for Jaws and I was towing it for the first time, just trying it out. Then a bigger set came out of nowhere and when I was going down the wave I realized it was way bigger than anything I experienced before. It was about 20 foot Hawaiian, for what the guys that saw it told me (something like 35 foot face). Nothing too special in big wave terms, but it was big enough for me! :)
Do you surf the small stuff?
All the time! I love surfing small waves,if I have the right board! Now I got obsessed with a 5'7'' FCD Fark, that is kind of a mixture of a fish with a high performance short board. It is the funnest thing I ever ridden, and I can't wait for the waves to be clean 3 foot to go surf it!
What are your goals for yourself and your surf coaches goals for you?
I don't have any coaches, I do my surfing journey by myself, setting my own intentions and goals and figuring out how to get there.
Of course I want to paddle into bigger waves, and go deeper and get big barrels and make them out! But really, my goal today is to go back to the fun of surfing. I want to keep improving and growing as a big wave surfer, but I want to do it from another place than I was doing it before. I don't want to do it in competition with myself or others, I just want to really enjoy it, with no pressures, no should haves. I just want to be connected with myself and God and go from there.
If there is anything else which you would like to add?
I want to thank my sponsor Patagonia for supporting me in living my dream of being able to keep improving in my sport. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't had surfed some amazing waves around the world and get to know great people that became good friends.
I want to thank my other sponsors that support me in different ways: FCD Surfboards,Bikram Yoga North Shore studio, Wavetribe, Futures Fins, Go Pro. And a special thanks to my favorite man in the world, my husband Gregg Miller, because I couldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for his support, patience and love to hold me through the hard times.
As humble as Merecdes is, I still think she a legend being able to take on massive waves! Surf Sister would like to wish her lots of big swell for the future.
Words By Narani Henson
Narani Henson in Byron Bay
" My love for the ocean was installed at a young age. Surfing and my art is something that I can lose myself in, what can I say its good for my soul". Narani Henson has a diploma of Fine Arts from Meadowbank TAFE and a bachelor of Fine Arts from Curtin University.