Our People: Young surfer hungry for more success on the water

Sumner’s Estella Hungerford won the under-16 girls division in the Emerson’s South Island surfing championship in Dunedin over Easter, hopefully cementing her chances of being selected for the New Zealand team to travel to the International Surfing Association world junior championships. Sarla Donovan catches up with the 16-year-old

SUCCESS: Sumner surfer Estella Hungerford has been passionate about surfing since the age of 11. She's currently second in the country in the U16 age group. PHOTO: Martin Hunter

You must be feeling good coming off a couple of divisional wins in Dunedin and at the recent Duke Festival of Surfing – what does it mean for you going forward?

I do have a good placing at the moment in the overall New Zealand rankings. I just moved into second after this last win, which is good going into when they choose the ISA team. Each country takes I think two girls and four boys for each age division, and they compete with every other surfing nation in the world. It’s at national representative level which I’ve never done before. My friend Tegan did and she said it was amazing going to see the different cultures and different places. It’s in Tokyo this year. I think I find out near the end of May (if I’m in the team.)

Can you remember your first time on a surfboard?

Not really, I think I was quite young. I didn’t really get into it until I was about 11 and then I really enjoyed it. I did my first competition that summer, the women’s Canterbury champs, and I got third and was pretty stoked and that kind of kicked everything off. Competitions are great; you get to meet so many cool people and it’s a good way to improve your surfing and go to lots of new places.

It’s not something you took to straight away, so what is it you like about surfing?

My dad and step mum (Stoked Surf School owner Donna Henderson) taught all their six kids at the same time so it was a real family thing which I really enjoy, it’s a good way to spend time with them. That’s probably a lot bigger than my competition drive, getting to spend time with them each weekend in the water. All the kids can surf. I’m the oldest, then the youngest is eight, then there’s two 10-year-olds and then the two girls are 13 and 12. Two of them – the middle child from each family – aren’t that into it but they still come out all the time.

Are you competitive among yourselves?

Ava, who is 12, pushes me a lot; she’s pretty hardcore and I love surfing with her, she’s hilarious, and she pushes me. There’s a bit of friendly competition but nothing too serious.

So you’ve carried on competing since that first one?

My dad was really good; he took me all over the South Island first and then we ventured up to the North Island surfing competitions. It’s different up there, all the girls generally come from really strong surfing backgrounds and have been surfing since they were quite young. The waves are a lot warmer and there’s some pretty amazing breaks. Not that there’s none down here, but it’s a pretty high level of competition.

How good is it being able to compete with your step mum and sister?

It’s definitely good to have their support. Mainly me and Ava at the moment, but the younger kids will eventually get into it. Dad and Donna just bought a campervan so that we don’t spend as much money on accommodation and flights. We’re away a lot of the time so it’s getting a lot of use. It does get quite messy at times. But it’s pretty good.

What’s your proudest achievement so far?

I was pretty stoked to get my first national level win this year at Whangamata and then backed it up with two others, which was even more amazing. So it’s been a good year so far.

In the water each week?

I try to get out at least once a day. I used to surf every day before school but it’s quite dark at the moment and getting a bit cold so I usually go once after school and try to get two surfs in on Saturdays and Sundays. I’ve been trying to go out in all conditions lately because, at competitions, quite often the waves are really bad so you’ve got to get used to surfing in all types.

Surfing has been dominated by men for a long time but that seems to be changing – why do you think more girls and women are getting into it?

Maybe the female role models have just improved so much lately like (pro-surfers) Stephanie Gilmore and Carissa Moore kind of leading the way on the women’s ASP world tour. I reckon it’s a lot easier now than it used to be for girls. Donna is a big advocate for women’s surfing which is good, she pushes that a lot, especially in the South Island.

How is it different competing as a women – are the competitions organised any differently?

Not really – there’s generally not as many women, but at the Duke Festival in the longboard division there were more entries than the men’s so they decided to make the prize money equal which was really cool. They do have a lot of men’s divisions and I do know that quite a few of the girls were annoyed that there wasn’t an open women’s longboard or women’s SUP (stand-up paddleboard) at the South Island’s this year. Someone I know went in the men’s SUP as ‘Luke’ instead of Lucy so she could complete which was really cool, we all supported her. She didn’t get through but she definitely had fun.

Is it your goal to be a pro-surfer?

I’m not sure. I don’t think so, but I’ll see what happens. I might try and do a couple of overseas competitions and see how I do. I want to go to university, but I’m not sure what I want to study. But I reckon Ava will probably go pretty far because she’s a lot younger than me and is at a much higher level than I was at her age. It would be cool to see her go professional.

I’ve heard people describe surfing as a lifestyle rather than a sport. What is it for you?

It’s definitely a bit of a lifestyle, you’re chasing waves a lot trying to find the best swell. I think it only really becomes a sport when you do it competitively and the rest of the time it’s generally a lifestyle.

Do people have pre-conceptions about you because you surf?

If I’m paddling out and there’s a lot of males in the line-up, I’ll try to get a really good first wave so that they don’t drop in on me thinking I’m just a girl who can’t surf. But my friends at school don’t really know what it means so I kind of try to educate them – it doesn’t always work.

Can you describe what it feels like to ride a wave?

Well, on a really big wave, you get a big rush of adrenaline. It’s an amazing feeling and then, if you do a really good turn, you’ll definitely feel awesome; like if I do a really amazing turn off and then jump off the wave, I’ve got a massive smile on my face because it feels amazing. But I don’t really know how to describe it.

Do you have any tips for beginners?

Get out there as much as you can. It’s definitely important to ride the right board. A lot of people jump on a really small board because they see the pros riding it but you definitely try and start on a really big board.

A soft-top is really good because it doesn’t hurt. And it’s helpful to surf with someone who’s better than you to improve. That’s why I like surfing with the guys out in the water because they push me a lot.

What’s your favourite place to surf?

On the West Coast at Fox River there’s this amazing left-hand point break, but after the big storms they’ve had there it’s not that great at the moment, so we’re hoping for another storm to push the banks back up and make it good again.

If you’re not out surfing, where would we find you?

That’s a hard question. I just read a lot, I don’t really do a lot other than surfing. I’ll generally just be with my family somewhere. I go to school at Haeata Community Campus. I was at Aranui High School before it changed to Haeata and I found it hard to get used to at first but I really like it now. I can work at my own level and don’t have to be held back by annoying people in my class. And there’s a lot of one-on-one learning which suits my style.

What are your favourite subjects at school?

We don’t really have subjects but I do enjoy science. And maths because it challenges me. Career-wise I don’t know. I want to go to Otago to study because they’ve got really good waves down there, but I don’t know what I want to study yet.

If you weren’t a surfer, what would you be?

Probably doing some other sport like netball or rugby, something like that, maybe cricket. Surfing takes up most of my time, but I do enjoy it so I’m not missing out.