Editor’s note: This episode of CREATORS was made possible by Toyota RAV4 Adventure Grade.
Anastasia Ashley says the key to happiness is simply finding a way to do what you love every day. For her, that’s always been surfing. It’s hard to believe that when Ashley was a kid, the perception and stature of women’s surfing was in a totally different place. According to her, a far worse one.
“It’s insane to see the progression of women’s surfing,” says Ashley. “You know, even ten years ago (there were) people telling me to get out of the water. Women shouldn’t be out here. I’ve heard it all. The day that I found out that surfing was in the Olympics for both males and females, I cried because I remember when there weren’t even female events.”
Today, there most certainly are female events. Much work is still to be done, but in Ashley’s eyes, the progress is noteworthy.
Between the ascent of social media and the WSL’s hard-fought, moneyed campaign to legitimize professional surfing as an Olympic sport over the last decade, Anastasia Ashley has created new opportunities within and beyond surfing with aplomb.
So it’s fitting to have a conversation with her today, as a 30-year-old woman, who can candidly reflect on her philosophy of doing what she loves, a philosophy that has driven her career. From competitive surfing to social media to modeling to public speaking at international events like the Web Summit, she associates just about every accomplishment in her professional life as something that’s enabled her to get in the water every day.
She’s also fully aware that her surfing hasn’t always been the public’s focus when it comes to her profession. In moments, far from it. Like when she realized the weight of her social media presence. She retells the story of a trip to Europe when fans approached her walking down the street.
“They asked me what I was doing in France,” she says. “I said I was here for a surf event.” And that’s when they told Ashley they’d only recognized her from Instagram, not knowing she was a professional surfer. “Wow, this is a real thing,” she remembers thinking. “This is pretty crazy.”
The thing is, Anastasia Ashley neither resents or seeks that attention — she just rolls with it. It’s an interesting twist because you could easily expect either from a person in her role. On one hand, it’s not uncommon for professional athletes to be offended when they’re recognized for anything other than their athletic accomplishments. Meanwhile, you could just as easily expect somebody with more than a million Instagram followers to crave constant validation. Ashley fits neither stereotype. She’s an accomplished woman in and out of the water who’s watched her sport grow and seen the opportunities it now affords female surfers increase as well. There’s no going back to the old days. No one’s telling her to get out of the water.
And in her own experience, that’s meant casting a wider net than strictly surfing heats and putting on a contest jersey. Either way, as long as it all leads to ensuring she gets to surf, she’s happy.