As far as contests go, my competitive surf career peaked with a second place finish in an amateur regional in Santa Cruz, California. Needless to say, the WQS and ‘CT grinds weren’t a viable career path for me. But in spite of this, or maybe even because of it, I’ve always been intrigued by what it takes for someone to make it onto the Tour. I love hearing the different paths people take to find their way up surfing’s highest competitive ranks. There’s a level of commitment it takes to get there, regardless of one’s background, that I admire.
Recently, while traveling through New Zealand, I met one of those committed athletes, Tiana-Breeze de Mooij, and her family. She was home in Mount Maunganui between stops on her first year on the ‘QS. I imagine being a rookie on tour would be extremely intimidating, but I didn’t get the sense that Tiana was easily shaken by any of it. She was kind and respectful but also carries a quiet confidence about her. And it’s qualities like these that give me the feeling she’s going to succeed. We chatted about what it’s like being one of the very few pros from New Zealand taking that leap right now, and the experiences of her first year in the race.
What was it like growing up in Mt. Maunganui?
I have had a great life growing up at the Mount. I live so close to the beach so that is where I spent most of my childhood—playing in the sand and in the ocean. Dad got me into the water at a young age and as I got older my passion and desire to surf started. I won my first surfing competition when I was 10 on a mini mal and ever since that day I have been hooked on competitive surfing.
The surf can be very fickle at the mount but I believe that surfing average waves really helped me with my surfing as most competitions are in bad waves. The Mount is a great place for all outdoor activities. I grew up playing a lot of different sports including tennis, soccer, athletics, touch rugby, volleyball, cross country, and of course, surfing. When I was younger I surfed with a bunch of girl grommets that all lived at the Mount. The surfs with the girls were always the best times and included a lot of laughs, wipeouts, hooting, and gossip in the line up (laughs).
What’s it like being a rookie on the ‘QS?
The girls on the ‘QS are seasoned pros, so being a rookie on the ‘QS is all very new to me but super exciting. I am a very little fish in a big pond and the surfing standards are so high. I am trying to learn the ropes of being a ‘QS surfer quickly. From what I have seen you have to be not only an excellent surfer but mentally tough to succeed. I still have a lot to learn and improve on but that is all part of the journey.
What’s been the biggest struggle as a rookie?
Trying to jump up to the next level of high-performance surfing. All the girls rip and are very strategic in heats. Some of the girls have been trying to crack the ‘CT for years so they have a lot more experience than I do. The traveling side of it all is difficult too; finding places to stay with little contacts around the world is hard. Trying to eat well, missed flights, dinged boards, language barriers and early heat knockouts—I definitely now know why they call the QS a grind.
Are there any other Kiwis on tour with you?
Yes, there is. Paige Hareb is on the verge of re-qualifying for the ‘CT and Ella Williams (former world junior champ). Seeing these girls do so well on the WQS really inspires me to get to their level and it gives me something to aim for.
What are your goals right now?
At the moment I am really focusing on trying to make the top 100 in the ‘QS within the next few months. I am going to train really hard in the next couple months when I get home from the last contest of the year to try to really improve my surfing. In the long run, the ultimate goal is to make the Championship Tour. That is my dream. But at the moment I’m just taking it heat by heat, learning, and gaining experience.
There are not many surfers on Tour from New Zealand. What are the benefits and/or obstacles of being from New Zealand and trying to make it on Tour?
New Zealand is so isolated from everywhere so the costs of traveling are greater. We do not have the infrastructure or high performance training centers to develop our talent that other places have. But hopefully in the near future this will change with surfing now being an Olympic sport. Kiwis seem to be well respected around the world, which can be helpful in some situations. Trying to get the funding to compete on the WQS is really difficult in little New Zealand but I am super blessed to have AJ Hackett International on board as my main sponsor.