Stab Magazine | The Stab Interview: Laura Enever

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The Stab Interview: Laura Enever

Laura discusses being a small blonde girl in XXL waves, her upcoming film, Undone, injuries, and why she has no desire to return to the World Tour. 

Stab Interviews // Dec 21, 2019
Words by Stab
Reading Time: 10 minutes

I walked to the Billabong house at Velzyland to meet Laura Enever, the day after Surfer Poll. It was a big night. We figured 4pm would be late enough for us to both come back to life. Laura was still getting ready, we grabbed a Juneshine—some sort of magic beverage involving kombucha, and it was on.

I saw Laura leaving Surfer Poll the night before, throwing her purse and heels in the bus, ready to leave the party. But the rest of the team—a sprawling squad Billabong girls, were nowhere to be seen. She ran like a real trooper into Surfer Bar to gather the girls, to make sure they got their lift home. 

Laura is a rare generous and highly capable woman; the lifestyle she’s embracing now not so surprising considering her charisma and her immediately apparent confidence and courage. 

Laura surfed competitively for 16 years, including the last 7 on the CT. After being injured at the Big Wave World Tour stop at Jaws in 2016, she decided last year to quit the tour and chase big swells, and began working on her upcoming film, UNDONE

“Most big wave surfers make a film when they’re killing it,” Laura tells me, holding her pink Darren Handley rhino chaser built for Waimea. “But I’m doing one learning big wave surfing.”

Which between us, might be even more interesting—introspection during a huge challenge.

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Stab: How are you Laura? 

Laura: We had brunch at Turtle Bay, some mimosas, so, feeling good now. [laughs] 

How many times have you been to Hawaii? Where do you like to surf here?

I’ve been coming every year since I was 12. It’s changed over the years but I used to love Gas Chambers when I was a kid, now when I come I love surfing different waves, Off The Wall, I try to get some waves at Backdoor, even though it’s really hard with everybody there. Big Sunset and Jaws are some of the biggest waves I’ve surfed. So fun. It’s so nice to be able to come in good conditions and have no expectations. The last two years have been a transition for me, I haven’t been on tour or in competitions and now I’m just happy to see all my friends and everyone from the surf world.

Where did you grow up in Australia?

I grew up in Narrabeen, NSW.

What is your favorite thing about surfing at home?

Surfing at home is just so amazing because I feel like a kid again. This is where I grew up, this is where it started, I feel like my two-year-old self. After travelling, it feels so good to come back, I wouldn’t be who I am without home. Surrounded by so many boys, they pushed me to learn, even though I was always a princess surrounded by big brothers, they weren’t easy on me and got me to be more assertive.

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I don’t really know you but it’s easy to see you are a happy person with a lot of energy and I wonder, how were you as a child?

My brother and I were really close, he was my coach for five years on the world tour. We’re both high energy, social, into our sports, I did eight years of gymnastics as a child. I can still do backflips, that’s my party trick now.

You were competing for 16 years and stopped, how does this new life without jerseys feel?

I got hooked on surfing at nine years old, quit gymnastics and started competing at ten. By the time I was 18 I started the World Tour. 

I’m known as a fun person, and you could say I get easily distracted, but in my seventh year on tour, I just wasn’t feeling the way I used to about it and started focusing on big waves, which I just loved so much. 

I was thinking about freesurfing when I got injured [at Jaws] and thought you know what, let’s see where I can go with this.

How was your trip with Jaleesa Vincent and Nora Vasconcellos a few weeks ago? You skate, too?

A bunch of girls got together, lots of skaters – I used to skate a bit as a kid but I’m too uncoordinated and clumsy—and we hung out, got insight into their lives— It’s cool being inspired by other girls doing rad shit.

I heard you are obsessed with your dog?

Yes, I’m obsessed with my dog. I got my dog when I was injured, hungover, the day after a party. We went to get a kebab and came back with a puppy. Surfing is so individual, so it’s good to have someone to care for. My boyfriend dog sits when I’m on the road.

How did you get into big wave surfing?

I was always a crazy little kid, I didn’t have any fear of the water. I instantly loved big wave surfing, everyone was like “What is this little skinny blonde girl doing out when it’s like eight foot?” which is not that big, but when you’re like twelve it is kinda. I never really had any fear of that. I’d gotten to the point where I’d be doing 20 contests a year and I needed to do something else, to use this adrenaline inside me. I actually wanted to do skydiving for a second! I was like, maybe I’m gonna be a skydiver on the side? And then I was like, wait, “Why don’t I just go surf big waves?” I went on a couple trips that changed my life. My brother took me to Fiji when it was really big, and then to P-Pass. It was me and like five boys, and the waves were huge, ten foot, I was probably the biggest waves I’ve paddled, just big barreling waves, and I was just getting smoked and hitting the reef on every wave, but because I was on a boys trip I didn’t want to complain but I was fully getting hurt. 

Shortly after that, I went on to win some of the biggest contests I had ever won, and I realised that those big waves felt better than winning. So I decided I need to do this more, and make a big decision to focus on chasing swells. That year I got invited to do the first women’s Jaws event and I thought, I’ll try!

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Tell us about your first Jaws contest. You had almost no gear right?

I had no gear, no board—I asked my friend Greg Long and Shane Dorian, “Guys, can I borrow some stuff?” 

I just really wanted to do it! I had the opportunity and I didn’t want to turn it down because I just felt like it was the time and I didn’t want to regret not doing it. I did breath training for like a month before, because obviously it’s a whole different world, surfing ten foot Indo is so different to surfing twenty foot Jaws. 

You’re getting held down. I learned the hard way on my second wave, tore my ACL. I fell, got injured, but I was loving it so much that I pretended I wasn’t hurt, so I tried to like keep surfing and then was like ok, “you really hurt your knee.” 

I made the final and couldn’t surf. I thought it might scare me away, like this is really dangerous, you probably aren’t ready for this, you’re not capable… But it was the opposite: I can’t think of anything else I want more than to go back and try it again. I had the World Tour the next year and I missed the first few events, after that I could just never get back into competing again I just knew I wanted to try big wave surfing. I think it was the right thing to happen, I was injured and it forced me off tour, which I wouldn’t have decided myself to chase big waves because the tour is amazing and you don’t get that kind of opportunity big wave surfing. I got to the point where I was thinking ok do you want to make less money and try to follow this path, or stick with competing, try to make top five.  

Looking back now I know I made the right choice.

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How much do you think boys love having girls in the lineup for big wave surf?

When I first started, I was so nervous and had never felt so insecure about being the only girl there. I was worrying about what people were thinking about me.  But most of the boys could not have been more supportive. Apart from a few exceptions, guys who told me “oh you’ve got your big boy pants on”—which I’ll never forget—or comments like “you’re too weak” or “your legs are too skinny.”  Everyone else took me in with open arms and I felt they supported me so much. There’s been a massive shift since; in the past five years everyone’s become so supportive, girls are doing it our own way and we’re being supported, the divide between us feels like it’s going away. It’s really special. It hasn’t always been easy for girl surfers.

Let speak about Undone! Is it a series? A movie?

It’s a movie. When I stopped competing, I thought I’d make a series, which then evolved into a feature-documentary.

Tell us about this project. What is it about?

It’s a feature-documentary about my surf transition, with everything in between, a lot of drama, a lot of doubt. We’ve had some crazy stuff happen this year. We started filming in March last year, mostly filmed all winter and wanted to surf everywhere in Australia. We went to Shipsterns a couple times, surfed a bunch of different waves around Australia.

It’s a surf film but also showing all the ups and downs of changing paths, that transition, how scary it can be, how much shit comes with it, and me learning. I learned to jet ski and tow the boys in. It’s a whole new world really.

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Photography

Matt Dunbar

How did this film come about and who is involved? 

I met Steve Wall who is directing it, and he always loved big wave surfing and knew all these slabby gnarly wave in Australia, and he gave me the inspiration to chase those waves. He inspired me to go on the adventure.

Was it your choice to not do a tropical film? I mean as in keeping away from idyllic conditions?

Yeah, we could have gone down the Pacific, Fiji, Indonesia, Tahiti… All these pretty beautiful waves, but I guess I decided to just go completely out of the box and push myself. I hate the cold and we were going to all these cold places. I guess everyone would never kind of expect me to surf there. but I got the best waves of my life and met the most amazing people… I pushed myself so hard with their help, I just wanted to do something really different.

Tell us about your first session at Shipsterns, and your Shipsterns teammates who brought you there?

It was in 2018 and I used my brother’s board. I got pulled into some of the gnarliest waves I’d ever surfed, I didn’t even make a wave, but I was absolutely hooked! The first time I went down was with Russel Bierke and Brett Burcher, who are amazing surfers and these guys always chase big waves. I initially went down to watch them and thought: they are insane, this is not for me. If you fall, it looks like you’ll die on the rocks. I walked down and I was like, I’m not surfing this. I saw three guys that morning get smashed on the rocks. 

I sat there three hours, and then my friend told me he’s gonna go rock off now, and he was like “Come on, just rock off, you don’t have to surf, just sit in the channel and watch”. So I went out, and later this big wave surfer from Tasmania, Marti Paradisis, he towed me into my first big wave, a solid ten-footer… I’ve never been towed in before. I actually took the wrong one and fell, but I came up and was like, “Oh my god, I want to try again.”

It hooked me.

My goal after that first session was go back to Shipsterns and make a wave. Undone came from that. I had to show what I saw the first time—that vision, with the step and everything in-between. 

Same for Jaws: I need to go back there.

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So you did it for you?

Absolutely, it was my challenge before I realised it was more, there are so many themes in the movie that would speak to people, not just surfers. Ups and downs, being overwhelmed… Even six months ago I wanted to quit and felt I’d lost all my confidence, and overcame that. It’s more than surf.

Are you embracing your new life as a big wave hunter?

I was so nervous to say ‘I’m a big wave surfer’ in the beginning. Now, I love saying it. Some people work years and years and then make a documentary when they’re killing it. I’m doing the opposite. I just started this and I’m learning so much, I’m so inspired by others, and the beginning is just as interesting! One of the things about Undone is to show is I didn’t just rush into it, but started from the beginning, learning bit by bit. To be honest the more you surf big waves, the scarier it becomes, and I hope I’ll be ready like the surfers I look up to. 

How has the decision of quitting competing to chase big waves has impacted you as a young surfer person, and how is it impacting your career?

Big wave surfing is growing, but there isn’t a lot of money. Financially, it’s hard. Most big wave surfers are doing it for love, without any sponsors. Other than that, sometimes the best feeling is knowing you survived a big wave. Once you feel it, you can’t unfeel it, you’re hooked. 

What is next for you? Where and when we can see Undone?

So the movie – Undone – comes out in March. We’re doing a few premieres and then it’ll be online. I also want to do more paddle-surfing, go back to Jaws, make some waves there. I have my brother and so many amazing people I’ve met supporting me. 

Which female big wave surfers inspire you?

All the girls doing it are incredible, Paige Alms, Kiara Meredith, Justine Dupont charging Nazaré, Maya G… They blow my mind and although we are competing against one another, we’re really only competing against ourselves, against these crazy waves, and we support one another. It’s really cool.

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