Interview with Big Wave Surfer Jenny Useldinger

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In the silence there is a massive blue body of water surging upward towards the sky. Wind naturally blows along the face of the wave creating a hissing sound as the trough bends over the reef. The lip begins to fold and the water cracks against the base of the wave. A roaring thunderous sound followed by a deep vibration sends chills through your entire body. There are those of us that surf, and there are those that charge into huge death defying waves. Where does that mentality come from? Why do certain people feel drawn to put themselves into the most dangerous situation possible?

“We would just sit there in groups and visualize, paddling in, standing up, just everything from getting to your feet to going down the wave, just going down, down, down and down and then bottom turn, Jenny Useldinger said.” “We would have our eyes shut and would just really see in our mind the waves that we wanted to ride.”

The boil over the reef offers a nice set-up to pull into a barrel. Jenny sets up to pull into a mean Sunset close-out.

The boil over the reef offers a nice set-up to pull into a barrel. Jenny sets up to pull into a mean Sunset close-out.

Surfing big waves isn’t just a physical challenge, but a test of one’s fortitude.  For Jenny Useldinger, there was always a desire to ride big waves.

“I remember going into the O’Neil surf shop and looking at a poster of Jay Moriarty free falling at the cross, and thinking I want to do that, she said.”

Useldinger was born and raised in Northern California by her surf- hungry parents. She was dragged all over the world at a young age to places with good surf. Jenny had visited many countries including, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Barbados, Trinidad, Canada, Mexico, Florida Keys and the Bahamas, all by the age of twelve. Her mom and dad planned all their business trips around good surf spots during the best seasons. Jenny and her brother were able to tag along since their mom home schooled them.  The biggest lesson learned was an education in surfing.

“My parents realized when they were younger where the good waves were; they would schedule their meetings in good wave spots during the good wave seasons, Useldinger said.” “Since my mom was our home school teacher, we would just bring the whole family sometimes.”

The clear water in Hawaii offers many underwater scenes such these for an optimal eye candy experience.

The clear water in Hawaii offers many underwater scenes such these for an optimal eye candy experience.

Surfing was never something they did on the weekends or did every once in a while, surfing was a way of life for the Useldinger family. And like many children, Jenny wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps of being a pro surfer. She trained for and competed on the World Qualifying Series (WQS), but at the same time she continued to chase her dreams of being a big wave rider. Her dream would soon become a reality after a chance encounter with one of surfing’s female big wave riding pioneers, Jahmila Star.

“I was nineteen years old and living in Oceanside, trying to do the WQS and training for Mavericks when I ran into [Jamilah Star] at the US Open in Huntington, Jenny said.” “I told her I wanted to pursue my love for big waves again and she said, ‘now is the time’.”  “Jamilah said to me, ‘well before you go to Mavericks you should come and train with me in Hawaii’.”

That was all the motivation she needed and with that, Jenny was jet set off to the North Shore of Oahu for an experience of a lifetime. Jamilah took the young brave Jenny into her home and gave her an education in how to manage and ride the huge winter swells that collided with the shores of Waimea and Sunset Beach.

“It was really encouraging living in a house with that many big wave riders, Useldinger said.” “After that month it was pretty much more than I had imagined. I had just gone into the situation just hoping to one day paddle out at Waimea. More so just watching Jamilah and getting inspired to watch another female actually surf such ginormous waves.”

There is something unique about watching another female do something challenging. You think to yourself, if she can do that, so can I. That progression is key in the advancement of any sport, especially associated with women. We are so inundated with images of other men playing sports, and for women; it can be hard to relate to. There is a sense of comradery and competition when women push each other to excel at something.

“I remember it was the second day that Waimea had broken, she was like ‘OK, grab a board you’re coming with me,’ Useldinger recalls.”  “She got me out there and I got to sit in the channel and I watched her get some bombs.”

Just getting out to the line-up is intimidating. There are so many factors to consider and prepare for like selecting the right board, monitoring the swell angle and how it shifts against the reef and finally, the relentless crowd factor. Looming in the back of your mind the entire time are thoughts like; I don’t belong here and should I be doing this?

Jenny Useldinger Paddling Sunset

Watching Jenny move through the line-up is interesting. She positions herself very strategically and patiently waits until the right wave comes her way. Here she is paddling over a wave selectively scouting out the perfect ride.

“I’ve had [Pipeline expert] Tamayo Perry tell me that if you’re willing to paddle out at Pipe, make sure you are willing to paddle deeper and get worked, because a lot of people paddle for the channel and that’s how a lot of people get hurt, Useldinger said.” “If you’re willing to put yourself out there, you have to be willing to take a pounding. You can’t get in somebody else’s way.”

Jenny now lives on the North Shore of Oahu just steps from Sunset Beach. She continues to train both mentally and physically for big wave surfing. She works with shaper JP Holmen to create the perfect board for her size and stature.

“Working with JP has been a big treat. He is a very experienced shaper, he was a ghost shaper for Jay Johnson and he knows a lot about shaping guns; Hawaiian boards, Useldinger said.” “We’re on the phone every week.  We laugh and chat and I let him know how the boards work.”

Jenny’s path led her to the famous North Shore of Hawaii and along the way she has gained knowledge from all of her experiences and people that have drifted into her life. She is an inspiration for all of us who wish we had the courage to follow our true inner voice and face our fears.

“People wait all year long to ride that wave that’s coming and you have to embrace it with love, you can’t fear the waves, Useldinger said.”


About the author / 

Nicole Grodesky
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Nicole loves surfing, photography and developing her skills in online marketing and publishing.

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