Laura Enever: “I get power from the mountains, stories and the history.”

Laura Enever: “I get power from the mountains, stories and the history.”

To most people, the thought of being towed by a jetski at 50 km/h, into a towering 6 meter wave with the water weight of 27 Olympic-sized swimming pools, is unimaginable. But Laura Enever is not like most people. The former two times World Junior Champion and Pro Junior Champion, traveled the globe competing on the World Surf League Women’s World Tour for seven years. Then in 2017, Laura entered the male-dominated arena of big wave surfing. Now, in between chasing the planet’s mightiest breaks as a Billabong athlete, Laura turns her creativity to entrepreneurial ventures and has even extended into filmmaking with her 2021 documentary 'Undone'. We speak to Laura about pursuing her passion at all costs, travel inspiring her creativity, and her favorite spots to visit in Hawaii.

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On your appreciation for travel during a pandemic

Since I was 12 years old, I’ve been traveling and jumping on planes to go to either surfing competitions, photoshoots or chase waves around the world. And more recently, going down the big wave path, it’s all about seeing a swell somewhere and going for it, wherever it might be. So the last few years, I‘ve focussed more on being in Australia and surfing the waves here, but prior to that, I was constantly traveling. So it’s strange not to be able to do that. But in a way, it’s made me travel around Australia as much as I can, surf waves and visit all of these little towns and communities that I used to see when I was young and traveling with my parents. It’s wild to see how much everything has changed. But it’s awesome. I have a new appreciation for traveling, just jumping in the car and going up and down the coast.

On where you grew up and your relationship with the beach

I grew up on Sydney’s Northern Beaches at a beach called North Narrabeen. My earliest memories are just being at the beach constantly.

On your introduction to surfing

I did Nippers (junior surf lifesaving in Australia) until I was five or six, and then my Dad got me into surfing when I was nine. My brother surfed as well. At first I wasn’t very interested in it, then, all of a sudden, I was hooked and wanted to surf all day with my brother and my mates. By the time I was 10, I was pretty confident in the ocean. I could get out there myself on a board and feel pretty good in the water.

Growing up on Sydney’s northern beach of Narrabeen (pictured, top) meant that Laura Enever’s playground was the Pacific Ocean. Now the global oceans are Laura’s workplace. Images courtesy Laura Enever.

On your favorite surf spot

The Mentawai Islands in Indonesia. My Dad went there when we were kids, and he came home with this crappy video on his camera, to show us the waves. I couldn’t really tell what they were like, but I’d heard about this place in surf movies and surfing books. So when I was 16, I got invited to go there by my sponsor at the time. From Sydney you have to fly into Jakarta, get another flight over to Padang, a small little fishing village in Indonesia, then do a 12-hour crossing to the Mentawai Islands. I always loved the idea of going there just because my Dad loved it. There are hundreds of these little islands and atolls with white sandy beaches, warm water and perfect waves. Yeah, I was sold.

At first I wasn’t very interested in it, then, all of a sudden, I was hooked and wanted to surf all day with my brother and my mates. By the time I was 10, I was pretty confident in the ocean.

On where you feel inspired

I get inspired by going to the Mentawais. It’s like an off switch. I switch off to switch on. You have no phone reception, just the best waves in the world and you’re just with whoever’s on the boat with you. I find inspiration from everything around me there — nature, the beautiful water, the sunrises, sunsets, and a reconnection with yourself through the slowness of it all. In a life where everything’s so fast paced, I get to turn my phone off and not talk to anyone for two weeks or more, and just surf and walk around on little beaches, writing a lot of notes, taking photos, and reconnecting with surfing. Even as a professional surfer when it’s your job, you need to come back to a place where it’s about fun and it’s just for the love of surfing. That’s what the Mentawais are all about for me.

On heading to Hawaii year after year

There’s so much happening in Hawaii. I head there every winter — around November and December — and it feels like the whole surfing industry is in the one place. Everyone knows it’s going to be the best waves in the world for that time of year. There’s so much surfing to be inspired by. But I do love going there and switching off – I can connect to the beautiful place, culture and land. There are stunning mountains, great local food, and a lot of my friends live there. 

Laura grew up surfing alongside her brother Chris (pictured), who later became her coach. And from the age of 12, Laura has traversed the world, including spending extended periods in Hawaii and the Mentawais. Images courtesy Laura Enever.

On how Hawaii inspires you

Hawaii is the birthplace of surfing. The locals have been riding the waves for so many years. And when you’re there, you really feel that their stories are heard, shared and celebrated. Surfing culture is so embedded into life in Hawaii, alongside the ancient Hawaiin culture. 

On your scariest moment in surfing 

Surfing Jaws (Maui’s notorious mega surf break where 11 surfers have died)is one of the scariest moments I’ve experienced. Being in waves as big as telegraph poles: there’s nothing that can prepare you for that feeling. It scares me and pulls me back all in one breath, which is the weirdest thing about big wave surfing. Everyone’s like, ‘why would you do that? It sounds like hell.’ But it’s hard to describe how it feels when you get to ride one of those waves. So much preparation goes into it and, when you pull it off and the stars align, there’s no better feeling.

Being in waves as big as telegraph poles: there’s nothing that can prepare you for that feeling. It scares me and pulls me back all in one breath.

On surviving big wave hold downs

Oh my god! Before I went to Jaws, I hadn’t experienced waves anywhere near that big. I’d only surfed 10 foot waves in the Mentawais and Fiji. Nothing as crazy-ass-big as Jaws. I was invited to the first Women’s World Tour event there so I did some breath-hold training with a local lifeguard that I know. We’d go to the pool two or three times a week and practice underwater techniques. The main thing he taught me was that as soon as you go underwater, you basically have to flick a switch, stay calm and compose yourself. The feeling of being under those massive waves is so intense and you don’t know how long you’re going to be under. You’ve just got to stay calm and hope that you’ll be coming up soon.

Big wave surfers trawl the world’s most remote and volatile slabs from the savage break at Shipstern Bluff in Tasmania to the towering power of Maui’s Jaws. Casting only the slightest shadow against these monster walls, Laura carves an almighty feat of athleticism and courage. Images courtesy Laura Enever.

On what’s running through your mind while trapped underwater

Everyone has a different place they go to when they’re in a massive hold down. For me, I recite songs. It’s pretty embarrassing but I used to sing Biggie Smalls ‘Juicy’ because it was my favorite rap…. ‘it was all a dream, I used to read Word Up! Magazine…’ I’d go through the song and try to slow it down and rap underwater a bit. At the same time these crazy forces are pushing you around so you have to protect your head.

My trainer imagines himself getting ready to go to bed, brushing his teeth and trying to relax. I remember Ross Clark-Jones saying that he used to pretend he was in a nightclub or something, which is pretty wild. That’s to help you through the longest 30 or 40 seconds of your life.

Everyone has a different place they go to when they’re in a massive hold down. For me, I recite songs. It’s pretty embarrassing but I used to sing Biggie Smalls ‘Juicy’ because it was my favorite rap.

On the need for persistence when pursuing your passions

For so long, when I was on the World Tour, I was so scared of losing. Then it got to a point where I was doing a lot of losing. And I realised it all comes down to mindset, and trusting yourself and following your intuition. It’s like when I wanted to go down the path of big wave surfing, a lot of people said ‘you’re not big enough, you’re going to get hurt,’ but part of me knew I wanted to do it. And now I’m so glad I tried because, on paper, it didn’t look like something that I should have done. It wasn’t easy. There were so many moments when you’re questioning yourself, but you have these breakthroughs after failing, and it makes it all worthwhile. 

On ways you overcome the fear of failing

The first time I saw Shipstern Bluff in Tasmania, I was sitting on the rocks, and I looked at it and just thought how stupid this all was. I couldn’t believe these guys were surfing it. Then I got out in the line up that day and ended up watching the boys over and over. And that was one of those important steps. I knew I wanted to surf these waves, even though they scared the crap out of me — and they still do scare the crap out of me — but I kept taking little steps. Just getting in the water is a step towards the goal of one day surfing it. These little steps gave me more confidence. It’s like taking control back. I can go to a place and say ‘no, I don’t want to do it,’ but most of the time I get there and watch the other surfers, get super inspired and start understanding the wave. And that knowledge gives me confidence.

On becoming comfortable with never being comfortable

You can’t control what’s coming, and you can’t dwell on what’s been, so it’s about being in the moment. And being comfortable with it. 

Above: The mountains of O‘ahu, Hawaii. Below: When Laura left the World Surf League tour to pursue the male-dominated realm of big wave surfing, a team helped capture the journey. The result is ‘Undone’, a documentary dedicated to the trials and triumphs of searching for your true self. Images courtesy Laura Enever.

On creating your recent documentary Undone

Through surfing I’ve been able to work with so many amazing creative people who have opened my eyes along the way — photographers, filmmakers, writers and musicians. Undone came about because I wanted to make a web series about my journey into big wave surfing. Then the whole project just evolved into a documentary. The main goal with it was to make something that, whether you surfed or not, you could watch it and relate to the idea of being your authentic self. The notion that even when you’re in a really weird place where it feels like you don’t fit in, you have to just keep on going. Steve Wall, who directed it, and the producers, were incredible. 

I realised it all comes down to mindset, and trusting yourself and following your intuition.

On your entrepreneurial interests

The connections I’ve made through surfing have led to opportunities to invest in some companies in America. I was an investor in Saint Archer Brewing Co. and a few other different bits and bobs. And there’s Hard Fizz, an alcoholic seltzer — this was an opportunity in Australia that came up with FISHER (DJ Paul Fisher). We’ve now got a cool crew of founders and ambassadors. It’s always fun putting the business hat on.

On who inspires you

The women paving the way before us: Pauline Menczer, Wendy Botha, Jodie Cooper, Pam Burridge, Lisa Anderson, Layne Beachley. They were all in the recent film Women Can’t Surf, and that film opened my eyes to a lot of things, like women now having equal pay to men in surfing. I would have been a 10-year-old little surf rat when they were fighting for equality on the women’s tour, trying to be heard and seen and accepted. They experienced some really hard times while paving the way for us to come through. I’m also inspired by a lot of women in today’s big wave surfing arena. Like Justine Dupont, who surfed a wild wave in Hawaii last year; one of the best barrels ever ridden at Jaws, by a male or female. That was incredible to watch.

On where to first paddle out in Hawaii

Everyone thinks the waves in Hawaii are all huge, but there are awesome waves for all levels. There’s a cool place called Pūpūkea, which is super fun for young surfers. You’ll always find a lot of the girls surfing there. And when you’re ready for something more, head over to Pipeline or Sunset Beach. 

From big breaks to local haunts, like O‘ahu’s Beet Box Café. Life as a professional surfer means Laura regularly spends much of the year on the road. Images courtesy Laura Enever and Beet Box Café.

On the best spots in Hawaii to watch the pros

It’s surfing’s biggest arena, with some of the best waves in the world all within a 10 km radius of each other. They call it the Seven Mile Miracle. I can rattle off a bunch of the world’s best waves and they’re all on O‘ahu’s North Shore: there’s Pipeline, Sunset, Waimea Bay, Rocky Point and Haleiwa. These are some of my favourites! Then, over on Maui there’s a surf break in Honolua Bay, or for the biggest and scariest wave in the world there’s Jaws (also known as Peahi). They’re all amazing places to watch surfing. 

There are some places you go and it feels quite spiritual. For me, that’s Hawaii. I get power from the mountains, the stories and the history.

On where you unwind, away from the surf

Beet Box Cafe is my favourite café on the North Shore! I get off the plane and head straight to Beet Box every time I arrive. With organic, fresh produce, delicious smoothies and fresh juices this place is my all time fav and go to for healthy food options. The Ehukai Pillbox hike is a local secret that is becoming more and more popular. It is so worth the walk with incredible views of the whole North Shore from the top. A favourite place for cocktails is Turtle Bay Resort on the point. It’s also an epic spot to watch the sun go down.

On a window seat or an aisle seat

Window seat. 100% I love having my own little nook and putting all my jumpers on top of my head and falling asleep.

On Hawaii in one word

Powerful. There are some places you go it feels quite spiritual. For me, that’s Hawaii. I get power from the mountains, stories and the history.

Image courtesy Laura Enever.

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Nuggets in this interview

inspiration

Seven Mile Miracle, O‘ahu

“I can rattle off a bunch of the world’s best waves and they’re all on O‘ahu’s North Shore: there’s Pipeline, Sunset Beach, Waimea Bay and Haleiwa.”

–Laura Enever

inspiration

Pūpūkea, O‘ahu

"Everyone thinks the waves in Hawaii are all huge, but there are awesome waves for all levels. There’s a cool place called Pūpūkea, which is super fun for young surfers."

–Laura Enever

inspiration

Peahi, Maui

“For the biggest and scariest wave in the world there’s Jaws.”

–Laura Enever

food and drink

The Beet Box Cafe, O‘ahu

“I get off the plane and head straight to Beet Box every time I arrive.”

–Laura Enever

inspiration

Ehukai Pillbox Hike, O‘ahu

“The Ehukai Pillbox hike is a local secret that is becoming more and more popular. It is so worth the walk with incredible views of the whole North Shore from the top.”

–Laura Enever

food and drink

Turtle Bay Resort, O‘ahu

“A favorite place for cocktails is Turtle Bay Resort on the point. It’s also an epic spot to watch the sun go down.”

–Laura Enever

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