Katie McConnell PT. 2

Katie McConnell PT. 2

Diving deeper into the intricacies and nuances of our esteemed team rider Katie McConnell, we gain valuable insights into her adaptive prowess in varied surf conditions, her unwavering mental fortitude in tackling big waves, and a plethora of other fascinating facets. Beyond her remarkable skills on the waves, Katie serves as a beacon of inspiration, nurturing the intellectual growth of young students while simultaneously urging us all to fearlessly pursue and conquer our aspirations.

-How do you prepare yourself mentally and physically for a day of surfing?

In the last year, I’ve experimented with more consistent training and the positive impact on my surfing and health has been mind blowing! I still believe that just being in the water as much as possible is the best thing, and so much is all in the mind, too, but now I also make sure I rotate through strength training, cardio, apnea, yoga and mindfulness practices, occasionally with guidance from a professional. 

Other than that, I try to just have fun(!) and exercise kindness and respect. Before any session, I watch the water closely and think about what I would like to do. But then I paddle out, and I try to release all expectations and tune in to the ocean. I just love to be in the water. Riding waves is a huge blessing and I’m grateful just to be alive in this wonderful life. 

Maybe it’s because I was a lifeguard, but I watch the water a lot. Sometimes I’ll even talk to the ocean and try to listen to what it's telling me. I’ve been this way since I was a little kid with everything in nature. I’ve always just spent time posting up, being as still as possible, and observing and listening.

-How do you care for and maintain your wetsuits to ensure they last longer and perform well over time?

It’s really as simple as just rinsing at the shower and then hanging in the shade. If I pull some marathon sessions and I start smelling shifts in the suit’s microbiome (lol), I’ll give it a good soak/slosh in a bucket with some neutral soap and a couple drops of tea tree essential oil. That usually does the trick.

-Can you describe the feeling you get when riding a wave?

Riding a wave brings me into the present. Maybe this is a little out there, but there just is something awesome about integrating the external with the internal and translating it into expression, and doing that by catching and riding a wave gives me so much joy, peace and clarity that I take with me even when I get out of the water. It doesn’t really matter the size or shape of the wave, or the craft (or, in the case of bodysurfing, the lack thereof). It’s a full sensory experience that is so, so good and gives me a gigantic smile. The water, speed, sounds, the connection with nature, the memories you make with the people out there, everything.

-What are some of the biggest challenges you've faced as a surfer?

The challenges shift across time, but I think at the core it’s always: how can I surf more? How can I be in the water more? Trying to figure out how to live life on land and still surf as much as I would like to is a never ending balancing act. I think maybe all surfers feel this way, haha. 

In general, but especially with big waves, the biggest challenge is the Fear Of Missing Out. The FOMO is so torturous and crazy-making. Big waves with good conditions are relatively rare, and I want to be at every swell and catch the biggest wave. When I first started out in big waves, it was like a big experiment: can I even do it? 

That was only a couple years ago, and all of a sudden not only am I surfing waves more giant than I ever originally thought possible, but I’m winning or placing in the top 5 of every big wave event I try. I was nominated for an XXL award my second year ever surfing big waves. Even if I wasn’t getting affirmation that I can really do this and even be one of the best, how could I not give everything to following my passion? But is literally “going for broke” all the time sustainable?

Somewhat related, a few years back I was the women’s grand champ at the Oceanside World Bodysurfing Championship, almost took out my friend Kalani Lattanzi at Puerto Escondido and this year am headed to the first ever International Bodysurfing World Tour Finals this spring after coming 2nd in Hawaii regionals. But, for example, we just got the email to register for the finals, and the entry fee is $250! That’s a little under 2 days of substitute teaching, and I’m lucky if I even have an opportunity to teach 20 days in a month when you factor in swells and holidays. And I don’t want to start a GoFundMe because I don’t want my family and friends to be paying for me out of their hard work. They work hard enough!

I feel myself improving in all forms of surfing all the time, and I know I can go so much farther. I just wish I could focus on surfing, instead of trying to juggle 3 jobs. It’s tough to say that, because I know I am one of the most privileged humans in the universe to even be able to write these words. I mean, imagine being qualified for the World Tour Finals and being from Brasil where the $250 entry fee is equal to around ~1200 Reais! I’ve got it easy because I was born privileged, and I have received a lot of support from awesome brands like Matuse. Clearly, equipment and mentorship go a long way!

And the more support I’ve received, the more I have delved into surfing. It’s only recently that I’ve missed a few swells because after a few years I’m starting to grow tired of the stress of literally “going for broke” more than once, and having that sort of situation get me into some dangerous positions that I don’t want to repeat.  Especially as a woman in a very male-dominated arena, it’s just not constructive to not be able to afford a safe place to live, even if I am saving every penny for the next swell. 

I’ve seen some people branch out and make their own businesses, which is something I’m working on doing better, too. 

So I work, and I try to position myself where the best big waves in the world are so that hopefully I don’t feel the need to travel so far or often: Hawaii! But, Hawaii also happens to be the #1 US State with the highest cost of living, and so the dilemma begins again. We work so much, when do we surf? And we haven’t even factored in family, yet. The ocean is on its own schedule, and often life on land requires more advanced planning and regular commitments. People tell me, “Keep charging!” Well shoots, I’m trying! Hope we all can, too!

The other idea is, well, maybe if I can’t afford to make it to all the swells I would like, I need to be more selective with the ones I chose to go to. This, I think, comes down to believing in myself: I don’t need to practice anymore in “small big” waves, I’ll just wait for the epic mega-swell with the biggest waves. 

I actually had a discussion with Gary Linden about this after I pulled back on a giant wave at Todos a couple months ago– I was depressed for days after missing that wave. I was frustrated and said, “Well, turns out I’m smart enough to find the 50+ footers, but maybe I need to catch a bunch more 40 footers first.” Or do I? For reference, Laura Enever raised Andrea Moller’s World Record Paddle Wave height just 1.6 feet this year, from 42 to 43.6 feet.

So yes, the greatest challenge in surfing is just letting go and paddling out. My friend told me the other day, “the hardest part is showing up.” CJ

-Are there any specific wetsuit models or lines in Matuse that you particularly enjoy using, and what makes them stand out to you?

The 2mm  D’Arc long sleeve springsuit and Miriam longsleeve springsuit are my daily drivers here in Hawai’i, and I’ve had really great luck with the D’Arc 4/3 chest zip in cold water, too. I’m kind of an in-between size so I wear a 6 in 2mm and thinner wetsuits, and go size 8 in 4/3’s and up. Normally the thinner wetsuits tend to stretch out over time, but so far after daily use these Matuse suits haven’t. 

I bodysurf a ton and compete too, and I love how I don’t blow up like a balloon when I’m on a wave. Most Matuse suits have these two little velcro tabs that you kind of cinch down underneath the chest zipper, which somehow just seems to keep flushes out and give me more room to breathe.

For big waves in warm water, I use a Miriam that I sized up to an 8 so that I could wear my inflatable vest underneath, and then layer my impact suit on top of that. It’s important to have sleeves so that if you have to pull, the air bladder doesn’t pooch out. And, the Miriam is stretchy enough to accommodate a fully inflated vest.

For big waves in cold water, my usual size 8 D’Arc 4/3 fullsuit is just fine. It’s stretchy enough that I can squeeze my inflatable in underneath, layer the impact on top, and still pull with a big 38g canister. I tried sizing up to a size 12 so that I could layer both the inflatable and impact underneath, but I think I feel a bit more streamlined in the smaller suit with the impact suit on top. Haven’t been back to Oregon in a while, and haven’t made it to Ireland yet, so I haven’t tried Matuse’s thickest, hooded suit.

-How important is the fit of a wetsuit to your surfing experience, and do you find that certain brands offer better fits than others?

Until about 7 years ago, I had a hard time finding a women’s wetsuit that actually fit my shoulders and used the most stretchy and well-constructed material (in comparison to what was available in men’s lines), so for a long time I only wore men’s XS suits. 

Thankfully, women’s wetsuits have come a long way, and I think Matuse has done an incredible job making suits that fit a wide range of body types. Probably one of the biggest factors is because the material is just so stretchy, lightweight, and bomber.