Watching Holly Beck in lineups across California and Central America, it’s clear that the goofy footer absolutely rips.
On long, rippable lines, she links together smooth and spray-infused turns with ease. If there’s a barrel to be had, you can guarantee she’s inside of it. And on smaller longboard days, you can find her casually hanging ten with a smile spread across her face.
But there’s far more to Holly than just an impressive surfing repertoire; ask her for her story in the lineup, and she’ll talk about nearly a decade on the Qualifying Series. She’ll also call herself a “nerd”, with several degrees to prove it, from a BA in Psychology to an MBA in Marketing, as well as a Masters in Counseling.
The combination of her surfing skill and her “nerd” mentality has created something powerful and truly life-changing: a desire to empower women through surfing and surf therapy.
We sat down with Holly to talk about her surfing life, how holistic surf coaching helps participants, and how Mamala Wetsuits have not only kept her warm in the chilly California waters, but also how the company has empowered her on her journey to empower women. — Cash Lambert
Like we said, Holly absolutely rips. Photo courtesy Monica Gavaris
American Surf Magazine: Let’s start with your first surfing memory. What comes to mind?
Holly Beck: My first surfing memory is boogie boarding. I grew up in Palos Verdes. My parents weren't beach people, but my grandparents were into the beach. In elementary school, we would visit Grandma and Grandpa and they would take us to the beach. I remember discovering the joy of being in the ocean on a board, which was a boogie board at the time.
I remember my grandma telling me ‘it's time to go’, but I would say ‘la la la’, and pretending to not hear her. That was the first time I had that joy and obsession of catching one more wave.
From there, did surfing take an organic life of its own that led you to competing extensively on the QS?
I’m the oldest girl of 5, and my Mom raised us in traditional gender roles. I did ballet, horseback riding, and piano lessons. I was a repressed tomboy that wanted to be out and competitive — but that was never allowed for me.
My earliest memory was my grandparents taking me to the beach, because my parents had the view that surfing was for boys, and girls shouldn’t be doing it.
For me, surfing was this thing I felt like I shouldn't be doing.
I started surfing in high school. Luckily, my high school did have a high school surf team. An older boy overheard me explaining the horrendous spring suit tan I had to a friend and how I had learned to surf over one summer … the boy said ‘we need another girl on the surf team, I’m going to pick you up and take you to the beach!’
He was the one that allowed me to go surfing, because then I had a ride. I changed my schedule so surfing became a class, and my mom couldn’t say no — it was a form of physical education (PE), and I had to get a grade for it.
That’s how I got into competing. I got second place in the first contest I surfed in. I went from the high school surf league to competing in the NSSA, then the Professional Surfing Tour of America (PSTA), which is where I won money competing. By the time I graduated high school, I had only been surfing for about 3 years, and then I went to the University of California at San Diego to study psychology.
Being a pro surfer wasn't something I had on my radar until college. By then, women’s surfing had started to grow. I was getting some money from sponsors, and I got invited to Pro Am events. I was invited to go on some surf trips for SurfGirl Magazine, too. That’s when I thought ‘maybe pro surfing is something I could do’.
I hustled through college, graduated after 3 years, and spent 8 years competing on the Qualifying Series (QS). I never made the Championship Tour (CT) — had I started surfing at a younger age and didn’t go to college, it would have been different. That said, I had so much fun and made so many good memories traveling and competing on the QS.
By 2010, I was sick of traveling. I wanted a garden, a dog, and to surf good waves, so I moved to Nicaragua.
Talk us through the start of Surf with Amigas, your surf coaching business. Did you always have a desire to coach?
Every year, when the US Open of Surfing would come to town, my manager would set me up with media opportunities where I would, for example, teach a football player how to surf. That’s how I got into teaching surfing. I taught my sisters how to surf and pushed friends into waves, but I never saw myself going the coaching route.
I got an MBA while I was still competing on the QS, because I knew pro surfing wouldn’t be forever and that I would likely work in the business side of the surf industry. As part of that MBA, I created several business plans, and one of them was a surf school in Nicaragua.
I had bought land in Nicaragua in 2007 and had this fantasy of living down there and running a surf school. When I quit competing and built a studio there, I started scheming and thinking of ways to live there as long as possible.
A women’s surf club from Huntington came down, and I did my first women’s surf and yoga retreat. It went great! I got to share the stoke with other women.
Coming from the background I did where surfing’s not for girls, it was an empowering experience.
So, in 2010, I started Surfing with Amigas to empower women, and push them past their comfort zone.
Let’s talk holistic surf coaching. How is holistic surf coaching different from traditional coaching, and how did it come to be for you?
In the process of doing retreats, I started noticing certain connections amongst the participants, like anxiety, or a lack of feeling belonging. My sister and her husband passed away in 2019, and all of it collectively was this eye opener to me about mental health. That inspired me to think about getting a Masters in Counseling, and pushed me to want to become a women's-focused therapist.
I worked with a surf therapy organization to earn my Masters that focused on giving populations in need a surfing experience. I thought ‘what if I did something similar, but for people who already have surfing practice’?
I designed my own program and that’s how holistic surf coaching came to be. I use surfing as a metaphor for working through what you experience on land.
If you experience anxiety, fear, or not feeling good enough on land, it’s something you can address in the water. There’s this motivation to fix it in the water, because you want to ride that wave, whereas on land, you might avoid the situation that causes you that feeling.
How did your work with Mamala come to be?
I met the Mamala Founder, Angela Horacek, when she came to one of the women’s yoga and surf retreats. She’s a great surfer, and told me that she was starting a women’s wetsuit company. I thought ‘no way, that’s sick!’ because I loved what it stood for — women-founded and women-operated — and I was also about to move back to California and would need a wetsuit.
I was sponsored by BodyGlove for a long time, and I have a lot of experience working with a wetsuit company. Because of this, I helped give Angela feedback about the wetsuits, from the design to the seams and more.
On land and in the water, Holly is a Mamala ambassador and holistic surf coach with wicked fronthand. Photo courtesy Monica Gavaris
There are many surf brands today that make wetsuits — what makes Mamala different?
It seems like there's a new wetsuit company popping up constantly, and there’s a lot of competition in the market.
The thing that drew me to Mamala first and foremost was that it was women owned and women operated.
Second, the Mamala logo is so sexy! It’s a mermaid shark. I can’t think of a sexier image! It’s beautiful, and I wanted to wear a wetsuit that had that design on it.
Third, Angela is focused on making the best product there is. She’s not cutting corners. The first wetsuits the company produced weren’t quite right, so she pulled them off the market. She didn't want to put them out unless they were the absolute best they could be. I respected that, the fact that she’s aiming for perfection. It wasn’t a ‘we spent the money so now we have to sell these suits’ thought. She donated them and started over to ensure the wetsuits were the very best on the market.
Plus, she’s doing all of it in an eco-friendly way.
What’s your favorite Mamala wetsuit?
I lived in Central America, so I’m not used to cold water in recent memory. Plus, I get cold easily. Last winter I tried the new 5/4/3 mm wetsuit. It was so cozy, fit me so nicely, and the material feels super comfy.
When I’m in California, I surf a sneaky spot in San Diego that has a lot of upwelling, so the water is actually really cold at this one spot. There’s not a lot of paddling either; everyone’s sitting in one spot waiting for waves.
As someone who gets cold easily, and even though I sit a lot at that spot, the 5/4/3 mm wetsuit keeps me warm and comfortable.
As far as women’s surfing today and it's progression, what are you excited about?
Sally, Carissa and Steph were groms when I was competing, and it's great to see them doing so well. I love watching Caity Simmers. She absolutely rips and has such rad style. The way she was drawing her line at Pipeline earlier this year, casually pulling up into the tube, got me excited.
Photo courtesy Monica Gavaris
If you could give your younger self a bit of advice, what would you say?
When I was young, my mom told me that the things I wanted to do were not ok ... that the boys wouldn't like me if I surfed and did other tom boy things. Growing up in my early teen years, I was so focused on what other people thought of me, thinking nobody liked me, that it hindered me.
As I got into my 30s, I was able to break out of that. Even now, in my 40s I truly feel free of that thought. My advice to my younger self is to find exactly that.
You are awesome exactly the way you are. Be true to yourself. It took me decades to be able to tell myself that — and believe it. But that's what I needed to hear.