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Katie McConnell

Updated: Oct 29

Interview



Katie is an accomplished surfer, a participant in the ground-breaking Red Bull Magnitude, the Women's Grand Champ at the 2021 World Bodysurfing Championships in Oceanside California and she made the quarterfinals as one of only two women bodysurfing participants at Zicatela. She has surfed all over the world: from Puerto Escondido to Mavericks to Teahupo'o to Punta de Lobos to Peahi/Jaws and Nazaré. She's also won "Longest Noseride" in the 2017 Cape Kiwanda Longboard Classic. As a marine biologist (BS Marine Biology & MS Microbiology), she likes to share her love and knowledge about the ocean with others, and does whatever she can to protect her local coastal ecosystems. I was delighted when she agreed to do a short interview for Bodysurfer Magazine!



Bodysurfer Magazine:

Where do you call home?


Katie:

I've been moving around quite a lot recently but home will always be Encinitas, California, where I was born and raised.

Bodysurfer Magazine:

As an accomplished big wave surfer how often do you bodysurf?


Katie:

I bodysurf whenever I can! This is my first winter on the North Shore and I've been going out a ton. When I travel, I always bring my fins with me because they're so easy to travel with and you just never know when it's going to be firing. But to be real it's always firing for bodysurfing.


"Every time I get barrelled bodysurfing it feels like the best wave of my life haha! "

Bodysurfer Magazine:

Do you feel that bodysurfing helps your big wave surfing and vice versa?


Katie:

Yes for sure. I find that bodysurfing is both great training for and good recovery after big wave sessions. Big wave surfing helps my bodysurfing in that it gives me more confidence to send it!


Bodysurfer Magazine:

You recently entered the Zicatela bodysurfing competition how did you find bodysurfing there compared with Pipeline?


Katie:

I had such a great time at the Torneo de Bodysurf Zicatela! Zicatela is one of my favorite waves to bodysurf, it can be hollow and sometimes give long rides like Pipeline, but there's more moving and shifting peaks over the sandy bottom that can spread out the crowd a little bit.

Bodysurfer Magazine:

Best bodysurfing wave of your life?


Katie:

Honestly every time I get barrelled bodysurfing it feels like the best wave of my life haha! But years ago there was this one long left I caught near Santa Cruz that let me do all sorts of spinners into a barrel section that was so beautiful that I yelled, "Woohoo!" and heard it echoing in the little cavern before it closed out.

Bodysurfer Magazine:

What gets you excited?


Katie:

Pretty much just getting in the water gets me stoked, but who can deny the excitement of long roaring and spitting perfect barrels?

Bodysurfer Magazine:

Influences and favourite bodysurfers?


Katie:

I still love watching clips of Mark Cunningham and Mike Stewart bodysurfing Pipeline, and I'm really inspired by Kalani Lattanzi too. Years ago I came across this picture of a guy transferring from a bodyboard to bodysurfing at the top of a huge Zicatela teepee and I was like, "Whoa, who is that?!" Turns out it was Kalani, and I'm stoked that in recent years I keep crossing paths with him and have had the privilege to see him doing his thing in person, and I'm so impressed by what he's accomplished at Nazaré, Zicatela, Peahi and beyond. I'm also super inspired by the bodysurfers in Iquique, Chile. There is a huge bodysurfing culture there that I'm pretty sure dates all the way back to the original Chango and Chinchorro people, and is now spearheaded by the local lifeguards. They're amazing!

Bodysurfer Magazine:

Scariest session or wave?


Katie:

Probably one of the most intimidating bodysurfing sessions I ever had was one of my heats at the Zicatela tournament this year. That day had a hurricane swell that was like 8 at 8 or something ridiculous, so there were just constant, hammering, sandy monster waves detonating everywhere. At one point both of my fins got blown off and the shoelaces I was using as leashes got tangled together, so I was just floating in the impact zone barely able to get my head above water and getting so worked. Eventually I just had to go underwater and untie the knots by feel.


Bodysurfer Magazine: Funniest wipeout?


Katie:

I just love it when you get thrown onto the sand by a closeout and rolled all the way up the berm like a beached seal.


Bodysurfer Magazine:

Will you be competing this year and would you like bodysurfing in the Olympics or not?


Katie:

I hope to compete this year! I love the Oceanside World Bodysurfing Championships and would love to compete at Zicatela again! I met some amazing bodysurfers from El Salvador, too, who also put on an event which would be awesome to check out. I think it would be awesome to have bodysurfing in the Olympics. I think we would see some amazing and inspiring rides go down, and I don't think there's any soul sacrifice that would have to happen for bodysurfing to be there.

Bodysurfer Magazine:

What makes good bodysurfing?


Katie:

The best bodysurfer is the one having the most fun!


Bodysurfer Magazine:

From the look of Connor Trimble’s amazing photos it seems like you had an amazing session at Pipeline recently. Is it hard to get waves there as a bodysurfer when it’s that good and were there many other bodysurfers out?


Katie:

That was my first day ever out at Pipeline, and I actually had been out surfing earlier. I could really only get some scraps, although super fun scraps, so when I saw Mark Cunningham swim out I was like, "Oh it's on!" and went back for my fins. Mark wasn't there still by the time I made it back but I was stoked to catch way more waves bodysurfing than I did surfing because I could sit underneath the crowd safely and find a lot of waves that snuck through the pack. I was super surprised when Connor tagged me in that photo on Instagram, it really is a beautiful shot and I'm grateful to him for sharing that shot.

Bodysurfer Magazine:

How is the Red Bull Magnitude competition going and is it helping to push women’s big wave surfing?


Katie:

The Red Bull Magnitude is going great! We just had another swell last weekend which was so fun. Whenever the waves meet contest criteria, 12ft Hawaiian and over, the contest "activates" and Red Bull sends out safety skis and videographers to a few different locations. That in itself is a huge leg up for everyone competing, but I think that the bigger picture is that we are paving the way for women to have a more equitable place in the lineup by showcasing our talents and normalizing seeing women big wave surfers surfing at top level. Even more zoomed out, I think showing the world women surfing big waves, something that requires a strong body, mind and spirit, will help people everywhere by changing the way our culture views and treats women.

Bodysurfer Magazine:

As a marine biologist, wilderness first responder and protector of coastal ecosystems what are the current largest oceanic problems and what can we all do to help? Sorry that’s a big question!


Katie:

It can be overwhelming and disheartening to contemplate the full scale and complexity of all of the threats facing our ocean and coastal ecosystems and communities in this time of rapid global change. While I think that every small act that we do adds up, I think we can have a greater impact by banding together and creating the changes and future we want to see together. Supporting and being a part of established, credible and science-based organizations like Surfrider Foundation, Reef Check Foundation and Save the Waves Coalition are great places to start and are great places that address the root causes of a lot of our marine and coastal issues. In the past, I also helped out the nonprofits Rios to Rivers and One People One Reef— two different organizations that help vulnerable populations become more resilient to, and change, the social and environmental injustices that they are faced with.

Bodysurfer Magazine:

What’s your favourite marine species and wildlife encounter?


Katie:

My favorite marine species is Macrocystis pyrifera, the giant kelp! I grew up snorkeling the kelp beds near my house and there is just something so otherworldly about floating in the golden rooms that are underneath the kelp canopy on sunny days. I also love octopus! When I was in a class at UC Santa Cruz I studied octopus in the wild, and this one time I accidentally startled a young, curled up octopus when I took a photo of it and the flash went off. I felt bad so I showed the octopus its photo on the review screen. I was surprised that it seemed to be very interested in its own picture! Its eyes stretched out of its head and the skin around them began to pulse rainbow colors as it took a closer look at the screen. It was kind of freaky!


Bodysurfer Magazine:

And finally thank you. is there anything else you’d like to add?


Katie:

Thanks so much for having me on. Stay salty my womping friends!


 

Photographs: Connor Trimble @connortrimble and Rene Jara @surfphotochile respectively. All photographs are copyright and must not be copied, saved or reproduced.

You can follow Katie on Instagram @keiti_mar , or visit www.surfwithkatie.com

Red Bull Magnitude