Leila Riccobuano Photo: Tai VanDyke

Leila Riccobuano, 15, Says The Hawai‘i Girls Need More Events

We caught up with Leila Riccobuano at the HSA State Championships held late April at Ala Moana Bowls. Her bubbly energy made an on-camera interview fun and easy, as we dove into her hopes and dreams for not only her career, but for all female surfers in Hawai‘i. It’s important to listen to the youth of our sport—especially the girls, who may be silenced due to fewer numbers of participants. All too often, the needs and desires of the girls get pushed under the rug. Times are changing, and it’s important to meet the needs of the next generation of surfers, considering inclusion of both men and women.

Equal pay was finally realized this year after decades of hard-working ladies fought for their right to play and earn a living as professional athletes. We are at a pivotal time in the sport: the newly appointed CEO of the World Surf League is a woman, and more female politicians than ever are running for president. As the surf industry opens space for women in management positions, we will likely see a shift towards equality. Powerful and influential ladies like Carissa Moore and Bethany Hamilton have fought their case to compete in the men’s events of the Triple Crown in past years, but when will we see a women’s division? Maybe if there is more demand, the collective voice of female surfers will be heard loud and clear. Maybe not. I’m still hopeful.

We opened the floor to Honolulu local pro Leila Riccobuano, 15, to share her dreams for the future of the sport and her community of lady shredders.

Hometown: Kaka’ako, Honolulu, Hawai‘i
Sponsors: Roxy, Banzai Bowls, Sun Bum, Dakine, Varial, Lost Surfboards
Go-to board: Mayhem Surfboards’ “Pocket Rocket” with Varial Foam

When did you fall in love with surfing? I fell in love with surfing at three years old, because I was on the front of my daddy’s longboard and having a great time. I’ve been surfing ever since.

What does the future hold for female surfers? Well, now we have equality, or at least equal pay. But the girls are invited to fewer events than the boys. My hopes for women’s surfing is to have the same amount of contests as the guys, because they get a lot more opportunity. I hope for more contests in Hawaii for the girls and QS events on O’ahu, since we have some of the best waves.

Does equal pay really mean “equality” though? Is it just about the money? I would like to see equal opportunity. We just don’t have many QS events anymore close to Hawai‘i. I would love more events, just as many as the boys have, like Kewalos—which is my home break—or Haleiwa would be sick! Kewalos breaks nearly every day no matter what. It’s way better than a beach break. Equal opportunity to compete is what I envision to get closer to equality.

Why is it important for brands to support women’s surfing? The events can showcase our talents and what we are capable of! We can put in just as much effort as the boys. All the girls work so hard. It seems like some girls train even more than the boys do, and I’d love to see that effort get paid back.

Would you be interested in competing in big waves? I would love to surf Waimea! I’ve always dreamt of surfing in the Eddie Aikau. The waves are pretty big when they run [scratches her head with a laugh] but I would still love to do it if I got the chance.

Who inspires you? I definitely looked up to all the local girls growing up, especially Carissa Moore and Coco Ho. Coco is a really good friend and she helps me out when she can. It’s super fun surfing with her. I look up to all the Hawaii girls, like Tatiana Weston-Webb and Malia Manuel. All the girls on the Roxy team are like family. I love them all. I think my favorites that I look up to are Kelia Moniz (she’s one of my favorites, and is super sweet), Stephanie Gilmore, of course, because she rips, Bronte Macaulay because she’s insane and Caroline Marks, too. They’re all super cool.

How does it feel to be the only girl in a lineup? There have been many times when I am the only girl in the water. We just traveled to Panama for a week, and we only met two girl surfers. My friend and I were usually the only girls out there.

When you’re not surfing… I love skateboarding. For some funny reason I can drop in on a 12-foot vert ramp, but struggle on a 3-foot ramp! The bigger ones seem easier than the little ones. I used to skate a bunch and every Friday night at Hickam, but after I broke my wrist twice and fell on my butt a lot, I would make sure not to skate before big contests. Before State Championships, for example, no skating was my rule because I didn’t want to get hurt. I’d wear butt pads, knee pads, elbow pads, wrist pads, a helmet… literally every pad available.

Goals for your surfing career: I definitely want to make the World Tour and win a world title, or win the record for the most world titles, which is going to be really hard!


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