Zuri Irvin contributed to this story.
In an industry that pays homage to image and beauty as much as surfing prowess, no company reigns supreme in women's surf clothing more than Roxy. They are indeed the crème de la crème of women's clothing companies and are among the most prestigious of anything related to female surfing. Among their talented and beautiful team of riders is one of the top longboarders in the world, Kassia Meador.
Meador has been a member of the Roxy team for nearly 14 years, a staggering number given the youthful exuberance Meador still exudes with her riding, looks and personality. While it's rare to find Meador surfing in contests these days, she still hits the water on a regular basis and has added photography to her talented repertoire.
I interviewed Meador on my surf talk radio show WaXed to talk about how a valley girl in her teens learned to surf at Malibu, how she started surfing at a very late age for a professional surfer, her burgeoning interest as a photographer, who she's dating these days, and how she's a Roxy girl in a Roxy world.
Cyrus: How are you doing this morning?
Kassia: I'm okay. I've been getting up early, but there have been waves. So I'm getting up early surfing every day. So I'm like, on that program right now. (Laughs)
Cyrus: There's a good swell right now. Where are you surfing?
Kassia: I've been up North in LA. Just been surfing around Malibu. The other day I surfed Trestles, and I don't know, I've kind of been all over California. It's been so nice lately.
Cyrus: It's been phenomenal. And it almost always is here in Southern California. Your story is fascinating, first off, because relative to most successful surfers who have sponsors that do a lot of contests, you started fairly late. I believe you started at the age of 14 or 15, is that correct?
Kassia: Yeah. I started surfing when I was 14 going on 15. But yeah, definitely later in life compared to most of the kids these days. For sure. (Laughs)
Cyrus: Why the late start? What took you so long to get into the water?
Kassia: I didn't grow up by the beach. I didn't even live near the beach until I was like 22. I grew up in the (San Fernando) Valley. In Agoura Hills and Westlake Village.
Cyrus: Agoura Hills, look at you! You were the person in Beverly Hills 90210 that was the Valley Girl. I love it. At the age of 14 or 15, were your parents taking you to the beach? How were you getting out there and what got you into surfing?
Kassia: Yeah, that's kind of why I started later. I kind of had to wait until I was old enough to get rides, or have friends with cars. So, basically, when I was 14 I did junior life guard. That whole summer I was just at the beach doing junior guards. That's when I stood up on a surfboard a couple times. And then the next summer, I was 15, and with the friends I made the year before, we'd go to the beach together. So, some of them had cars by that time, whatever. You know, parents would switch off.
Cyrus: You have got that hot, raspy voice. Is this your wake up voice, or is this how you always talk?
Kassia: This is my wake up voice and especially my voice after I've been surfing the past few days screaming and yelling. I kind of lost it. (Laughs) You know, you're friend gets a good one and you hoot as they go by you. It's raspy always but it's extra raspy this morning because the last few days have been so good.
Cyrus: So you're the chick out there screaming every time you catch a wave?
Kassia: Yeah, anytime one of my friends gets a good one by me, it's hard not to scream. I mean, that's what it's about. Surfing's about being out there with your friends and getting good waves. Making fun of each other, snaking each other if one of them gets a good one. You have to yell, you know, it's part of it.
Cyrus: Are you competing? What's an everyday schedule for you?
Kassia: I'm not really competing that much. I did one contest this year that Swatch did in China and that was pretty much it. I don't really do competitions too much. But I've just been surfing a bunch and traveling as much as possible. I've been filming a lot. That's kind of been more my thing as a surfer. I don't do competitions too much, but I do a lot of video parts, editorial trips and stuff like that. I've been filming a bunch. My friend's making a new surf flick, so he's been out here all week shooting a bunch of weird Super 8 stuff. It's been awesome that we got good waves. So yeah, I've just been running all over California trying to get as many good ones as possible. (Laughs)
Cyrus: I heard that event in China was really fun. What was that event like?
Kassia: It was cool, man. China's a really trippy place. It's somewhere that I never thought I'd go for surfing and the fact that there are warm waves there is so crazy. The last time we went, it wasn't really breaking, but the year before we went, it was really fun.
Cyrus: You've gone more than once?
Kassia: Yeah, I went two times. This was my second year.
Cyrus: It's not actually on mainland China, is that correct? It's on some island on the southern portion of the country, is that where you were at?
Kassia: Yeah, it's an island in the south of China called the Hainan. It's super warm and tropical all year, but they have a really narrow swell window. It's pretty much between October and February.
Cyrus: That's interesting. The surf industry has been trying to get this China thing going for so long because in their eyes they see a billion people which means billions of dollars. And I've been reading about how they've been getting surf action going on that island that you just mentioned. Do you like being there? China's one of those countries where I just don't really have much of a desire to ever go to. I don't hear much about surfing there. Most of the pictures just show pollution and crowds. What was your take? Did you leave that place wanting to go back? Was it just something you were happy to experience? What's your opinion on China?
Kassia: Well, there's so much of China. It's such a big country with so many people, you know? It's like 1.4 billion people in the country. And definitely, not much of that country has a lot of ocean, and the sea that it does have, a lot of it is really cold. (Laughs) It's one of those places, though, where it's so surreal and really cool to go to. I mean, there is a lot of pollution and there are a lot of people. And surfing, to them, is just catching on. The first year we went, we were kind of like these alien creatures that showed up with these weird tablets entering the water. (Laughs) And then this year, there were a couple more people that were into it. A couple local kids actually started surfing and this and that.
So, it was cool to see the growth. My only hope is that surfing there will kind of open up everybody's eyes to the fact that they need to take care of the world, you know? Like, on a different level with all the pollution and industry that's in China. All of us care so much about the ocean and about the environment because we're around it all the time and we're conscious of it, but there, people just haven't been educated on pollution and what it does to the world. The fish and the sea and everything else. By bringing surfing over there, I definitely think that it's starting to open up everybody's eyes, and they're starting to try and think about things in a different way, which is cool, but it's definitely not a spot to go if you want to go get really good waves. (Laughs)
Cyrus: I also heard that some of them don't like to get tanned. They don't want to go in the water, so it's kind of like an edgy thing to go surfing because you're actually going to get some sun.
Kassia: Yeah! I guess over there being tan means you're a farmer. So everyone is cruising around and it's like 80 degrees, and they're riding their mopeds with sweaters and long socks and I'm passing out in the shade. (Laughs) I think there are a couple social barriers that are going to have to go down before the big populous of China starts surfing.
Cyrus: That's amazing, and you bring up a great point. Ignorance is the cause of 99 percent of the world's problems. Two out of every five human beings live in China or India. Even if the United States cleaned up its act a thousand percent, and this is one of the rare arguments where I side with conservatives, even if we completely did everything right, it wouldn't do much because two out of every five human beings just have no idea what sort of environmental damage they're causing to the planet. And they're all in Eastern Asia. And if they were actually just aware of how much damage they're causing the entire planet, if they started going into the water and seeing what they're doing to their own environment, maybe they'd clean their act up a little more. I'm glad you're raising awareness. Going back to your history a little bit, you started surfing around 14 or15 and Malibu is where you got your experience and became good. How did you get hooked up with Roxy? In my opinion, as a female surfer especially, that's the best brand you can be sponsored with. How did that partnership start and how long have you guys been together?
Kassia: Gosh, I'm going to definitely date myself by saying this but I've been a part of the brand now for 13 years, which is crazy. (Laughs) It's funny, the reason I actually got on the Roxy team is because of my surfboard shaper, who was my shaper forever, Donald Takayama and Jeff Hakman, the Legendary Mr. Sunset. So I was in Australia for my first time, and my hero, everybody knows him, San Diego shredder Joel Tudor, he was out there with Donald and Jeff. I was paddling out and Joel said hi to me. I'd seen him a million times at Malibu, and obviously he was like my hero, I totally looked up to him. And then I got a good wave, and Joel, Donald and Jeff looked at each other. And Donald said, "Hey, I'll make your surfboards if you get on the Roxy team." So, I came back to California, I got a board, I went to C Street, surfed a Roxy contest on that board and won it. And I guess Jeff called up some of the Roxy people and talked to them about me. So, it was on from then on. That next summer I went to France and Jeff took me around. His son Ryan was like my same age, so we were just like hanging out and surfing all over the place. That's kind of when it started. It's so crazy.
Cyrus: That is crazy, and I'm not going to reveal your age, unless you're comfortable doing that, but it's shocking to me. You're aging phenomenally well. It is fascinating that you're a veteran, and you've been doing this for a while. You're still in your prime and going strong.
Kassia: Yeah, man! I'm learning new things all the time and using different boards all the time. That's what's so cool about surfing. It doesn't have the same expiration date as a lot of other physical activities do. You get smoother with age, you get better with age. You learn new things and yeah, especially with longboarding. You can do that forever.
Cyrus: Absolutely. It's fascinating seeing how short of a career span snowboarders have, and to a lesser extent, skateboarders. When they fall, it hurts! Whereas surfers, the one thing you have to worry about more with surfing is making sure you have sunscreen. Otherwise, I mean, you can go forever. Look at Kelly Slater at 41, still the best surfer in the world. It's insane.
Kassia: It's crazy.
Cyrus: When you were first getting into surfing, who'd you look up to? Who inspired you? Was it Lisa Andersen?
Kassia: Lisa definitely inspired me, being a female surfer. There weren't that many women in the water that I saw at that time. Being a longboarder, and she was a shortboarder, I kind of looked more up to some of the guys around. Especially Linda Benson because she's the raddest. Surfing Waimea, being the first girl and all that stuff. She was a way different generation than me, but I was definitely into the nostalgic side of surfing Malibu. Joel would come surf Malibu all the time, so I looked up to him a bunch. Josh Farberow, he was a Malibu guy. There was this woman, Brittany Leonard, she was an amazing single fin surfer. Her and her boyfriend would shape their own boards and stuff. I kind of looked up to people more like that, people that were doing what I was doing at that time. And just a lot of the Malibu guys, really. Just because that's all I was really around.
Cyrus: In the last 10 years, at least certainly in my opinion, surfing, particularly on the women's side, has changed a lot. Everyone likes to look at Blue Crush as this movie that really revolutionized women's surfing, or brought a lot of women out there, but the one thing I've noticed is that it's become a lot more image conscious. It seems if you want to be a professional surfer, you also have to be a professional model. Is that a fair take in your opinion? Do you think surfing's gone that way? Or do you think it's the same as it was maybe 10 or 15 years ago?
Kassia: I think even 10 or 15 years ago, it was even a little bit more like that. You really had to be conscious of stuff like that. There's definitely a broader spectrum of women that are getting into surfing. Surfing in general keeps you looking good. It keeps you with pink, rosy cheeks, a good tan, and your hair's always looking kind of rad. Surfers are for the most part good looking people anyways because their fit and in the sun, and out in nature, whatever.
I think skill is definitely a huge thing. Obviously, Steph Gilmore is the best because she shreds. She's a great looking person, but she's also a really, really great surfer. That's why she's really known for what she is. So, I guess I see it and I don't see it. I think it's just one of those things that naturally happens. It's not like, "You're a good looking person and then because of that you go surf." It's like, yeah you surf, and then, you know, kind of the sun and the sand and the sea does its way with you, and you probably are way better than if you had been sitting at home, chilling, watching TV. (Laughs)
Cyrus: That's a very fair assessment because you still need to know how to surf in order to actually get these sponsorships. I'm curious as to how it feels to be part of the new group of professional surfers. Dane Reynolds, Alex Knost, that whole retro scene. I know a lot of websites kind of lump you in that world, which is awesome. It's basically people who are doing what they enjoy to do, artistically and spiritually. How does it feel to be included in that group?
Kassia: Dane Reynolds and Alex Knost are people I really look up to, so to be lumped in with them is so rad. I guess it's just, we're living life the way we want, and surfing and having fun doing it. Not worrying about contests and things like that. Some people are competitive, and they really want to push themselves and the sport. Somebody like Kelly (Slater), to do the best. But that's just not my style. I just don't want to beat people. I'm not competitive in that way. I'll always want to push the sport and myself, but more with myself. So it's cool that there's an avenue for people like myself, or Dane, or Alex, or all the people that don't really want to do contests, but still love surfing. And that people that are stoked on what we're doing, so we have an avenue to do something like that.
You know, we're not putting on jerseys all the time, because it's for some people and it's not for some other people, and hopefully we can inspire people that might be into surfing for some other reasons. It's fun. At the end of the day, surfing is fun. I was amped on it, like forever ago, just watching old Gidget movies. (Laughs) Playing Bingo, and stuff like that. Going to Malibu, that was such an iconic scene. It was about hanging out, and playing music, lighting fires, and everybody talking stories. Surfing together is kind of what made me fall in love with it. I'm just so fortunate that I get to be able to surf the life that I do, but enjoying it the way that I want to.
Cyrus: You're absolutely right. It really is split in so many ways. And even in just your normal lineup, it's competitive. Because when you have 20 people fighting for one peak, you have to compete for it. There is a drastic difference between just going out there to surf and putting on that jersey and trying to get a score. There's a grip of great longboarding videos of yourself and you really have mastered this sport. Do you shortboard? Do you mix it up in terms of different styles? Or are you strictly a log rider?
Kassia: I love riding logs, and I do like riding other boards. I ride a lot of really weird four fins. My friend made me this really cool single fin the other day. I ride those little pieces of wood. I kind of ride anything that I can get my hands on. (Laughs) Point breaks are such great arenas to do that, too. You have a long wave that just keeps going and you hit on something weird and find a new line. That's what it's about. But I'll always enjoy getting back on my longboards. Especially when it's perfect.
Cyrus: You're currently living in Venice Beach. How do you like living there? Does it suit your style? I don't think there's that many waves there, per say, but I'm sure the lifestyle's amazing.
Kassia: Yeah, it's cool, man. Growing up in the valley, I'm use to not living near waves. So it's kind of the same deal but I'm actually closer to the beach now. And it's good because it's close to the airport, I'm closer to Malibu, and my family's still up here. So I can make my dad play hooky with me and come surfing. (Laughs) It's cool because I can go back to the old days when I was like 17 or 18, running around. And all my friends are around here, so it's good. I get in the car and drive a little bit more, for sure, but I'm like halfway between somewhere like Rincon or Ventura. So I get in the car, and in an hour each way I'm in one of those spots. And 15 minutes, I'm at Malibu. So it's kind of central in this weird way.
Cyrus: Do you still talk to your old high school friends from the valley? Did you ditch them and move on to new and better friends or did they come with you to surf?
Kassia: Well, with the kids I was in high school with, once I started surfing, the only kids I was hanging with were the ones that also surfed. The Marshall Brothers, I grew up with those kids in the valley, so I see them a bunch. And a couple of our mutual friends from school, we'll see every now and then in the water or at barbeques or whatever. Even in high school, I was only hanging out with the kids that surfed, too. So I see them all the time now. We're all like way older now and just laughing at each other but having the best time ever. (Laughs)
Cyrus: Is there a man in your life? Are you single? What's your story there?
Kassia: I have a boyfriend these days, he's super rad. He surfs a little bit, and he's a hat maker. He's just a wonderful human.
Cyrus: Wait, he's a hat maker? Cowboy hats? What are we talking here?
Kassia: Just like, handmade hats. He just makes them. And he surfs a little bit too, so when I can get him to not be making hats and come surfing, it's really cool. (Laughs)
Cyrus: Is he a street vendor? Is he a distributor to a bunch of retail stores? How does that work? How do you make money doing that?
Kassia: He just makes really good, like amazing quality, custom hats for people. There are people in this world, like we're all surfers, so we know surfboards, this that and the other. There are people that are hat people, man. And they've got quivers of hats.
Cyrus: What's his company? How do you find his hats?
Kassia: It's called Westbrook Makers. Every piece is custom, handmade, and they do a very beautiful thing. My boyfriend, he's radical, he's a hat maker. (Laughs) And he surfs a little bit, too.
Cyrus: How did you meet him?
Kassia: I just met him at the taco truck, actually. Just trying to get some tacos. He was just hanging out there and we both liked tacos so it was just kind of a match made in heaven.
Cyrus: I like tacos! Why don't I meet hot chicks at taco trucks? This isn't fair.
Kassia: It's a California thing, right? L.A. taco trucks.
Cyrus: It's literally custom, slick hats. Do you wear his hats? Does he make them for women, too?
Kassia: Yeah, they're for everybody. So I have a couple that I love. I wear hats a lot. We're always in the sun so it's good to have something to cover up with. I'm always a big hat person. So it was super convenient that I went out with a hat maker. (Laughs)
Cyrus: Who's paying your bills? Who are all your sponsors? You mentioned Roxy, who else?
Kassia: Roxy, they've been treating me well for 13 years. Gravis Footwear, they've been keeping my feet from getting glass all in them. They kind of moved to Japan, but their still doing it. Stance Socks, Raen Optics, Hawaii Pro Design, they still give me surfboards. And Swatch, they're a radical company.
Cyrus: Do you shape your own boards?
Kassia: No, but Roxy did a couple pop outs with me with some of the Donald Takayama shapes. I made a long model with Hawaiian Pro Design a while ago. Kind of a lady's version of the Model T.
Cyrus: Do you have a website? Is there someplace we can go to follow what you've been doing?
Kassia: KassiaMeador.com is the best place. But honestly, I mostly throw stuff out there through Instagram. That goes to my blog and my website. It's so nice to be able to share a moment with a photo, because you just tell so much. That's what I'm on the most, is Instagram. Some of my wetsuits are on there as well, the ones I did for Roxy. Check it out!
Cyrus: Kassia, thank you so much. It was a pleasure talking to you.
Kassia: Thank you so much for having me!
Follow Cyrus Saatsaz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SurfDishedCold