Carla Rowland is a California surfer who grew up riding First Point Malibu since she was a child. She is renowned for her style and grace on a board as well as her no-nonsense attitude in the water. Carla talks with us about single-fins and her new found love.
What was life like growing up?
I had an amazing childhood. I was born in the San Fernando Valley when there was still some empty land available. I romped around on our property for 10 years and when the development started moving in, my dad made a dream come true and moved our family to the hills of Malibu. Although not logistically that far, moving to the affluent community really transformed my life.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young girl?
Obviously, my parents have been a significant part of my life, and if not for them, I would not be here. As far as those I admired in surfing, during the early to mid 90’s, there were more men in the lineup than women to look to for emulation. Lance Woleslagle, Dylan Jones, and Josh Farberow were my main male influences. Of the few women I had to look up to, I admired most Brittany Leonard for her grace and unbelievable noseriding skills, Diane Sanders for her power and no-nonsense approach to Malibu and Phranc Gottlieb for her traditional old-school style. Outside of Malibu, and still to this day, I have always had the utmost respect for Cori Schumacher. Her amazing control in and out of the water is a quality I hope to master.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
I actually vividly remember my first ride. I was six or seven years old, and my family was camping at San Elijo State Beach, as we did bi-annually every April and October. My dad had convinced me to paddle out with him on his longboard. Once in the lineup, I recall looking to the beach and thinking the cliffside looked so small and far away. I clearly remember our first ride because as we were riding in, my dad had slipped off the board and I rode in on my own. I recollect looking back at my dad as he waved and smiled, and I rode the wave all the way into the shore.
When did you get your first surfboard?
Although my first ride was at a fairly young age, it took a number of years for me to be convinced that surfing was meant to be a central theme of my life. From the ages of seven through 14, my dad may have had more luck pulling my teeth out than getting me on a surfboard.
For some reason, I had a great deal of apprehension about getting in the ocean, although when I would get out there, I’d have a blast. That being said, it wasn’t until I was about 15 that I got the surf bug and, at that point, I just rode my dad’s 10-foot Lance Carson. It was about a year later that my dad bought the first board that was really meant for my small frame—a Toot Gundy.
Tell us about your involvement with Malibu.
I have been going to Malibu since I was just a babe in diapers. My dad began surfing there in 1963, so the renowned break has pretty much been engrained into my life since the beginning. Growing up as a young woman in a male-dominated, testosterone-filled break such as the highly visible First Point was not always fun.
The days of the “palapa” were filled with good times. However, there were also many times where being a woman meant being humiliated and degraded. I managed to survive and I cannot say I would necessarily want things to have gone differently, for if they had, I do not think there would be all the women that now flood the lineup on a regular basis.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out? And why?
There are still so many places I have yet to witness, but of the travels I have had thus far it is easy to say that Japan is, by far, the most amazing country. I have had the opportunity to travel there twice—once to the southernmost island of Kyushu, and most recently to the incredible metropolis of Tokyo and its surrounding areas. I am most fond of the local peoples, who are so kind and generous, as well as all the incredible Japanese cuisine. And despite the lack of frequently pumping swell, they have a rich surf community that is very supportive of American surfers such as myself. How can you hate on that?!?!
What is it that makes you such a nice person? What code do you live by?
I can hear some people laughing at this question because many would probably testify that I am not the most congenial. On the contrary, I consider myself someone who is real and not usually afraid to say what you’re all thinking. Few may know that I am a devout Christian who tries my best to follow the Golden Rule—treat others as you would like to be treated. I believe the foundation to harmony is to give respect in order to get respect. People that have witnessed my not-so-nice side were probably people who lack that Golden Rule knowledge.
What inspires you?
God and his omnipotent strength inspire me, as well as seeing others fight against injustice and for equality. Selflessness. Unconditional love and consideration are qualities I hold in high regard.
Who do you admire?
Approximately 15 years ago, my father began showing symptoms of neuropathy and spinal stenosis. It slowly took its toll until it reduced his surfing capabilities to a sit-down view only. Since the controversial craze that is stand-up paddle surfing, my dad has rediscovered the view from on high and is ripping once again … even if it is facilitated. It wasn’t until I fractured my tibia in August and was immobile for a couple months that I earned a new appreciation for what my father has been dealing with. To live each day in a constant, even if dull, pain, but persevere through life in a positive manner is truly a monumental task. I have such admiration for my father’s strength and determination to make the best of the cards God has dealt him.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
I have a general knowledge of worldly things. I received honors when I earned my college degree in Communications and have traveled the world where I have experienced other cultures. However, the greatest thing I have learned thus far is that I really know nothing. Albert Einstein said it well, “Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.”
Do you have any regrets or wish you had done something differently?
If I had done anything differently, I’m afraid that would have misdirected my path to the love of my life (Ian Zamora). Through him, I have found what it is to truly be at peace.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of graduating magna cum laude and receiving Communication Program Honors from Cal State Channel Islands last year.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
When I was 15, I was involved with an unhealthy group of kids. I made the difficult decision to remove myself from the situation and began hanging out at First Point. My only friends were over the age of 45. (Thank you to Judy Gross, Cary Weiss, and Steve Stanley!) Although it was an incredibly tough decision for my insecure adolescent self to make, if it had not been for that change, I would not be where I am at today. In the beginning, surfing was a means of establishing my identity with a collective group. Now, it is more about exercise, expression and peace of mind. The older I get, the harder it has been to deal with the madness that occurs among the masses every summer at Malibu.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
I am most happy when I am with my love, Ian. I know it’s cheesy, but true.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
I think surfing is in a weird place right now. The men have it all going on and the women have been left out to dry, especially women’s longboarding. The biggest problem is that the artists have no control of the art. The big money companies are holding the reins and decide who, what and how our division of the sport is going to be represented. As with the current Hollywood paparazzi culture, too much of what is being portrayed as “women’s longboarding” is, in fact, just smoke and mirrors. Seeing the real actors get their name on the marquee is long overdue.
What is currently your favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
It’s no mystery that I am a lover of the traditional, single-fin school of sliding. I have been most fortunate to have boards custom built for me since 1996—first by Scott Anderson and most recently by my man, Ian Zamora. I have always been a fan of the pintail, which I continue to ride. I have the capabilities to ride almost anything, and I tend to surprise myself when I step outside my little box, but I have the most fun when I am riding my log or my mid-length single-fin at a nice, long pointbreak like Malibu, Punta Pequña or Tea Trees.
What’s your favorite meal?
Seared albacore salad. For dessert? T. Joe’s Vegan Chocolate Chip cookies.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
I have so much music I just stick it on shuffle! The playlist I’ve been bobbin’ to lately includes Mt. Saint Helen’s Vietnam Band, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Rachel Yamagata, Sia, Yo La Tengo and Rogue Wave.
What are you most grateful for?
I am most grateful for the men in my life—my dad, my boyfriend and my Lord. The last few months were the most physically difficult of my life thus far, and if it had not been for Ian’s patience and strength, my father’s sympathy, and my Lord to carry me through, I don’t think I would be in the position to write these words today.
What’s next for Carla Rowland?
As the other half of a growing surfboard label, Ian and I plan on continuing with international promotion. We hope to go to Australia in March, the Philippines in May, Japan in June, and Europe in the fall. In the meantime, I will continue my work as a substitute teacher in the Malibu school system and as a surf instructor in the Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
To learn more about Carla Rowland, click here. Photography credits: 1&5 — Ian Zamora. 2–4, 6&7 — Steve Lippman