Andrea Kabwasa

by Mary Mills on January 26, 2011 · 14 comments

Andrea Kabwasa is a California surfer, artist, and teacher who exudes stoke every minute of the day. The joy she feels while surfing is evident in the style and poise she exhibits on every wave. Andrea exemplifies all that is right about this thing we call “surfing.”

What was your life like growing up?
Our family traveled a lot when I grew up. Every couple of years, we would pick up and move to a new, and very different, part of the world. It’s all kind of a blur really—except, of course, for bits and pieces that stayed lodged into my long term memory… like watching my parents dancing at a friends party in Ethiopia. They seemed really happy. Or drinking fresh spring water squirting out of a cliff in a jungle on our way to our family clan’s main village of Aten, Congo. I remember jumping into the Kwilu River in Kikwit. My sisters and I loved riding the river’s current. My aunts would always scream hysterically that hippos and alligators would eat us. We never believed it. Our dad said it was just superstition.

I also have memories of always wanting to be close to my sisters, Celine and Florence. Celine gave me backbone and exuded fun. Florence always let me sleep in her bed when I was afraid at night. I remember making my first free throw shot at a local park in Hawthorne, California. It surprised me so much I lost my breath. There are so many random, and not so random, memories scattered throughout my life growing up.

When did you get your first surfboard?
Age 32. That was the year of major epiphanies for me.

What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
I can’t remember really. I do, however, remember how I felt afterwards—happy. I had forgotten what that felt like, to be truly happy without a care in the world (even if it was only for an hour). Needless to say, I was hooked.

Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young woman?
What is young? I feel younger now than ever before. When I was 12 and under, I looked up to my sister Florence. At around 13 to 20 years of age, I looked up to my sister Celine and my mom. Between 20 and 30, I fell in love with artists. Charles White? His figures felt monumental to me. Jusepe de Ribera? His intense subject matter and masterful figure painting blows my mind. Basquiat? His paintings speak to me for their childlike style. Yet, at the same time, the paintings are complex and layered, like jazz music. Basquiat cracked that secret “kid” code. I envy that.

Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out and why?
France, Southern Baja and Southern California are all important to me for different reasons. France stands out because of the traumatic boarding school experience. It haunted me all my life. Surfing and counseling was the cure. Southern California is the only location that has truly felt like home to me.

Southern Baja stands out as my place of rebirth. I had the longest noseride in my life in Baja. It lasted so long that I closed my eyes, looked up to the sky with my hands raised to the sky and said “Thank you.” This ride changed me internally, completely and forever. I found my heaven here on Earth while surfing. I feel so blessed, humbled and grateful for this opportunity to feel pure happiness in the midst of all the troubles that are occurring in our society.

Who or what inspires you?
Creativity, music, the ocean and wave riding.

What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
That is a tough question for me… I tend to look at life lessons in non-hierarchical terms. In my view, the act of learning is organic. I know that all lessons learned, lead to a healthier and happier me. If I had to choose a consistent theme in most of my life lessons, then it would to value “change”. Surfing is all based on movement and learning how to adjust/adapted to change successfully (without fighting it).

Do you have any regrets or wish you had done something differently?
Student loans. Oooooh, I regret them so much!

What are you most proud of?
Another tough question … I guess the moments in life that show me that anything is possible. I feel happier within myself these days. I’m proud of that.

What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
Short version? Surfing saved my life. Long version? When I discovered surfing, I was trying to recover from the psychological effects and residue of an abusive relationship. Surfing gave me joy and happiness when I hadn’t felt happiness in years. I will never forget my drive home after my first surfing lessons. I was filled with a pure happiness, the kind of happiness that wasn’t connected to anything or anyone. I was simply happy.

So, for me, surfing is happiness, love and self-empowerment. The act of interacting with water cleansed my inner spirit. Before surfing, the lens from which I viewed life was pretty dirty. I was filled with low self-worth and, at times, I made some pretty self-destructive choices. Surfing redirected that energy in a positive direction. When I surf, I feel beautiful. I’m a starting to feel beautiful on dry land too now.

Did your artwork change when you started surfing? If so, in what way(s)?
My art work is a reflection of how I feel emotionally. Before surfing, my artwork had a sad, emotional undertone to it. Then, surfing allowed me to experience happiness on a daily basis. As I began to heal within myself, so too did my artwork. Lately, I mind surf on canvas. I paint my versions of what I believe Paradise would look and feel like. It’s fun to paint my surf dreams. The icing on the cake is when my surf dreams come true. That’s a total trip!

What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Happiness is those rare moments when you are so completely locked in, that you feel like you are dancing in harmony with life itself. Each wave has a different rhythm and a different dance. I like wave-dancing. It makes me happy.

Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
Cyrus Sutton is important. I love the “Surf Sufficient” posts on his website, The site is all about helping you learn how to do-it-yourself. Learning to surf sufficiently is a concept that I hope will help shape the path for surfing today and in the future. I also think style will always shape the path of surfing. Surfers that stylistically excite me are Derek Hynd, Tyler Warren, Jimmy Gamboa, Julie Cox, Joel Tudor and Kevin Connelly.

What is your favorite board?
I have three boards on rotation. My Tim Phares Fluid Drive (Combat Model) is my favorite. Thank you, Tim!! I am more of a fin addict than a quiver junkie. My fins allow me to breathe new life into my old surfboards. I love figuring out how a fin’s design, and/or placement, changes the feel of my ride. I have fun exploring how fins enhance my sliding options.

Your favorite surf spot?
To date, Scorpion Bay, Surfrider Beach and Saladitas.

What’s your favorite meal?
My favorite meal is an Ethiopian meal eaten with friends and family. Ethiopian food is served in a huge round platter and you eat with your hands. You grab the food with a sour, doughy, flat, pancake-like bread called injera. For the appetizer, vegetarian samosas. For the main course, dorot wot, kitfu, awaze tibs, yellow and red lentils, cooked cabbage with potatoes and carrots along with fried trout.

What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
My summer downloads included Lauryn Hill’s “I Gotta Find Peace of Mind,” Xavier Rudd’s “No Woman No Cry,” Sublime’s “Doin’ Time (Uptown Dub),” Indigo Swing’s “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” Sade’s “Babyfather” and Kate Nash’s “Nicest Thing”.

What are you most grateful for?
I am grateful for my family’s love. I am grateful for the oceans and surfing. I am grateful for my drinking water. I am grateful for creativity. I am grateful for the students that I love to teach. I am grateful for Southern California weather. I am grateful for my friends. I am grateful for my planet. This list could go on and on. There is so much for me to be thankful and grateful for. Life is beautiful and I am thankful I have the opportunity to experience it.

What’s next for Andrea Kabwasa?
Some sort of change.

Photography credits: Ken Samuels (top photo, surfboard art, portrait). Barrel photo by Jack Hudkins and  soul arch photo by JD Massey.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris Grant January 26, 2011 at 7:54 am

“Before surf­ing, the lens from which I viewed life was pretty dirty.”

I just love that line. Nice interview!


Byron Baumann January 26, 2011 at 8:03 am

Truly and purely inspiring article. I had to leave CA to go to school for 2 years. This kind of article helps me keep perspective. Southern CA is my home and I miss it terribly no matter what’s going on socially or economically.


Cher January 26, 2011 at 8:34 am

What a wonderful, touching interview with Andrea, a lovely lady and artist. I relate to her mentions of gratitude. Aloha, Cher


Rick Blocker January 26, 2011 at 10:06 am

Thank you for sharing this truly beautiful woman with the world. Your article is deeply moving and having seen her surf, I know for myself that she is a ripper!


Vic Esposito January 26, 2011 at 11:28 am

I’ve always said “You meet the nicest people on a surfboard.”

There you go.
Thanks for another engaging interview.


Kevin Cooke January 26, 2011 at 11:41 am

Beautiful style… surfing with such grace and finesse. Awesome! Love the interview too.


Eric Burns January 26, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Andrea is one of those people that radiates aloha. I’d met her at Malibu a couple times and her stoke was palpable. The last time I saw her there was during a July (’10) south swell and happily it was mid-week, mid-day and there weren’t too many folks out. We each got a bunch of great waves and in between sets, we got to talking and I told her I was moving with my wife and kids to Brazil for a couple years for a work gig. She told me about her background and helped explain all the changes and mental freakouts I was about to go through. And she was dead on right. And it helped a lot so Andrea if you see this: thanks! Hope to see you at FP when I’m up this summer. Aloha to you too, Mr. Blocker! Eric


gibran @Bodhi Surf School January 26, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Great interview! We need more surfers like Andrea. Her response about how surfing changed her life gave me chills


Regina Leonard January 27, 2011 at 1:52 am

So inspiring!


TonyCorley, BSA founder January 27, 2011 at 9:38 am

Miss. Andrea is ONE good-looking, talented, intelligent surfer girl—yowzaaa, baby!!! Excellent
surfer, TOO!!! TonyC,BSA


Loic Bordas July 31, 2011 at 8:23 am

soul mate i had some ruff times to .. i saw u surf yesterday i had been away from the water for many years but have always known and xperienced such similar feelings to were reading ur article felt like i was reading my own thoughts … after the childhood part anyway… i also am a tim pharis fan and last night as i was trying to reconnect with him ..i saw the article and realised it had to b u i had so enjoyed watching rip topanga to pieces… all that wild timing of events has me still tripin a bit… thank u for sharing ur thoughts.. and appearing to me as u did … i personaly just surf for fun i just try to ride it as long as i can and not fall off … even though im not that good im complitly in love with it … and writing music to… i feel overwelmed now … thank u for showing up on planet earth..ur words are bringing me life … ? who are u realy..?


Eddie Miankatu November 5, 2011 at 9:02 pm

When I was younger I played football with Andrea while she came for holidays in DR Congo/Africa and I can testify that she was really strong in sport. I am happy to read that article about her. Unluckily I lost her contact details. All the best to Andrea Kabwasa.
From Eddie Miankatu in London/UK


Arlinda March 26, 2012 at 9:52 am

This article is so inspiring. I can just feel the positive energy and passion that she has for surfing and the simple things in life. For the past couple of months I have been realizing what truly makes me happy and I am pursuing it. I want to have the peace that Andrea has. People like her always brighten my day because they show that anything is achievable.

Andrea makes me want to surf now. I have been interested in it but now I am really interested in trying the sport.


E. Monier July 2, 2012 at 7:58 pm

I Knew Andrea before she knew herself and even before she knew herself she was the exact same as when she discovered herself… Forever changing, forever experiencing, forever connected to earth and nature, forever in discovery mode, strong, articulate, giving… all of her experiences seem to have been layers peeling off to expose her true beauty. She has always been uniquely special. She stated that she has so much to be grateful for, we all do, and I am grateful to know her and I am truly grateful to know her Joy, her story has made me smile as she always has. Keep going!


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