Jen Smith is a talented surfer raised in San Diego, CA. Brought up by supportive parents, Jen has lived an ideal Southern California beach lifestyle. But it was her hard work and ability that helped her earn several longboard world titles. We spoke with Jen to learn more.
What was your life like growing up?
I have great memories of my childhood and of growing up in San Diego. I’m blessed to have parents who were always loving and supportive and I have two older sisters, so I’ve always had someone to hang out with and take care of me.
I remember my mom taking me out on her boogie board or just swimming in the ocean, jumping over waves, and me being scared because I was so little. She would take me into what I felt was so far out, and that I was doing something I never could have on my own at the time. My dad is a surfer and would take us to the beach with him where my sisters and I would play on the sand and watch him surf or use one of his boards in the white water.
Neither of my sisters really stayed with surfing but we all used to do it when we were young. Up until the age of 9 my family lived in Claremont, which is 5 miles from the beach. Our house had a massive yard and we lived at the end of a cul-de-sac, so we had plenty of room to run around our yard and ride our bikes in the street. It was really an amazing way to grow up. We moved to Pacific Beach because it was a better neighborhood and my dad hated the power lines behind our house that buzzed 24 hours a day. The move was a big transition for everyone. We moved to a smaller house with much less space and a tiny yard in comparison to the old house.
My dad had opened a retail skateboard store in Pacific Beach called Soul Grind two years before and my mom would soon also trade in her swap meet business for a skate shop in San Diego. At this point, I was already hooked on surfing and living near the beach. This meant my sisters and I had more freedom to ride our bikes or walk the dogs farther from the house than before.
When I turned 12, my mom started letting me go surfing alone. Before I would go with my dad or she would take me and watch from the beach or go boogie boarding and it was not always easy to get everyone excited to go to the beach. This was a huge transition for me and a turning point in my surfing. I could skate to Soul Grind and surf the pier which was right out front. Not to mention Skip Frye’s shop and shaping room was on the same block so I would get to surf with him sometimes. I would see him walking up and down our block in his high top Converse and sweats (his shaping outfit) with one of those trash pickers and a bucket, cleaning up the sidewalk.
When I was about 14 or so, I got a brand new beach cruiser that I got with birthday money so I could ride around with some friends who loved in the neighborhood. We had sort of a beach cruiser bike gang (laughs). I put a surfboard rack on it which meant I could ride farther to surf more waves.
When did you get your first surfboard?
I got my first board that actually belonged to me when I was 8. It was a custom Rusty (Preisendorfer) which I got to watch the “Big R” shape. What a spoiled little surfer girl, right? I sold it when I was a teenager to buy a new longboard. Not a smart move looking back.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
I can’t actually remember. My parents say I was standing on a board on Mission Bay when I was 2. I remember one session when I was about 9. I was out with my dad and his brother at Crystal Pier on a glassy morning and paddled into one of the first set waves I had gotten without being pushed in. It was the best feeling dropping in hearing my Uncle hooting for me and having control of the board under my feet.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a child?
Well, being a short person as a child I had to look up to everyone if I wanted to look at them (laughs). I looked up to my dad of course, and I still do. He’s a great surfer and he still pushes me to surf better. I surf better when I surf with him than with most of my friends.
I’ve always looked up to Skip (Frye), he’s quiet and he rips with the smoothest style. There’s nothing like hearing him tell a story when he’s really into something – he lights up like a kid. Of course, I’ve always looked up to the female surfers who have influenced me and who were ripping all through the 60s through the 90s when I became aware of them. Mary Bagalso, Julie Cox, and Kassia Meador were the three influential longboarders who took time to surf with me and take me on trips when I was 15 or so. I also had a Prue Jeffries Poster on my wall for years and I used to look at it and dream about being a pro surfer and a world champion.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out and why?
I think Morocco stands out the most to me. I was there in January of 2009 with the Roxy team. The swell peaked at 30 feet and I was sooo sick. I had the worst sinus infection and all I could do was watch these crazy waves breaking. I loved the landscape and weather which reminded me of Baja. The culture was like nothing I had ever seen. Women in dark head dresses with nothing but their eyes showing. Men walking down the street holding hands. Some of the best food I’ve ever eaten and of course, things like mint tea which I learned to make and I still make at home from time to time. I would love to go back there and surf and experience the culture again.
Who/what inspires you?
I draw inspiration every day from so many things. Old people who have lived and learned so many things. Crazy homeless people who say some radical stuff, sometimes things that make no sense and you wonder just what they are thinking. Children who skip and jump around for no apparent reason. A radical sunset, or a perfect, unridden peeler that has gotten past 100 people in the lineup.
One person who inspired me last weekend is Neil Norris. He went to school with my dad in San Diego in the 60’s then moved to Maui over 30 years ago. He has archived years of photos at his place in Maui and when he came to California for the 50 year anniversary MSA classic he brought over a photo of Dora at the same event in the 60’s. It’s such a cool photo and he was thoughtful enough to have it blown up and frame it so he could present it to the MSA club. Neil is a shaper and a good friend who is full of the Spirit. I’m looking forward to visiting him in Maui this year and surfing Honolua Bay for the first time.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
God is in control of everything. He holds the universe in the palm of His hand and He cares for each individual equally as he has made us all special and unique. He has blessed me with the gift of surfing and the opportunity to share it with people around the world. It’s up to each and every person to show love to others and it isn’t always easy. I’ve learned that this simple thing is hard at times, but the reward for showing love is greater than the reward of not showing love.
Do you have any regrets or wish you had done something differently?
Well, I tend to start a project or get an idea and then not follow through with it. I would like to pick up some of the projects I have started and finish them.
What’s next for Jen Smith?
One project is my website jensmithsurfing.com. The other project is a surfboard I started shaping in San Diego 2 years ago. I made another board with a friend in England this summer which is being glassed right now. I can’t wait to see the final product.