Interview by Glenn Sakamoto
Morgan Sliff is a native California surfer from Hermosa Beach. She spent her youth surfing the local breaks of the South Bay, but her unhappy marriage kept her away from the ocean for five long years. After it ended, she soon realized that surfing was her salvation and she set a goal to surf every day for a year to make up for lost time. Along the way, Morgan found a loving community, loyal friends, and more importantly – herself. We spoke with her to learn more.
Where are you from and what was your childhood like?
I was born and raised, and reside in the little South Bay town of Hermosa Beach, California. I grew up with 2 brothers near the beach, so everything was always outdoors – sand, sun, skate, surf, and lots of Band-Aids trying to keep up with them!
When did you get your first surfboard?
As a little girl I was in awe of anything to do with surfing. Although my mom and dad didn’t surf, I would hear wild stories from my grandmother about growing up on Oahu and the time Duke Kahanamoku taught her how to surf. My godmother, Wendy Gilley, was on the Dewey Weber team and was the epitome of a “cool” logger – I wanted to be like her. I had never even been on a board but asked Santa for one a few years in a row, and remember my mom saying “Santa doesn’t even know if you’re going to like surfing.” One Christmas, when I was 5 or 6, Santa caved and I had a used LC3 shaped by Phil Becker next to the tree. I might’ve been the happiest little person in the world at that moment.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
My dad actually has a photo of it somewhere. Everything about that rush and feeling of pure stoke solidified the fact that even before I had a surfboard, I knew it was going to be my favorite thing in the world.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a child?
One would definitely be my grandfather. He was a scientist for NASA, and when I was little he would teach me a million different ways to do simple addition. I’d like to think I get my nerdy side and love of reading, science, math, writing, and learning the intricacies about Earth from him.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out? And why?
That’s tough. Every nook of the world has something special about it. But if I had to pick – El Salvador. I’m going a third time this April. The last time I went my group and I were able to round up some donated surfboards from generous South Bay peeps and we brought them down to give out to the local kids. I don’t speak great Spanish, but over the next few weeks we surfed with the kids – who were mostly street vendors that made a couple dollars a day – and got to know them while they were playing around on their new sleds. There was no language needed – we were all speaking stoke! I’ll never forget the first day they all showed up on the beach together and paddled out, laughing and smiling the entire time. It was magical.
Who/what inspires you?
Anyone smiling and doing good things in and out of the water.
Tell us about your 365 Days of Surf Project. Why was it important to you? What did you learn from the experience?
Surfing was everything to me as a kid. It’s all I thought about. Then I met someone and got married really young, and to sum up 7 years in a sentence, we didn’t share common surfing/life values. I lost my love affair with the sea and tried to grow up too fast. I went for a slide only a handful of times between the ages of 19 and 24. I would literally sit in my little apartment with my ocean view and feel a bit empty.
Just shy of 7 years, I ended that relationship and remember my first dip in the water not long after separating. I had a big “aha” moment – I realized everything I had been missing for so long was keeping me suspended, right underneath my longboard. I made the commitment to surf for a year in a row to make up for lost time and subsequently decided to make a little post every day on my newly made Instagram – I didn’t even really know my way around it yet – as I look back throughout the year.
Some local surf photographers reached out to take surf photos and have become some of my dearest friends, I was asked to blog about my surf adventures by a local paper, found out about a few inspiring others still on or having had their own streaks (Meg Roh, Jeremy Porfilio, Mark Silva), and I felt that with every passing day my connection with the ocean grew deeper.
What were some of the challenges with your project?
There were some hard days with El Niño storms in the South Bay – it can get pretty gnarly around here and I have a 9’6 and was really rusty. But surfing no matter what taught me so much about perseverance and being able to do exponentially more than you think is possible. It gave me the ability to find something beautiful in what might be looked at as the worst situations. Everything the ocean has provided – even the smattering of injuries – I’ve utilized back on land, and it’s worked its way into every facet of my daily life. It taught me to find and stick with what you truly love, put every ounce of your soul into your passion, always be kind, never settle, and simply do “you.”.
By far the best thing I’ve gained is the new and old sea family the ocean has provided. I consider myself more than lucky to have incredible, inspiring, silly, talented, goofy people around me almost every day. (I’m still streaking along, but not with any end goal or pressure and I’m nearing 550 in a row.)
What meaning does surfing hold for you?
Surfing is self-expression on so many levels. It’s an art form – a wave is your medium and a board your brush, and at the end of the painting you hope your strokes were good. If the painting is a mess, you learn how to put more grace in your lines. It’s a dance. You glide vulnerably with a liquid partner and try to emulate their speed and flow. If you’re out of sync or trying too hard to lead, your partner might fall on you, and sometimes it hurts. But with your dance lessons comes humility. Surfing also is simplification. It means letting go of everything on land and being the purest you that you can be.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Sliding with a group of friends, dolphins, and pelicans in clean water.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
Leah Dawson. She inspires play and love of the sport.
What is your favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
The board that my shaper Jose Barahona and my surf familia surprised me with on my year-in-a-row mark. It contains drawings that my “surf dad” and artist Frank Paine drew on napkins everyday for almost the entire year, screen-printed on the bottom of the board. I cried what felt like 100 times when they gave it to me.
My favorite surf spot is Doheny. The wave isn’t the best, the crowds can get pretty dense, but it’s always been special to me. A close second is Hermosa Pier – because let’s face it - nothing beats a good day a home.
What's your favorite meal?
Post surf breakfast at Brother’s Burritos down the street from my house.
What are you currently listening to on your song list?
It’s all over the place. But currently a lot of Nina Simone, Kimbra, and I’m pretty consistent with Reggae.
What are you most grateful for?
What’s next for Morgan Sliff?
I’m not really sure, but I know whatever it is, it involves lots of waves.
Follow Morgan Sliff on Instagram at @jahmorgan.