Interview by Glenn Sakamoto
Photography by Chris Grant / Jettygirl
Tutti Nieves is a California-based surfer/artist raised by hard-working parents in her birthplace of Puerto Rico. While attending her brother's Marine Corps graduation at Camp Pendleton in the States, she fell in love with San Diego and its many breaks and decided to stay. We caught up with Tutti to learn more.
What was your childhood like?
I grew up in Puerto Rico. The island is around 100 miles long by 35 miles wide, so the beach is never too far away – no matter where you live. I come from a very close-knit family. We went to see my grandfather every weekend. On his land he farmed plantains, bananas, and tobacco. He was the heart of my family. Also I come from very hard working parents who were always pushing me to think outside the box and get out of my comfort zone.
At the age of 12 my parents sent me to Vermont with my sister to improve my English. I was nervous at first, but was also excited. Being in unfamiliar circumstances, it forced me to learn about other people. But even more – about myself.
You arrived to the mainland from Puerto Rico while almost a teenager. What was that experience like?
I loved it. After spending a few years in Vermont, my sister and I moved to San Diego when I was 15. My brother was in the Marines and stationed at Camp Pendleton. We had come to see his graduation and we fell in love with San Diego. We would go surf and spend a lot of time at the beach. I would ride my skateboard or bike to the beach everyday to check the surf and then go get my board. I found a group of friends who were always at the local spot that took me under their wing. They adopted me as their own and I’m so very thankful for that. I’ve been here ever since. My family still lives in Puerto Rico, so I try to visit whenever I get a chance. I truly have the best of both worlds.
Do you remember your first green wave ridden on a surfboard?
My parents would occasionally take us to the beach. But it wasn’t until I was thirteen that I caught my first wave on the north coast of the island. I just remember the first wave I stood up on – it felt so freeing and fun. That’s all it took. I’ve been hooked every since.
What inspired you to begin creating art? How does surfing influence your art?
My mom is an artist. I grew up watching her paint, sew, and use different mediums to express herself. I’m pretty sure I got my inspiration to create from her. There’s just something very special about sitting down, designing an idea, and making it come to life with your own two hands. At the end you can just look at that and be like, “Oh hey – I made that.” That’s a pretty cool feeling. You just have to think things through, trust yourself, and use your imagination.
My life revolves around the ocean. Anything I make is always made with the ocean in mind. Whether it is the colors I pick or what I make – there is always a hint of the ocean in it.
What do you hope to create in the mind of the person viewing your art?
I hope they get motivated to express their unique vision and to do what they love. To see the uniqueness and the beauty of imperfections in whatever it is they make or do. We often put too many restrictions in what we do, who we are, and how we express ourselves that we lose our uniqueness. Everyone is different – so express yourself and embrace whatever it is that makes you unique!
What meaning does surfing hold for you?
It’s simply my way of relaxing and having fun. I feel like a kid when I’m out there.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out? And why?
I would have to say France. That was my first international trip I went on. It was so different from anything I was used to. I went with my good friend Linda Benson and that made it extra special. We had such a good time. The surf was fun and we got to mingle with the locals who showed us around.
What are you feelings about the current disaster situation in Puerto Rico? How can our readers help with any relief efforts?
I think after Hurricane Maria hit, the awareness and information that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory came as a surprise to many people – that indeed Puerto Ricans are U.S. Citizens. My father was drafted and served as a combat medic in the Vietnam War.
As a U.S. territory and not a state, the residents who live on the Island do not have representation in the U.S. Government such as Senators and Congressmen. So if there’s a Vote on an important policy that literally impacts hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans that live on the Island, it’s up to us who live in the states to write our congressmen and senators. It’s so easy. Find out who your representatives are and send them an email. Small voices can go a long way… we need to be their voices.
What else can we do?
Another important thing you can do is visit Puerto Rico. Tourism is very important to the Puerto Rican economy. Jobs are needed to help people rebuild their lives and help in the long-term recovery. I just got back from there and the power and water is back in most places. I had a great time surfing, eating, visiting San Juan with family. There’s still plenty of recovery going on – but the people are friendly and the food is amazing. It’s still a beautiful place to visit. Put Puerto Rico on your bucket list of places to visit. No passport required if visiting from the mainland, they use US Dollars, and everyone speaks English.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
The ocean and people that do what they love while giving back.
What one “Golden Rule” do you live by?
Do good, lend a hand, share your vision, create, stand for what you believe in. Learn from your mistakes. Take time to be grateful for what you have. I guess that counts as more than just one!
What is your favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
I’m obsessed with my 7’0 C-Bucket shaped by Chris Christenson. Favorite surf spot? Anywhere with a fun little left.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
Chris Grant for promoting all the different aspects of women surfing with his photography and social media. Luki O’Keefe whose photos are capturing the beauty of women’s surfing in a unique way. The Gudauskas brothers with their neverending positivity and amazing work to spread the message of love for each other and the ocean. You can follow the Gudauskas @positivevibewarriors on Instagram.
What's your favorite meal? What’s on your music playlist?
It’s a tie between Sushi and Mexican food. On my playlist right now I have CCR, Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, and Houndsmouth.
What are you most grateful for?
Life. It’s a privilege to wake up everyday and have a chance to do what you love.
What’s next for Tutti Nieves?
I’m looking forward to volunteering with Urban Surf 4 Kids this year. I’ll be teaching foster kids to surf and sharing my love for the ocean. Also looking forward to traveling hopefully very soon!