When your first board is a 10'6" Brewer gun, perhaps you are simply destined for big waves. Or could it be that your dad is a big-wave charger and fearlessness runs in your blood? Either way, the rate that Emily Erickson has picked up big-wave surfing is ground breaking. With only four years of surfing experience, the 23-year-old charges big waves like it's second nature. And really, it is.
Born on Oahu, Erickson lived by Rockpiles on the North Shore untill the age of six. Her family was then forced to relocate to the East Coast, where she bounced between the Outer Banks of North Carolina and inland Virginia. She never stopped missing the warm ocean. After graduating high school she went straight back to the islands.
"I came back to Hawaii because of the vivid memories I had as a child," she says
Her first winter back on Oahu, she bodyboarded big Sunset. Once she showed an interest in surfing, her dad, the rugged yet smooth big-wave charger of the North Shore, Roger Erickson, hooked her up with his 10'6" gun.
"He was probably scared for me at first, then realized I can take care of myself. We walked down to Sunset together a lot that first winter, and he was always supportive," she remembers.
When asked whether or not she'd always been intrigued to surf big waves, Erickson recollects, "I never gave any thought to it, it wasn't a plan."
Yet with a constant love for the ocean, surfing seemed inevitable. "I love surfing big waves. It's a real rush and the sense of accomplishment afterwards ... I love the sense of triumph. I do it for myself and it makes me really happy."
The only contest Erickson's ever surfed in was the 2010 Pipeline Women's Pro. "Only because my boyfriend entered me," she laughs. "I have a different taste for waves than they're going to have for those kinds of competitions."
Uninterested in competitive surfing, this free surfer feels that mixing something lucrative with something you do out of love just doesn't make sense. Plain and simple."I'm just a different breed. I surf all kinds of boards, anything you can think of ... garage sale specials, pluggy longboards, big-wave guns and single fins. I don't just ride modern shortboards."
Drawn to guns from the beginning, Erickson morphed into a board collector of sorts. "My most cherished board is the blue, striped single-fin gun my father gave to me, shaped with his own hands. That board has seen everything."
With only four years of surfing under her belt, the looming question remains: what's it like to be a female in the lineup during a big swell?
"Sometimes I feel intimidated by the people or by the waves. Ultimately, I'm there to have a good time, so I keep that in mind always. Even though I'm still learning, I feel capable and try to be smart about my waves, especially when it's big. Being female, I don't really know what difference that makes. I notice a lot of guys are really surprised if I even make a big drop. Maybe there is some underestimation of me, but I'm in my own world out there."
As far as her greatest accomplishment, she puts it on Christmas day of 2009. To avoid the crowd, Erickson drove to Makaha where she found "the biggest, cleanest, best waves I had surfed up until then."
Christmas day brought solid 15-foot waves her way, breaking all the way from the point through to the west bowl. Makaha was working beautifully. Racing the sections on one massive wave, Erickson recalls, "After that session I almost blacked out, my mind was so blown. It never felt as incredible until then."
This past winter marked the first year where she decided to make the waves her priority, despite personal finances and safety. As the waves continue to roll through on the North Shore she's making appearances in all the right lineups. But seasonal change is coming quickly. With only one surf trip on her resume, her and her boyfriend Jensen Hassett (another big-wave charger on the North Shore) plan on hitting the road. "'Follow your love.' That's my motto," she says. Words to live by.