When I recently went to meet up with Isabella Nichols, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Here was this 19-year-old that was a Junior World Champion surfer, had been called up by Hollywood to be Blake Lively’s body double for the film The Shallows, and had just been signed on as the brand ambassador for Sun Bum (a bit of an editor’s fave).
What greeted me on arrival was this unassuming and humble tanned blonde natural beauty from Queensland’s Gold Coast that was happy to openly chat about her aspirations, achievements, and hanging out with Dad. I walked away from the interview wanting to grab a board and hit the waves – but unfortunately these days my boards are more used for decoration than water sports.
Here, Isabella chats to Husskie about what it takes to reach the top, learning from disappointments, and what’s on the horizon.
You started surfing when you were just nine years old. How did you get into it?
My Dad pushed me up onto my first wave at nine, but I didn’t really get into it until I was 11. Everyday before school I would wake my Dad up and he would take me to go surfing, after school as well. I picked it up from there and just loved it. I met all my friends through surf comps and surfing – it’s the best lifestyle. Once you start you just can’t stop.
Did you find out you were good at surfing as soon as you started? Were you a natural?
Nah, it took a while. It took a lot of hours in the water, but I had a little bit of knack for it. It’s hard to tell when you’re that young – but I guess I was putting in the hours.
Was your Dad a surfer as well?
He surfs, that’s how he got me started. It’s been his dream to just go surfing with his kids. He didn’t expect me to take it up professionally, so he’s definitely spent a lot more hours with me taking me places – which has backfired on him a bit! But he loves that I love it and it’s a really good little family thing we do together.
How old were you when you started to win competitions and realise this was something you could be really good at?
Around 15, 16. I won a couple of little grom comps. I never really knew if I was going to be good at it or not but I just loved it so it didn’t really matter.
Have you stayed close with the same group of surfers you started out with?
Yeah, it’s awesome. Whenever I go surfing, I just call them up and we go surfing together. We go on surf trips and road trips together, and up the beach camping. I find it more entertaining and fun if you’re surfing with a friend. It gives me motivation!
What would be a normal day in your life?
I’d wake up around 6.30, 7ish; I’m not really an early morning person but if the surf’s good, I’ll wake up and go for a paddle. Then I have training. We train in the gym for about 1.5 hours usually, and do that five or six days a week. After that, I might go surfing again, catch up with friends, go get a coffee, and then head home. If I’ve got some emails or things like that, I’ll do them and then it’s pretty much time to go to sleep!
How much of the year are you travelling for competitions?
Last year was a lot because I was in the juniors [Junior World Surf League] and the QS [Qualifying Series World Surf League], so there were two tours. This year I’ve been overseas five or six times with different competitions, and then sometimes there’s some photo shoots in places. I’m gone around a third of the year.
Talking about the Junior World Surf League – winning Junior World Champion must have felt like quite a coup…
I was over the moon. I didn’t really know what to think. It didn’t sink in for a long time. That was definitely my biggest achievement and it gives you a bit of confidence to know that you can potentially do something with this sport. That was really good for my head space.
Do you feel that things have springboarded off the back of that win?
I think so, which is good – but then people do expect you to do well, so there’s a lot more pressure. But it was definitely a big thing and I’m just so stoked.
Has that been your surfing career highlight?
Yeah, for sure.
Have you had any lowlights?
Quite a few! It’s hard when you travel all the way around the world and you get knocked out first round in a competition. It’s dampening on your spirits. I guess losing isn’t too bad because you learn a lot of things, but it also doesn’t help with your self confidence.
Do you feel it helps motivate you to go out there and train harder?
It’s definitely the biggest motivation. It’s good though to see that you can always do more and put in more time and more effort while also keeping it fun. There’s always more to do, but that’s cool – it’s an eye opener!
All this success must see you getting to do some exciting gigs, like working with Sun Bum…
The connection was perfect for my active lifestyle. All the face sunscreens, the SPF50s, they stay on really well in the surf and I don’t get sunburnt at all – which is crazy because a lot of people who surf get sunburnt and they can get quite ageing skin. Skin cancer is also a big problem in Australia, so it’s good to have a company behind me, supporting me and keeping me safe from the sun.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
I hope to be on the World Tour – top five, hopefully. That’s my goal… We’ll see!
Images and text by Husskie Editor Yelena Fairfax.