Mahina Maeda Charges Big and Small Waves and Now Charges Toward the 2021 Olympic Games
Three-time Junior World Champ, second woman ever to tow-surf Nazare (at 16 years old) and the current QS number fourteen, Mahina Maeda is on fire!
We sat down with Mahina Maeda to enjoy a smoothie right across the street from her home break, Rocky Point, on the North Shore of Oahu. Like most twenty-two-year-olds, Mahina has her head down and is focused on her career. But unlike many of her peers, while traveling the globe surfing the world’s best and biggest waves, Mahina stays grounded, fully rooted in the present moment, not letting any of her massive successes go to her head.
The waves and offshore wind were loud as we sat in the shade. A rare north swell was hitting the reef across the street at a beach that is normally flat in the summer months. Mahina had just finished a surf with her coach, ‘88 world champ Barton Lynch.
Still Stoked: So what have you and Barton been working on recently?
Mahina Maeda: We do a lot of skate training. Barton uses a Carver board with rubber tires. We also focus a lot on mental training. It’s actually been awesome because I haven’t spent a summer at home in years. But because of the pandemic both Barton and I are here and have been able to work together weekly. I really love being home for the summer. I’m also working with Mark Atkinson. He is really helping me out with working through past trauma and conflict. Surfing isn’t just about technique. Mark has tactics for getting under my skin to the root of what’s really going on in my head. He also has me doing meditation.
Still Stoked: Let’s talk about the Olympics. You were born in Hawaii but you have Japanese parents. So does that automatically make you a Japanese athlete? How are you feeling about your chances for the Olympics in 2012?
Mahina: Last year was the first year I was considered a Japanese athlete after all the paperwork went through. I lived there part-time to get to know the country and people better. The process of qualifying is a bit confusing with the pandemic. No one really knows what will happen with those who provisionally qualified for the 2020 Olympics that is now moved to 2021. That means there will be more chances to qualify. I’m just using this time to really train hard and focus on my own surfing. I’m not thinking too much about it. But if I have the opportunity to qualify, I’d love that!
I’ve had my share of bad days and received plenty of negative comments from people saying I’m not working hard enough and I’m screwing everything up. It takes a toll on me. But I’ve had to learn to stand up for myself.
Still Stoked: You’ve got nearly 36k followers on Instagram. How do you handle the pressure of being an influencer?
Mahina: As a professional athlete, Instagram is part of my job, creating an image and a brand. I don’t always love that part. Seeing negative comments on social media isn’t easy. Mark and Barton are helping me to look past it and focus on myself. The way that you act reflects back on your surfing. As a Hawaiian local, I’ve learned to stand my ground, growing up with all the guys in heavy lines ups. I’ve had my share of bad days and received plenty of negative comments from people saying I’m not working hard enough and I’m screwing everything up. It takes a toll on me. But I’ve had to learn to stand up for myself.
Still Stoked: Your instagram is filled with shots of your training, ripping, and having fun. Even the shots on the beach where you are in a bikini, while beautiful, are not sexual in nature and there are no pretenses, just the real Mahina Maeda. Do you feel any pressure to be sexy for social media?
Mahina: I’ve always been pretty camera shy. No one has ever told me I look bad and I have a ton of friends that support me and what I do. I just try to show my life how it honestly is. I try to keep it really authentic, I try not to act like a guru. I like to show my training and just show things that I enjoy. I just finished a campaign for a Japanese brand: Beauty is #nocompitition. Especially in Japan there is so much pressure for women to be this picture-perfect thing. I really try not to be fake.
Still Stoked: I’m totally jealous of your core strength! Tell me about the training you do called Ginastica Natural – ‘Natural Gymnastics’?
According the their website, Ginastica Natural is a type of training to promote “strength, endurance, mobility, core stability, balance, flexibility, coordination simultaneously – resulting in quality of life, muscle tone, weight-loss plus a better performance.” Check out this Video of Mahina in action.
Mahina: I started working with Kid Peligro when I was eighteen. I had already received my three world titles and I was starting to feel burnt out. I hit a slump on my first two years on the QS. So I decided to step away from surfing for a little while and maybe try teaching as a living. I didn’t put a time limit on how long I would be away from competitive surfing. Just like with an injury, I was always told never to put a time limit on recovery. Just say, “I’m going to get back in the water but I just don’t know when.” I actually wanted to get back into competing sooner than I expected. It just came back to me naturally. But now I have my license to teach (Ginastica Natural) and so I kinda do both now.
Training is training- if you want to get stronger you work harder.
Training is training- if you want to get stronger you work harder. Working with my trainer, Kid, makes me a better person. He is like Yoda! I feel like I became more of a positive person since I started working with him. Training is training- if you want to get stronger you work harder. But with Ginastica we treat it like life, it is constantly moving and adapting. You have to react to the situation. My agility and thinking process has improved a lot.
As a teacher, I can see where some of the best surfers in the water are really lacking when it comes to that mobility and coordination factor. Within one or two sessions we can really see the difference. I love being able to give that training to someone. I feel like ten times a better person when I do.
Still Stoked: Let’s talk about big waves. You towed Nazare at just Sixteen years old?!
Yeah, Uncle Garrett (Mcnamara) talked me into it. He pretended that my dad told him on the walkie talkie to tow me into a wave. I didn’t realize it was a lie. But it felt really interesting out there. I felt a really cool aura. I can see that Jaws might have that same feeling so I want to try that out soon.
Still Stoked: And last summer I heard you were charging Teahupoo right?
Mahina: We were filming a commercial. I wanted to paddle but we needed repetitions to get the shot so we did step offs instead. I think step offs are scarier than paddle surfing. At least when you paddle you have more control of when you take off. Step offs require launching yourself off a moving ski. It’s kinda gnarly! Before arriving at Teahupoo I had been training in Japan and hadn’t seen a wave over two feet. On one of the first waves I fell and got in a bad position. I missed the ski pick up three times.
I do like big waves but my focus has been on the QS. My goal this winter to surf a smaller day at Jaws. Obviously I have to do a lot of preparation. I’m working to get stronger and on breathing. I plan to surf (some outer reefs) around here first to try it out. There are a million steps I have to do first.
Still Stoked: What about Pipeline? You don’t surf there when it’s big?
Mahina: It hasn’t been my focus. My really good friend Moana (Jones) charges Pipe but I’ll let her do her thing. My goal is to surf Jaws first.
Still Stoked: Who inspires you right now?
Mahina: Honestly, If I like my own surfing or I don’t like my own surfing I can inspire myself to get better.
Still Stoked: What advice would you give to your teenage self back when you were first starting to see success?
Mahina: Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. We have a huge lifetime. I had to miss out on prom, high school graduation, and a lot of stuff. The sacrifices should be your choice and only do it if you really want to.
Still Stoked: What is your advice to adult women who are just starting their surfing journey?
Mahina: Preparation. It sounds like a serious word but in all honesty, you need work on strength. Do pushups to get stronger and then practice practice practice.
Still Stoked: What is your diet like?
Mahina: I’m all over the place. But I try to eat clean. I love going to farmer’s markets and eating fresh, organic foods. I avoid a lot of starchy carbs like breads and pastas.
Still Stoked: With everything that is going on in the year 2020, what is the biggest social issue affecting you and your life right now?
Mahina: I try to avoid the news actually. What I do get passionate about is what is going on locally. I feel strongly about protecting the Hawaiians and their way of life. Especially with the Mauna Kea. I don’t go too nuts as an activist but I will make my voice heard. I do try to avoid politics when I can.
Still Stoked: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Mahina: Still competing and charging. I just want to get better at what I’m doing. I also want to buy a house here on the North Shore.
Still Stoked: You’ve surfed the best waves all over the world. What is your favorite?
Mahina: I love Fiji, Restaurants and Couldbreak. It’s such a versatile wave. From maneuvers to barrels to charging big waves, it just gives you that thrill.
Still Stoked: Do you prefer giant hacks or big barrels?
Still Stoked: You are twenty-two and have already learned so much in life. What kind of relationship advice do you have for people your age?
Mahina: Well I’ve had some relationships but I’m young, I’m not in a rush. I would definitely say to find a partner who is just as driven as you so you can inspire each other.
I think that it is a waste of time to think about the past or hope for the future. What you do here and now is the most important.
Still Stoked: What is your best advice for anyone, surfer or not, who wants to be successful and happy in life who is reading this?
Mahina: I am learning from some of my reading and podcasts to really be present. I like Thich Nhat Han’s podcast a lot. I think that it is a waste of time to think about the past or hope for the future. What you do here and now is the most important. If I’m ever feeling out of place or don’t know what I want I turn to teachings like this.
On that note, Mahina was off to go call Moana, planning their afternoon surf. We dumped our compostable smoothie cups in the compost bin and jumped on bikes to go see how the afternoon trades were affecting the waves.
I’ll definitely be watching Mahina’s Instagram closely to see those Jaws photos coming through this winter. Best of luck to you Mahina Maeda in your 2021 Olympic pursuit!