Malia Ward is not afraid to take on the competition

Malia Ward knows what she wants – a life as a professional surfer, uncompromisingly hers. And she’s not afraid to fight for it.

To excel as a competitive surfer, you have to have a thick skin. Not just for the damage you can do to your body during wipeouts, but to beat the competition to paddle the best waves. It’s a performance Malia Ward embodied to earn her stripes in the lineup.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I dreamed of surfing,” Malia recalls. “During my sleep, I imagined falling into a wave. Like falling into a dream, surfing and feeling so free.”

Malia is the daughter of Chris Ward – a pro surfer known for his wild behavior in and out of the surf. Both in their late teens at birth, Malia grew up with young parents and learned great life lessons from some of her father’s mistakes. Malia recalls the couple often surfing in tandem in San Onofre for her birthdays growing up. With surfing in her blood, Malia dedicated herself to competitive surfing from the age of 11.

“My identity as a surfer started very young,” adds Malia. “I really came into my own surfing Lowers, my homebreak in San Clemente.”

Lower Trestles, just a few miles from San Clemente, is an iconic break that is set to host the 2022 Ripcurl WSL Finals this September. Described as one of the most powerful waves in the world, it is known for reliably handling both storm and wind waves.

Often referred to as San Clemente’s surfing gem, Lower Trestles attracts a crowded lineup of world-class surfers hoping to catch the ride of a lifetime. Of course, the environment can get competitive, with just a few waves and an abundance of surfing talent desperate to ride them. Here surf etiquette goes out the window, and only the fittest don’t get their waves meandering.

“I’d surf and paddle around with all the guys and I’d love to be taken advantage of just because I’m a girl,” Malia recalls. “At Lowers everyone is aggressively trying to get their waves. You have to be selfish out there to catch waves, but that’s not how I wanted to understand surfing. I didn’t want to have to be selfish. I want to let the waves come to me and be friendly with everyone. But I realized I was being politely paddled around and run over.”

“It kindled a fire in my heart that has always been there. Instead of whining or complaining about it, I started fighting for my waves and became a stronger, more confident surfer. I don’t let this stereotype of women surfing get me down. I became a wave pig and people started asking me about waves so I started realizing who I was.”

Malia Ward made her name by literally protecting her waves

Malia isn’t afraid to own her waves. She gained media attention at the age of 16 when she pushed Gabriel Medina, the Brazilian three-time WSL world champion, off a wave while he was visiting her in Lowers.

“I shared a wave with another surfer – a legend. He wanted to go left and I wanted to go right. It was already set up. Then Medina just appears out of nowhere on the side and just tries to cut us both off, take the wave and then go left. I didn’t see him until the last second when I showed up. I didn’t want him to cross my path. As a reflex, I put my hands up and he kind of entered me and it worked perfectly.

The YouTube video, which captures Malia’s push with ease and grace, set the tone for her performance on ABC’s first and only season Ultimate Surferwhere she was dubbed a “savage” by television critics for her reckless behavior at Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch in central California, arguably the world’s most famous wave pool.

“Kelly Slater’s wave is a lot faster than a regular ocean wave, so it’s almost like there’s more pressure to just perform and make it happen,” says Malia. “But the ocean requires much more patience. You have to wait for the right swell, the right wind conditions and many variables that come into the ocean that make you be more patient. That’s why it’s so special when it’s good, because it’s not always good.”

Before the show began, Malia had an ongoing rivalry with fellow teenage surfer Tia Blanco in San Clemente. This was only exacerbated by the events of the show, which played their long-running feud in favor of network ratings. But as Malia develops a competitive nature, she has also learned to be herself without compromise. By developing a resilience strong enough to keep even world-class surfers from weaving her into the lineup, Malia has been able to focus on maintaining her love of surfing and not taking herself too seriously.

“We have one life and I don’t intend to waste it on not being myself, and neither should you. People surf the web these days like they’re stuck in traffic. It’s about the mindset. If you paddle out knowing the traffic will already be there, you can either choose to hate it and have a miserable time, or you can choose to enjoy it and do it in your own way for fun do.”

“Now when I surf, I don’t hold back my feelings or anything. If I want to be weird like wearing dramatically colored wetsuits, kimonos and cowboy hats while surfing or try and switch a different stance, I can do that. I surf as it makes me happy. I love creating and doing different things to make surfing fun in new ways. I get into a flow state where I am myself and then good things happen.”

As surfing has grown exponentially in recent years, the number of women in the lineup has also increased. A new concept for OG surfers like Malia.

“I’m not used to seeing other women in the water,” says Malia. “But it’s really cool to see more women surfing. Women may compete, but we want our rivals to win too. It’s so important to be happy when other women win and happy when they succeed. Because it will flow back to you. You will be successful and other people will be happy for you.”

Since the conclusion of the first and only season of the ultimate surfer, Malia has been working on various projects including creating content for her YouTube channel, producing music and creating art that she hopes to showcase in a gallery in the near future and has recently teamed up with JOLYN on her new surfwear line teamed up.

“I tested her new surf collection in Hawaii. I wore this really pretty orange floral swimsuit to one of my favorite surf sessions I’ve ever had, stopping by for some really big waves. Their pieces are made from Seeflex fabric made from fishing nets and discarded nylon, so they’re made responsibly. The water in California is still pretty cold, so I still wear a wetsuit on my home break.”

But Malia’s main focus for the future is to use her platform and passion for surfing as a force for good.

“I’m realizing more and more that I have these skills and this passion, which I’m pretty good at and I’m established. So what’s the next step? I worked on myself to find out. But I think my mission is to help other people. Because I taught people how to surf and loved seeing the smiles on their faces. That makes me so happy.”

“I use surfing to help me with pain, whether physical or mental. Surfing has always healed me and I think the sea really does heal naturally. I’m working on a few projects and they have to do with women’s empowerment, fitness and healing through the ocean. So keep an eye on this room.”

“It’s important to do what you love, so don’t forget to smile. Smile goes far. They are in a way like the waves themselves, beyond the ocean.” Malia Ward is not afraid to take on the competition

John Verrall

John Verrall is a 24ssports U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. John Verrall joined 24ssports in 2021 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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