Interview with Carol Phillips: Surf Legend, Environmentalist, and the FIRST woman to compete against men at Banzai Pipeline
Winter has finally hit North Shore, O’ahu which means waves are growing and it may get difficult to pull Carol Phillips away from the water, whether it be for her own enjoyment or her job teaching surfing through her business, North Shore Surf Girls. Entrepreneur is only one thing on the list of Carol’s attributes, this vegan business owner shredded waves as the first ever woman to compete against men in the Pipeline Body Boarding Competition. Furthermore she paved a path for women in the sport of surfing.
I am honored to talk to her about her achievements in both her career and her personal life.
Written & Interviewed by Becca Cristillo
First can you talk to me about the difference between surfing and body boarding for those who might be a little more new to water sports?
So body boarding is an evolution of paipo boarding, a traditional Hawaiian sport and that board is made of a wooden material. So you don’t stand up with body boarding and in the modern style people wear fins. But the new materials used in body boards and surf boards are actually highly pollutant. That’s actually something Kelly Slater is working on.
Surf is then obviously standing. Catching a wave on a surfboard is actually easier, it’s easier to teach surf too that’s why it’s what I teach with my surf school instead of body boarding. It’s the buoyancy, the buoyancy is so different.
And which do you personally prefer?
Oh it depends on the wave. Smaller waves I prefer to go out on the long board, for bigger waves the body board. Today I was out on 6ft Hawaiian (*writer’s note: roughly 12ft waves for anyone who doesn’t know the Hawaiian scale) so I was body boarding. Pre technology though, you don’t know what waves are like until the morning now just go over to surfline and they have cameras on everything.
That makes sense, it’s kind of like in the movie Blue Crush, they’d call the man up who was on the beach every morning to ask how the waves were!
Yes, pretty much just like that. It was a childlike excitement to run to check or if you heard the thunder the night before you’d know a swell was coming in.
You played a role in Blue Crush didn’t you?
A small role in Blue Crush; I was the event director and I had a scene with the lead where I handed her her rash guard and said a couple witty comments. They actually shot half the contest scenes during the Pipe Masters which I was organizing the real contest as the scenes for the movie were being shot.
So speaking of contests, I’ve read that you were the first woman to compete against men at Banzai Pipeline, how does it feel having that label under your belt and how did you manage to get into a position where you were able to do that?
When I was younger I competed martial arts, and competed with horseback riding, I have a competitive sprit. I don’t want to be better but I have to be at least as good as everyone else. It wasn’t hard to get into that position, there was no question about if I could join the competition. They had seen me so they didn’t have any concern about my being able to be out there and really didn’t have any grounds to say no.
That’s amazing that you seemed to prove yourself out there before even competing. Do you think you’ve faced any adversity or extra challenges in this sport because of being a woman?
Not really from the other people out on the water but the adversity started with the permit to get a women's event in a prime time spot, because you know, it’s women. There were court cases that I was at fighting for these competitions but the city backed us up.
After that I was more consistent advocating for more women's events, you still see it though, there were no top tier pro women's events on North Shore this past winter.
Women also have a lack of sponsorship but that one is both because of COVID and the surf industry is male dominated. With annual contest calendars I have seen the guys freak out that the women got a competition, they think they deserve those prime time slot waves. Luckily the city moved to 3 year permits which means women didn’t have to fight every year, just every three years.
I’m also advocating to get the women's triple crown of surfing held on the North Shore. What else, sometimes they wont put the women’s names even in the websites when they win titles so I go in and edit like the wiki pages to add the women, they deserve that recognition.
The adversity is more passive aggressive against women.
They just wanted us to be a little bit less, they want bigger waves, better and more time, better conditions. You have to fight for your spot as a woman.
What accomplishment do you feel most proud of?
My biggest accomplishment is getting more barrels now than before, I’m still improving and they’re so entertaining to watch.
I also started my own surf school modeled after the one in Blue Crush, North Shore Surf Girls. I started it about 10 years ago. I love getting to work on the beach and share surfing with people too.
Wow 10 years ago, congratulations on that. So did you grow up in Hawai’i?
Yes, I moved from California when I was 3 years old with a hippie mom, my twin sister, and brother. Moved around a bit on the island and when I was 14 started coming to North Shore to ride horses and was basically drafted into bodyboarding up here by someone. My brother did it so I wanted to learn. It was that competitiveness, but yeah always been here.
How has growing up here influenced your care for the environment?
I credit my mother more than Hawai’i, we grew up organic and vegetarian. Maybe a little but to the island, but definitely my mother was my influence.
Are you making choices in your own life that are better for the environment?
Thrifting, I’ve been loving thrifting lately. I put solar electricity on my house, it would have been nice if they put solar everywhere. Our trash went down by at least two thirds when we started plant based diet, vegan saying is nothing packaged nothing processed.
I’m starting to switch to plastic free too.
I wanna say to people, ‘It’s action people, people really need to take action and every decision you make it’s the same for the environment you know?’
Yes! I know you’ve been using our conditioner bar so I have to ask, how are you liking the NOAP conditioner bar?
Oh my gosh, I love it. It’s the best. Being in the water and sun all the time, have to make sure you don’t fry your hair!!
Thank you Carol for being so generous with your time and for truly loving our Trifecta bars. We are so proud to help protect your locks!
Please visit Carol's Instagram page to stay up to date: @northshoresurfgirls
And please check out the website for her surf school! https://northshoresurfgirls.com/
The NOAP Team