At ten years old, bright blue-eyed and blonde haired Rachel Tanaka could be found on the shores of Southampton Long Island. On a west coast-styled fiber-glass short board she stole from her older cousin, Tanaka crafted her future, wave after wave.
“You’re really ostracized for the most part, especially when you’re ten,” Tanaka said.
Day after day Tanaka perfected her skills while trying to hold her own in a line up of local surfers way beyond her years.
“I grew up surfing alone because I was a chick and none of my friends were surfers,” Tanaka said. “I taught some of my friends, but none of them got into the sport like I did.”
Tanaka, a Stony Brook junior majoring in marine vertebrae biology, finds herself almost a decade later surfing all across Long Island year round as well as Costa Rica and Florida and is sponsored by companies like EVA Bikini and Rasta Surf Cult.
She is originally from Mastic Beach, but spends most of her time going from Montauk to East Hampton to Southampton to chase waves in her blue Ford pick up truck whenever she has the chance.
Tanaka describes herself as a traditional “goofy footed” surfer, “goofy” meaning she rides with her right foot-forward as opposed to the more common left foot forward.
She duck dives into hurricane, nor’easter and blizzard waves with a unique excitement she does not get anywhere else.
She even faced Hurricane Joaquin this past fall.
“Of course you get scared but that’s what makes it better when you get a good ride.” Tanaka said.
Tanaka has been to Costa Rica to surf twice now and plans to go again she describes it as “beautiful isolation.” She went into the farmland and recalls being surrounded by only lush forest and dirt.
“Surfing takes you a lot of places that you would not have gone,” Tanaka said.
Tanaka said she has always debated competing. However, she feels competition takes away from the true love of the sport.
She said she would not be the person she is today if she never stole her cousin’s surfboard years ago.
Tanaka would never care about the ocean as much as she does or have the patience she has.
“You need it, you don’t know why you need it,” Tanaka said, “I need it when I just had the crappiest year ever, I need a wave, when I just had a bad test, I need a wave.”
She said she is so lucky to have found surfing at the age that she has and plans to surf her entire life.
“If I put in my time I will get what I want to get out of surfing. I am already getting what I want out of it, I am happy,” Tanaka said. “I am my own entity of surfing I don’t need to blend in anymore.”