Hailing from the palm-fringed volcanic rock of Kauai, a few years ago the surfer/model had more Instagram followers than the inhabitants of that island, which is about 70,000. But these days, her following of 1.5 million has actually eclipsed the entire population of all of Hawaii.
Appearing in Sports Illustrated‘s Swimsuit Issue may have thrown a few followers her way. Consider that Kelly Slater, the most celebrated surfer to dig his feet into wax, trails Blanchard with 1.3 million followers.
This month, Blanchard released a video webisode called “La Mariposa.” It has beautiful wildlife, beautiful scenery, beautiful music, beautiful waves and, as one of those 1.5 million followers is sure to point out, a beautiful subject. Blanchard is, after all, easy on the eyes.
“I try not to pay attention to social media in that way,” Blanchard tells GrindTV. “It tends to take over your life. When I was younger, I was like every other girl. You want boys to look at you. But I try not to let it affect me.”
Because whether the comments are appreciative or derogatory, the conversation around Blanchard has always been about looks.
Sponsored by Rip Curl, Blanchard came up through the ranks and qualified for the 16-woman WSL World Championship Tour in 2009, but then did the on-again/off-again dance for a few years. Simply being on such an elite tour was unwavering justification that she was first and foremost a surfer — and, clearly, a very talented one. For every smug comment about how she was just a sex symbol, she could lay down a rail and silence the critics (or as much as any keyboard hero can be silenced.)
But it took its toll.
“Doing both just stressed me out. I was competing on Tour and modeling five campaigns, including Rip Curl. And I’m not even really a competitive person. It was too much to prepare my body as an athlete and then look good for a photo shoot right after,” she says.
Last year she fell off the Tour, and this year she’s done only two qualifying events, effectively retiring from that part of her career to focus on the modeling and fashion side.
“I always loved wearing bikinis. Sometimes I would wear bikinis that weren’t Rip Curl, and finally they just said, ‘Let’s do a line of bikinis under your name that you can design, so you’ll always want to wear them,” she explains. “They do really well and it’s cool when you see a girl wearing that suit.”
The reality is that there aren’t a lot of career options for women who surf beyond the competitive realm. While the last 15 years have seen the rise of professional freesurfing for men, that option doesn’t exist for females. Without donning a jersey at the top level, they can’t depend on sponsors to keep paying them.
Designing the “My Bikini” line and modeling have given Blanchard a new career — and, yes, that social following certainly plays into it.
It has all been part of a running debate: How much should women’s surfing’s prosperity depend on posteriors? Women should not have to market themselves on anything more than their talent. No athlete should have to worry about gaining a few pounds of muscle at the risk of losing acceptance. Are we focusing on arcing turns or ass cleft?
But at the same time, these are women in phenomenal physical shape. And they’re wearing swimsuits … because that’s what you wear when you surf. Women’s surfing is a collection of good-looking bodies free of surgical enhancement; why should that not be appreciated in a respectful way?
“I used to read all the comments and wonder if I was a joke. But I learned to not pay attention to the haters. Just because someone writes something, doesn’t mean it’s true. I want to encourage girls to do what makes them happy. You can be an athlete and still be sexy,” Blanchard says. “I want to tell everyone to just calm down. Girls wear bikinis at the beach.”
And as Blanchard matures into a role she is comfortable in, her surfing is only getting better. That’s generally what the video above, shot in Mexico as part of a series filmed and edited by Mikey Mallalieu, is all about.
The first film trip was to the Maldives (Indian Ocean), shooting mostly scenics in the cerulean-blue sea.
“That was more lifestyle for girls to watch, to be inspired by the healthy, natural lifestyle and good times with your friends. This one is all surfing and people seem to like them,” Blanchard adds.
It’s part of her own campaign to prove that she’s more than just an Instagram celebrity.
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