Meet the 15-Year-Old Surfer Aiming to Inspire Young Women to Follow Their Passions

haley otto
Courtesy of @will_is_dakine

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Haley Otto wasn’t originally positioned to become a surfer. But in 2010, the stars aligned and her family moved to Oahu, Hawaii where seven-year-old Otto was exposed to the magical sport of surfing.

By the following year, she had already dropped into her first wave and quickly became a regular in the Queens lineup.

Fast forward nine years and Otto is living out her dream, competing on the WSL Women’s Longboard Tour at just fifteen years old. As a first-generation surfer in her family, she has truly forged her own path, and through her surfing, hopes to inspire other young women to follow their dreams, regardless of their age.

We caught up with Otto between waves and asked what it’s like being one of the youngest competitors on the Women’s Longboard Tour, how she balances school and surfing, and her dream of someday becoming a world champ.

haley otto
Courtesy of Will Walling (@will_is_dakine)

What sparked your passion for surfing?

I started surfing when I was eight years old – it looked fun and I wanted to try. I was hooked after catching my first wave! I originally started on a shortboard; I just loved how it felt to catch waves.

Most of the pro surfers I know come from generations and generations of surfers. I am the first one in my family to not only surf competitively but to just surf. My little brother and sister like to freesurf for fun but my parents don’t surf. I think it’s kind of cool and that sets me apart from some other surfers.

How do you balance surfing, school, and being a regular teenager?

I do a private online school called Enlightium Academy. It’s very flexible, completely online, and the teachers respect that surfing is my passion. I’m a sophomore this year and manage to be on the Dean’s List. I typically surf during the day when the waves are good then do my schoolwork in the evenings. My close friends are all surfers, so we do our regular teenage stuff at the beach.

haley otto
Courtesy of roxface

What have been some of your top contest results to date? 

I am really proud of winning Nationals at the age of 14 – it was such an amazing feeling. I actually didn’t realize I won until after I was on the beach and my friends were chairing me up. After winning that, I decided to join the WSL.

I also have been happy with my results in the Vans Duct Tape Invitational this year. In Huntington Beach, California I got 4th place and won $2,000, and in New York I took 3rd place and won $6,000. I use that money to help me travel to my next destination.

How’s your first year on tour going?

I am one of the youngest competitors, but I just wanted to try. Being a part of the WSL has opened so many doors for me and being able to travel the world and surf has been a dream of mine since I started surfing. I’m off to Taiwan in just a couple of weeks for last stop of WSL for this year.

What is it like traveling with and competing against your friends?

I love traveling with my friends and experiencing new parts of the world. It’s awesome because we all grew up surfing in Waikiki together and now we get to travel to different countries together. Competing against friends is hard – maybe it will get easier someday.

haley otto
Courtesy of Will Walling (@will_is_dakine)

You’ve started competing on the tour at such a young age. Why shouldn’t age define when you can (or should) start pursuing your dreams?

I was lucky to find my passion at such a young age. My parents supported me 100%. They never pushed me or forced me to surf. I surfed because that is what made me happy. That’s one thing I love most about surfing and competing – when you feel ready, you are ready.

What’s it like seeing so many young women competing on the tour and excelling?

It’s motivating!

How do you think seeing young ladies like yourself and others on the tour will shape young girls’ views on competitive surfing?

I know a lot of young girls look up to us. I want to be a good role model for them. It’s not always about winning; it’s about the entire experience.

haley otto
Courtesy of Will Walling (@will_is_dakine)

What advice would you offer to young girls interested in pursuing a career in surfing?

Have fun! Smile and continue to get an education.

Which female surfers do you most admire and why?

I admire Kelia Moniz. She has the most amazing attitude when she is in and out of the water. She always looks like she is having fun and living in the moment. She is classy and has a beautiful style of surfing.

How would you describe your style?

Clean, classic, and poised.

What are your goals looking forward?

My ultimate goal is to win a world title one day! I’m young and still have lots to learn, but one day.

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