In the world of professional surfing, big wave riders and world tour surfers are usually split into two different camps. But there are those who have been part of each. It's not easy to be doing intense training and tracking purple blobs around the world while still being able to kick fins free in a California contest.
Keala Kennelly retired from the ASP Women's World Tour in 2007, citing a lack of critical waves to keep her interested. She did a stint on HBO's "John From Cincinnati" and has continued to put in heroic performances in the biggest wave venues around the Pacific. The weekend before last she showed up in Oceanside to surf the Bud Light Lime Surf Series and took second. And this is the first time ESPN Surfing has gotten to talk to Kennelly since a downright hideous reef-to-head injury at Teahupoo last August, intense surgery, and recovery.
ESPN: It was nice to see you mixing it up at Oside. When was the last time you competed?
Keala Kennelly: The last time I competed was actually in Betty Depolito's Pipe contest in March. I always try to come out and support Betty because does a lot for women's surfing. It had been such an amazing January/February season at Pipeline and I had gotten so many good waves during that time that I was super hopeful that Betty would finally score some good waves for her event. Unfortunately, there was a northeast storm front that moved in during her contest window and it rained for 10 days straight with bad winds. She ended up having to run the event in some really poor conditions at Ehukai Beach Park. So that was my last contest I surfed in, the contest before that was the Big Wave Event I won at Nelscott Reef in Oregon in 2010.
ESPN: Yeah, that was some event. When was the last time you competed in performance/smaller waves?
It was probably the last Bud Light Lime event at Churches. I was still bouncing back from a really bad knee injury at the time so I was not on my game in that event. I know everybody knows me as a big wave charger but I surf smaller waves all the time. I definitely get more of a rush from surfing big waves but I get a lot of pleasure from boosting airs, blasting through the lip and pulling into barrels on fun-sized waves.
Are you fully recovered from the brutal injury at Teahupoo?
Yes, I would say that I am... and don't worry, I just want to assure everybody that my accident didn't knock any sense into me at all. I am still going to be out there rushing big waves and trying to get barreled because that is not only what I do ... it's who I am.
That's great to know. What was it like putting on a jersey again and stoking up the competitive fire?
You know, I didn't expect much from myself going into this event but when I won the first final and had a good lead going into the second double-elimination final I definitely wanted to win the whole event and when I slipped from first to second in the last few minutes to eventual contest winner, Kyla Langdon, it did get my competitive fire sparked a little bit.
Anything else we can expect to see from you?
I'm just looking forward to an awesome summer of traveling, surfing and DJ'ing. I don't really like to talk about things too much before I do them in case it doesn't happen, but you can definitely expect to see me chasing a Southern-Hemi swell somewhere this summer.