I meet Kassia for the first time in a Venice Beach cafe, where she hugs me like an old friend. Sun-streaked hair, tan skin, deep California twang—it’s clear she grew up on the west coast, in the water. A professional surfer since age 17, Kassia was a sponsored surfer with Roxy and Swatch (among others), until she decided to leave professional surfing to start her own thing. After parting with Roxy, she launched her own women’s active wear brand rooted in surf lifestyle, KASSIA+SURF: focusing on freedom and empowerment. I’m always enamored by people like Kassia who seem to flow through life, yet when you learn more about them, realize that their lives are still a result of deliberate choices, despite their chill exterior. This is Kassia’s story on life in and out of the water, and how the two are closely connected.
“I feel the best when I’m in the water. It’s like a cellular reset. It feels like home. When I get too wrapped up in the day to day world, driving in traffic, going from one meeting to the next, jamming on emails and drinking too much caffeine, the water pulls me back into my body and back to the earth. It’s a form of meditation—there’s no time to think about whatever’s bothering you on land, it forces presence. You have to be aware of what’s happening in front of you at that time. It’s the best way for me to focus.
I didn’t grow up on the beach. I grew up in the valley, so surfing was something that I romanticized. It was something I was so drawn to, but I didn’t get into it because I wanted to do it professionally. It was a language I understood, something inside of me that I couldn’t quit. The minute the saltwater was in me, it took over. For me, school never felt right. I felt like I was in a straight jacket—I couldn’t handle the structure. I’ve always been the free-spirit in my family. I started surfing because it was the only thing that made sense to me at the time. Once my parents saw the hugely positive effect it had on me, they let me pursue it. I became good at surfing pretty quickly because I was fanatical about it. By the time I graduated high school, I had already been surfing professionally for about a year and a half and was making enough money to put gas in my car, get a few trips paid for, get me fed and to the beach. I never took my SATs, and once school finished I decided I was going to go to Australia, buy a car, live in it, and see what was up with this whole surfing thing. I’m so grateful my parents were supportive. I feel like my travels were a big part of my schooling. Traveling helped me read people, energy, subtleties, listen to my intuition—which is what surfing’s all about. It’s about following your instincts, and it takes you out of reasoning and into feeling. Which is to me a huge part of life.
René Descartes said, ‘We think therefore we are,’ but I think we are because we feel. Our experiences make us—not our minds.
When we’re young, we think anything is possible. Then people start saying, ‘Good luck with that. You’re freaking dreaming.’ But why wouldn’t I want to dream? Of course I’m dreaming. That’s what we’re here for, right? We’re here to experience and feel and to turn our dreams into reality. One of the reasons I surf is that I’m able to inspire people to do the same in their lives—to live boldly, and follow your passion—whatever that means to you.
The minute someone tells you that you can’t, forget about them.
It’s human condition to second-guess ourselves at times and to wonder. If there was no space for inquiry with what we’re doing, then we wouldn’t try to further ourselves. But alongside second-guessing, we also have faith, and believing in ourselves. With surfing, I didn’t really second guess or question—I just put my head down and dove in. There was no fear or expectation attached to it. Part of that was because I was young—I believed in myself and that anything was possible. It came from such a strong place inside of me, and I was fortunate to have my family believe in me too. Surfing gave me a lot of the framework that has always helped me navigate life. The minute you start thinking too much about it, you’re going to eat shit. The minute you question, ‘Should I drop in on this wave?’ that fear creeps in and you’re not going to catch it, or go over the falls. I’m grateful I learned how to follow my instinct at such a young age.
I’ve always had an open-minded approach to life. Surf culture is such a family in itself. When I started traveling as a teenager, people who I’d never met before would say, ‘Oh, you need to go here. You’ve got to stay with this person.’ I’ve always embraced that energy in terms of being open to what’s in front of me. When you’re open, anything is possible. When you’re closed or too rigid, that’s when you break. I prefer to follow Bruce Lee’s words—to be like water, and flow through every situation as best as you can. Sometimes you hit rocky patches, but that’s part of life. The rapids might get wild, but to be constantly open and moving is how I always want to exist. And whenever we meet friction, it’s an opportunity for growth. There’s a quote that I always go back to, ‘Our thoughts become our words, our words become our actions, our actions become our reality.’ I totally feel that. I think if you’re living in flow, things will pop up and you learn how to embrace all of it, the good and the bad. We can look at anything as a challenge or an opportunity.
It always goes back to how we choose to see our lives.
We don’t always get to choose what happens outside of ourselves, but we always have a choice within ourselves. Like water, the tide rises and the tide goes out. Like breath, the complete cycle is give and take—we have to hold space for both sides of it. To hold space for the entire experience requires a lot of grace, acceptance, and a lot of openness around the fact that something may seem like the worst thing ever, but you don’t know where it’s taking you. We’re all human. We are going to have days where we think, ‘What am I doing? Am I doing the right thing?’ If you didn’t have those thoughts it would be weird. Meditation really helps me with getting back to neutral. It helps me to choose how I see everything that comes my way.
With KASSIA+SURF:, I got to a point where I just wasn’t comfortable being part of a big corporation. I’m still so grateful for the opportunity I was given at a young age to travel the world and follow my dreams of surfing—to learn from the multitude of people, cultures and experiences I had on the road. And as I grew and evolved so did my passions, dreams and goals. It was time for something different for surfing and surf culture, it was time to create high quality functional pieces by women for women in a conscious way. I needed to be able to look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘You’re creating from the most intentionally aligned place and speaking from your heart to the world.’ We’ve been in business for just over a year, and I spent about two years incubating it from that place of intention—thinking, ‘What’s important to me? What do I stand for? How are we going to do it better for us and for the planet?’ For instance, we’re making a petroleum based product, so how do we offset that? How do we keep wetsuits out of landfills? We’re about to launch a wetsuit recycling program and I’m super excited. You send us your old suits and we give you money for a new one. We’re literally paying you to not throw your wetsuit away.
When I was working with those bigger companies, I had to be filtered to some degree. I’m 34 now, and I don’t want to be filtered. I want to stand behind what I believe in and get it out in the world. I think it’s our responsibility to pay information forward. I see how conscious some kids in that younger generation are—they’re cutting up their old wetsuits and resewing them, and I’m like, ‘Heck yeah!’ It’s important to inspire and encourage the future generations, to show that it’s totally possible to do your own thing, to think different and live bold. I think a lot of people have fantastic intentions, but the world doesn’t make it easy to stand up for what you believe in. Sometimes you have to choose to take what seems like a more difficult road, but by doing so you liberate yourself and allow yourself huge opportunity to evolve, inspiring others by doing so. The time is now.
It’s kind of of scary in that dark room where we can’t see things clearly. But it’s as simple as choosing to turn on the light.
By choosing, we empower ourselves.
By choosing, we’re saying that we believe in ourselves, and we’re going to be fine. I think a lot of people are realizing that now, and making those shifts in their lives. Go through feeling, not through reason, and choose for yourself rather. I know that’s contrary to what most of us were taught, but your path becomes clearer by feeling your way. You define your path through your actions and through your choices. When you live your truth, you’re empowering yourself, and others by doing so. The whole universe is going to have your back, because you’re choosing for you.”