We caught up with Cathy Harding, winner of the 2016 Salt Life Big Wave Challenge for this week’s Spotlight Interview.
Winning the SLBWC is a legendary accomplishment for any Floridian surfer, but especially for a woman from the Gulf Coast. You were captured navigating a giant wall of water from Hurricane Hermine on September 1, 2016, at the Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier, claiming obvious victory in this big wave contest.
How did that feel, when you found out you’d just won so much money and notoriety from simply doing what you love to do?
I was floored. I was absolutely floored. I entered the contest on a lark. I thought it was a popularity contest for the most likes and entered because of that. Really, it was the best, biggest wave that had ever been captured with me on it, and I was proud of it! Ha! I was drawn to the contest by your [911surfreport.com’s] posts of Kayla [Durden]. However, I never really thought I’d win! Earning money for having fun was so cool. I’ve never been one for contests because I feel like it takes the fun out of surfing. I really never thought I’d make money and have a blast at the same time! I had no idea I had won when we drove over from Pensacola. My mom, dad, husband and kids all took the trip to Jax with me not even knowing if I won. So, it was totally a dream of an adventure! The money made Christmas pretty sweet!!
How long have you been surfing?
I have been surfing for 15 years. During that time I got married and had two kids. It was definitely hard to have two Littles and still fit in surfing. Thank God my husband is just as surf obsessed as I am, and we made it work by trading off on the beach. We love that the kids are older and we can surf together again, and now the kids paddle out with us! I have always been a sponger. I was no stranger to hold-downs and sand rash. I got my first surfboard at age 7 (a Strickland fish from Fernandina Beach), but after it almost broke my nose in the Fernandina shore break, I waited until I was 20 to start again. I went straight to longboarding and never looked back.
Tell us about raising your children so hands-on in this lifestyle. Were they stoked when you won this huge award?
My kids are always stoked! But yes, they were stoked. They were actually on the pier during the Hermine swell. It was too big for my son and so he took my daughter on the pier. I could hear them cheering all of the surfers on at the end of the pier. They saw my wave and were next to the photographer that took the picture. So, they were REALLY excited when we found out I won! My son would even stalk the Salt Life website and compare all the submissions to mine haha. I’d get a daily update from him.
My kids are in homeschool. We have been living the free life for a year now! My son has been home for three years and this is my daughter’s first year home. We surf and adventure as much as possible. Actually, we are about to embark on our greatest adventure yet! We are selling all our belongings and moving into a 5th wheel to travel the country and surf up and down the West Coast. We are just a few months out from this adventure. It’s scary and thrilling all at once! I’m so happy to be able to have this time with my family as our kids are teenagers, and won’t be children much longer.
You and your husband have been running Pensacolasurf.com for quite a few years. What are you near future plans with the site?
We have run a surf report for almost 5 years now (5 years March 27). It has been fun! We started without a Webcam. We went to the beach three times per day for a full year, took pictures and reported on the surf. It sounds like the life, it IS the life, but its a lot of work. I used to have to take pics and run back into town to Starbucks to upload them. We ended up saving enough money to invest in a surf cam. It’s the only cam in the area that only looks at the surf. That made life so much easier when it comes to reporting on the surf. We love this site. It was our dream for the area. We would spend hours dreaming. Now that it is up and doing its thing, we feel like it’s time for us to move on. We are currently selling our site because of our 5th Wheel adventure. However, we are being super picky who well sell it to because it’s all about the stoke. We just want our community to stay stoked. It’s hard surfing on the Gulf. The conditions change hourly here. The winds can change and clean up or tear down the surf within minutes. We have the only live weather station on the Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier, and that was my baby. My husband wanted the cam, but I wanted the weather station! The community here is small and close-knit. Whoever buys the site will continue on our tradition of passing on the stoke, I’m sure of it!
What’s important to you besides the obvious friends and family?
That’s it. I love my family, and my friends are my family. I want to pack in so much time with my kids right now. I guess that’s the most important thing to me at this moment. I have the rest of my life to pursue my heart’s desires when my kids move out and find their own lives. Right now my heart’s desire is to love my family, really get to know my kids, and let my kids really get to know me and my husband, and to make a heck of a lot of memories while we are doing this.
And about that wave… wow. Were you scared? That’s a lot of water.
I’ve always loved to look my fear in the eye. I guess that’s why I love surfing. There have been so many times my mind has said no and I charged anyway. That’s what happened with this wave. I sat out there, watching the swells get bigger and bigger. The storm surf was still trying to make it to us, so the cleanup sets kept getting farther and farther out. I was well past the end of the pier. What was equally as intimidating as the waves, was the number of people watching me. The whole lineup was on inside of me. The most consistent waves were farther inside, and more top to bottom. The eyes watching were my friends, naysayers, and all the people watching from the pier. You stick out when you are the farthest person out, but you stick out even more because you are a woman. My head was telling me not to drop in, because of the fear of bouncing down the face of the wave with all those eyes watching. I also could have hurt someone if I didn’t make that wave because it would have washed me through the lineup full of people. But my heart said *bleep* fear, who cares if you are embarrassed, what if it’s awesome… Ha! And it was!
Cathy, thank you so much for sharing with us! You are showing how magical motherhood and the surfing lifestyle combined can be, continuing the stoke and the aloha for our future generations.