Tatiana Weston-Webb qualified for the WSL Championship Tour last year, at 18. The fiery blonde was born in Brazil to a former pro bodyboarder, then grew up in Kauai. In 2015 she finished in the Top 10 -- a formidable feat for a rookie. And along the way she developed a reputation as a fearless surfer who thrived in bigger waves (see: her barrel in France last fall) and an outspoken proponent of running more women's heats in heavier conditions.
Today, three events into the young season, she's already sitting in the No. 4 spot on the rankings, and heading back to Brazil for the Oi Rio Pro, where (with her own reality show) she's considered a hometown hero. Weston-Webb opened up about her expectations for this year.
WSL: How do you feel about your start to this year?
Tatiana Weston-Webb: Gosh, at the beginning of the year I was really stressed out about how well I was going to perform and whether I was going to follow up my performance from last year. It was doing bad things, and I wasn't in the place that I wanted to be. And, actually, I took a little bit of time to get back into my zone and re-set after Snapper. Going into Bells I felt a lot more calm and confident because I hadn't put as much pressure on myself.
I was really stressed out about whether I was going to follow up my performance from last year.
I brought that momentum to Margaret River and got the same result there. It was a huge eye-opener, like that's how I should approach every heat, with this kind of mindset.
WSL: Is it almost harder coming back to your second year on Tour because you had such a solid year one?
TWW: For sure. I felt 100 times more of a weight on my shoulders than I had going into my first year because there are expectations. Then I realized, it was actually funny -- Ashtyn Douglas interviewed me for Surfer at the beginning of the start of the season, the article came out around that time. In it, I talked about seeing other surfers getting burnt out and trying to keep things fun and I thought, ‘Woah, I said that?' It gave me a reality check. It brought me back. I humbled myself, shut my mind up and surfed and that's exactly what I needed.
WSL: You travel mostly with your mother and sometimes your father during the year. Is your mom also your coach?
TWW: She's not so much my coach as she is my mother. She'll tell me when I do something wrong, even when I don't think so, but she's not my coach in terms of telling me what to do or giving me ideas on how to surf a heat. I do all those things myself. It's kind of a dangerous route to go now, in my opinion, because if my parents started being my coaches, I'm definitely not going to listen to them. I don't think I'd advance in any way. For me, I'm looking for a coach right now but haven't found one yet. I'm really busy with my schedule and a lot of the coaches living in California and I live in Hawaii so it's tough to talk to them one on one. It's definitely something I've been thinking about a lot, but I'm not 100 percent sure.
WSL: You've been vocal about wanting to paddle into heavier surf in competition. How do you see your role on the CT?
TWW: There are a few of us girls who are more hard-core. A lot of the time I do try to voice my opinion because I believe that sometimes it can change women's surfing. Say there's a day where it's going off, it's 8-foot and perfect but bigger than a few of the girls would like, I'm going to say, ‘You guys, we have all the equipment here, we should do this.' But I just voice my opinion and I obviously favor what I would do well in, and that's bigger surf, because I live in Hawaii.
I do try to voice my opinion because I believe it can change women's surfing.
But ultimately it's a group decision by all the girls and I just want to be -- not accepted, but respected by all the girls. I don't want to overstep my boundaries with them. It's just a matter of really believing in what you think, and I believe think women's surfing can go really far, especially in bigger, heavier surf.
WSL: Has that impacted your personal relationships, or how you're received on tour?
TWW: It's not a group sport. You're fighting for yourself, so I don't take anything too personally when someone says something, or if I say something and someone gets offended. That's what competition is, you favor yourself. Like I said, I don't want to overstep my boundaries, and want to be really good friends with everyone on tour, and I'm pretty sure everybody else respects each other and their opinions. But it's interesting that you said that because girls are a lot more... sassy.
WSL: how would you describe your own journey with the other girls so far?
TWW: Gosh, I get along with all the girls on tour. It's a matter of being invited to place or hanging out with everyone. But I think recently the girls have done a really good job of inviting everyone to hang out after an event, or something like that. And I think I've bonded with some that way.
It's not a group sport. You're fighting for yourself, so I don't take anything too personally.
But besides that, it's me and my mom, we're a two-woman show. And we try to do what helps me. I'm usually OK training throughout the day, surfing, and staying focused during the event. If there is an activity that someone sets up and invites everyone, then obviously I'm going to go and bond, because we're all friends. But it's just to that extent for me. But I love everyone but when it's competition, it's competition time.
WSL: You and QS surfer Jesse Mendes have been dating for a while. How is it working, with you firmly planted on the CT and Jesse having a hectic travel schedule of his own?
TWW: It's definitely a difficult task at hand that we have. But for the most part we do really well with each other. We're best friends -- obviously, you have to be if you're dating somebody.
But we are great with each other, and when we compete with each other and give each other space. It's amazing to have someone who's a better surfer than you around you all the time because for me, it always pushes me. And I always try to push myself, especially when he's around and try to impress him.
He's so respectful when I compete and leaves me alone, gives me that time. It is kind of difficult because he's on the QS and I'm on the CT and we're not together as much as we'd like to be. But right now it's going great, and I couldn't ask for a better relationship.
WSL: You're quite a celebrity in Brazil -- you and Jesse even have your own reality show launching next month. What is it like for you when you go there?
TWW: That's a great question, because last year I didn't do much to reach my Brazilian fans before that. I had a lot of fans there and was shocked. But I want to support them as much as they support me, so now I'm engaging with them more and in that case, I think my fan base there has grown. So I don't know what to expect, but am excited to see the turnout and think it's going to be really cool.
WSL: Why do you think there aren't more women in the Brazilian Storm?
TWW: I think Silvana is part of the Brazilian Storm. But Canal OFF [an action sports channel in Brazil] approached me and said we want to make women's surfing in Brazil escalate, and we think someone like you, who's Brazilian and Hawaiian and on Tour and rips is going to make everyone excited.' I've already seen so many young female Brazilian surfers who are doing really well, and have financial backing.
For now, I think it's a matter of someone emerging out of Brazil that makes everyone freak out. Right now there are so many that have the talent and rip, but we'll have to wait and see.
Watch Tatiana and the rest of the women's and men's Champion Tour surfers surfing live daily in the Oi Rio Pro here and on the WSL app, May 10-21 local time.