"Miss Kimmy has been so kind and supportive to me my whole life," Soleil Errico, the 2018 World Longboard Champion, told the WSL. "I thought giving her a percentage of my prize money was just the right thing to do."
Errico is from Malibu and she saw first hand the devastation wrought on the community by the Woolsey Fire last November. Like many of her peers, her preschool teacher and close family friend Kim LeDoux -- aka Miss Kimmy -- lost her home in the fires.
Like countless of other victims, LeDoux had no insurance to cover the devastating loss. The donation by Errico was yet another small sacrifice in a long line that the 18-year-old high school student has made to reach the pinnacle of her sport.
"In the years leading up to the World Title win in Taiwan, I had to abandon the normal high school experience of a teenager," said Errico. "I had to sacrifice time with friends and a social life and trade all that in to surf and train on my own. My life was school, surf, school, surf."
The pay off came in December when she defeated the 2015 World Champ Rachael Tilly in the Final of the Taiwan Open to take the Title. "There were times when I was worried that there would be no pay off for all the effort and time I was putting in," she admits. "But when I became World Champion, I knew it was worth it. And it's inspired me to do even more."
Errico was born in New York, but moved to Kauai when she was five. At the age of nine her father started to push her into waves out in front of their house. "Both my mom and dad surfed so it was a natural process," said Soleil. "You have to surf if you live on Kauai. I mean, what else is there to do?"
She rode a standard shortboard in her early years in Hawaii until the age of 13, when her parents and two younger sisters relocated to Malibu. "Moving to Malibu was such big step," she said. "There is such an amazing longboarding culture and community centered on First Point so it seemed natural to join in. They have been so supportive over the last few years. Malibu has shaped me as a person and as a surfer."
Another key figure has been her coach Taylor Jensen who was on hand in Taiwan to guide Soleil through the win. "Taylor is still competing and the fact that he has taken the time to coach and believe in me is amazing," she said. "He's won three World Titles so he knows what it takes and my goal is to follow in his footsteps."
In that regard Soleil is already one-third of the way there. First though is finishing high school and then to college, where she would like to pursue her interest in film and editing. She says that unlike high school, she would like to have the normal college experience, where study, fun and friends can be prioritized over training drills in bad surf.
However, that all can wait. As a World Champion, surfing is where she is putting most of her time and effort, not just as a means for her own success, but also as a vehicle for helping others. She is an active campaigner for surf based charities A Walk On Water and SurfAid and continues to search for ways to help the victims of the fires last year.
"I am appreciative and humbled by the life I have been given," she said. "I recognize my privilege and want to use that privilege to help people and the planet as much as I possibly can."
To do that she knows surfing might just be the key. Having taken a month off after her victory -- spending time in the mountains with her family and celebrating Christmas -- it is now time to get back into training with the aim of defending her World Title.
"I want to inspire girls to surf. I'd love to use any platform to elevate the sport and I want to keep winning," she said. "This is what I want to do for the rest of my life, so I'll just see where it takes me."