Surfing’s Cup of Tia
Salt courses thick through Tia Blanco’s veins, the professional surfer who’s counted coastal paradises Puerto Rico, Hawaii and San Clemente as home over her brief 19 years.
Daughter to a travelling US Coast Guard veteran, Blanco was given little choice but to start surfing at the age of three, and by 15 she was getting barrelled at Teahupoo. But Blanco is more than just a surfer with world tour aspirations.
The 19-year-old, whose ancestry reads like a diversity leaflet, is a model, a lifelong vegetarian and environmental activist to boot, set to feature in upcoming documentaries by James Cameron and environmentalist Kip Anderson around
And while her Instagram following is big and getting bigger, the Puerto Rico-born talent outwardly defines herself not by her image but by her choices.
You were born in Puerto Rico but you compete as an American. Where do you call home?
My dad’s in the US Coast Guard so we’ve always moved around a lot and lived on the coast. We’ve moved every three years of my life basically. So I was born in Puerto Rico when he was stationed there and then we moved to California then Hawaii and now I’m in San Diego - nice and close to [surf spots] Trestles and Oceanside. I’m pretty diverse when it comes to ethnicity.
You started surfing at a very early age. Did you always want to be a pro surfer?
Yes, I started when I was three! It was while we were on holiday in Hawaii at Waikiki. My dad and his family are surfers. So it was a given. But even though I started surfing at three years old and always enjoyed it, I never really took it seriously. There are a lot of surfers these days who start training and competing at very young ages but that was never me. I surfed strictly to have fun. I never began surfing to become a professional surfer.
But your competitive spirit got the better of you?
When I was 12 we moved to Hawaii from California and that’s when I really started to take it seriously. I started doing all the Menehune contests (competitions on the North Shore for young surfers) to see what it was like to compete in surfing and I really fell in love with it.
I have been very competitive since I was born really, whether I’m playing a board game, a contest at school or in the surf. I can’t really pinpoint it but I’ve always had that competitive drive. In saying that, competing is more about challenging and bettering myself than going out purely to beat another person. I hate to lose but at the same time, the losses motivate me to be better.
You’re anything but intimidated by big waves. Tell us about Teahupoo…
It’s a pretty scary wave! I don’t chase big waves at all. I was 15 and just got signed by Reef and they took me to Tahiti for a trial to see how I’d work in front of the camera and how I surfed. We were staying with the legendary Raimana Van Bastolaer and everyone who knows Raimana knows how persuasive he can be and can push all the right buttons to get you to do things you never thought you could do. And I was only 15 but he believed in me so much and set me off on a couple of waves. I couldn’t say no. And it was fun.
How does your modelling and maintaining your Instagram account (230k and growing) influence your surfing?
Surfing is always my number one. I definitely put my events highest on the priority list. I never put my modelling or campaigns before my surfing. I just did a shoot for Fiat, another for Sony and Cabo Tourism. But it’s definitely important for me to balance everything and make sure I’m spending a good amount of time training and doing everything possible to make sure I’m ready for competitions. In saying that, I do love social media. It gets a bad rep, but I personally really like the ability to express myself and connect with fans all around the world. It’s like my own little diary that I can share with people and look back on in years from now.
And you did a video for Playboy…
I did. I was hesitant at first obviously given Playboy is a pretty big name and what it’s known for. But the more they described the shoot to me, the more I realised it was like any other shoot that I’ve done before. I model in my bikini for all my sponsors anyway and had no intentions of getting nude at all. It was just another bikini shoot and I’m comfortable in a bikini.
How do you need to train to get the body of a professional surfer?
I do yoga every single day and get a surf in or another activity like running if there’s no swell. I train with my personal trainer three or four times a week. We work a lot on my core and balance, hip mobility, ankle mobility, endurance and everything really. It’s a full body work-out. In the water, every aspect is as important as the other. From a diet perspective, I love carbs. Depending on how good the surf is, I’ll eat before or after surf check. If the surf’s good, I’ll come home and then have a fruit-based breakfast. I eat a lot of fruit. Not just a small bowl. I’ll eat five bananas for breakfast and maybe a smoothie. It’s a lot. For lunch, I’ll make quinoa bowl with beans and vegetables and avocado. And maybe a soup and rice noodles for dinner.
You’re a vegan of four years and lifetime vegetarian…
My whole family has always been vegetarian and I’ve actually never eaten meat. For ethical reasons we decided to go vegan about four years ago after I read The China Study and watched Forks over Knives. While I believe there are definitely performance benefits, I’m really passionate about the ethics of veganism. A lot of people first go vegan for their health and then it becomes more about the ethics. But I remember watching documentaries and reading books and becoming really aware of the environmental impacts and how your diet can affect the environment. It’s pretty cool because the majority of my friends have gone vegan now and my whole little circle is vegan. And I know Alana Blanchard, Nikki Van Dijk and a few other girls on tour are also vegan.
How does a vegan diet affect your performance and recovery?
I feel so much better now that I’m vegan and can experience the benefits in performance and recovery. The way it makes my mind and body feel, I would never switch back. When I started it, I actually lost fat and gained muscle, which was an obvious advantage. I feel more energised all the time. I don’t think veganism makes you super human but it definitely has its benefits. I don’t get sore for long periods of time and by eating the right foods and staying hydrated, my recovery is better than ever.
What do you make of the stigma around the word veganism and the persistent memes such as “How do you know if someone is vegan? They’ll tell you.”…
There’s definitely that element and certain people are instantly turned off when they here the word. I think just with social media it got a bad rep a little bit a go. There are so many influential people such as athletes, musicians and actors who are turning vegan now that I guess it has become more mainstream and that’s where the stereotypes come from. But I don’t really care what people think about me. I am who I am and I love being a vegan.