When it comes to hometown heroes, there are plenty of them in Waikato. We boast world and Olympic champions by the score; athletes the likes of Eric Murray, Mark Todd, Sarah Ulmer, Mahe Drysdale; the list goes on. However, the new kid on the block is blonde-haired, blue-eyed and still a teenager. Ella Williams is our latest sporting sensation and she’s making waves around the world.
A bona fide surfer chick, Ella may well fit the traditional ‘surfie’ mould of being charmingly relaxed and laid back, but when she’s on the water, the talented 19-year-old is all business. After years of chasing waves around the world, she has hit the big time, leaving an undeniable impression on the sport after notching up the World Junior title earlier this year.
Although world-famous in Whangamata for some time, it is only recently that the rest of the world has sat up and taken notice. After qualifying as a wild card entry into the hotly contested World Junior Championships in Brazil earlier this year, Ella headed off some of the top names in the sport to take out the women’s title.
Catapulted into the media spotlight, suddenly everyone wanted to know who she was and where she had come from. Having previously flown under the radar, suddenly Ella Williams was mega-hot property.
After dominating a class field to take the prestigious title –her life changed almost overnight. In true Kiwi style, Ella handled the onslaught of media attention with the same calmness and aplomb she displays on the water.
“I look at it as being very positive,” she says. “I feel really honoured when I’m back home and young kids come into the shop hoping for an autograph.
“I was that wide-eyed kid once, completely in awe of my surfing heroes, so if I can encourage and motivate others to have a go at surfing, then it’s fantastic.”
As the winner of New Zealand National titles across all age divisions at junior level, the supremely down-to-earth athlete has long been a hometown hero in Whangamata, where her family own the local surfing shop. Just as well, given that surfing is very much a family focus. The ongoing support of her family is one of the rock solid certainties in her life, and she acknowledges that.
She’s also intensely aware of the support she receives from Whangamata. Having been honoured with a civic reception, she has well and truly left her mark on the small town, with her own ‘beach bench’ carved with her name and achievement. Surf schools are booming on the tail of her success and kids love the fact they can learn from their idol.
Accustomed to chasing waves around the globe, Ella travels frequently, usually with family by her side. Dad Dean, mum Janine and brother Jaeden are all keen surfers and she has grown up cocooned in this supportive, yet encouraging family dynamic.
That’s one thing most people notice about Ella – her smile. She’s a genuinely happy and centred person, focused on her sport but also remarkably humble and delighting in encouraging other keen young surfers.
When she’s back home, she works in the family surf shop, teaching all ages and levels. And when the waves call, she grabs her surfboard and is off.
Thrilled to spend Christmas at home, right now Ella’s preparing to pack her bags and chase waves, points and titles in the ASP World Women’s Qualifying Series. First, she’s travelling to China to compete and then Mexico, the United States, Spain and France, all of which host the six-star contests which carry the big qualifying points she needs.
Joining the World tour is a significant step up, but Ella is driven and focused. She has a healthy attitude to success and a strong team behind her. Former Warriors’ coach Tony Kemp a valued mentor, is impressed at Ella’s dedication to keeping her own brand clean and strong.
She is a poster girl for all that is good about the sport, and about Kiwi athletes. She has a friendly attitude and approachability coupled with a serious work ethic.
Currently ranked 30th on the ASP Open Women’s World Series, Ella is driven to keep climbing the rankings until she reaches her goal; becoming the number one surfer in the World on the ASP circuit.
10 questions with Ella Williams
What are the crucial ingredients to your success?
Being yourself and believing in yourself. I had a lot of knocks over the years before winning the world title. I travelled all around the World, often getting knocked off on the first peak. You spend so much money chasing your dream, and getting knocked down and back up again repeatedly is hard. You have to learn something from each of those knocks and use it to improve yourself. Take what you learned into the next wave, or the next competition.
What is the best advice you ever received?
I have received so much helpful advice, but I do love motivational quotes. My favourite one, which I love to live by is: I’ve failed over and over again in my life and that’s why I succeed – Michael Jordan
What is your advice to other young surfers?
Keep at it. Like any sport, it’s never going to be easy straight away, but the more you surf, the better you’ll get. It’s important to have fun with it. It’s never hard when you’re doing something you love.
What’s the steepest learning curve you’ve experienced?
This entire year has been such a steep learning curve. Since winning the world title, it has been such a step up. And I’ve had to cope with the fact that as well as winning that title, I’ve also lost a lot this year. But every time I lose, I learn something from it, so on the positive I have gained so much knowledge.
What keeps you motivated/inspired?
I have my own mantra and it’s just three words; ‘Imagine, Dream ,Believe’. I think that if you imagine something that you want so badly, and dream it and believe in it enough, then you can achieve it. I always keep that in mind. I remember when I was about nine telling people I was going to be a world champion, and how they all just laughed and thought I was a cute little thing. That was a big dream, and I’ve achieved it.
What is your favourite place in the World?
It really truly is Whangamata. I love the beach, the people, the town. I’ve been to some amazing places around the World but Whangamata really is my piece of paradise.
What have you learned?
The best training for surfing is surfing. But you also need to be the best athlete you can be. And that means working on your weaknesses just as much as your strengths. I pay a lot more attention now to the total picture, from nutrition and physio to strength conditioning and fitness. I keep as strong, fit and healthy as I can.
How do you relax?
Without a doubt; Music. I love music. That is how I relax, by listening to music.
I love chocolate! I also love fruit; oranges, apples, grapes, strawberries, kumara, pumpkin; all fresh produce. I eat pretty cleanly most of the time. I prefer food which is grown rather than made. Travelling around the world, it can be tricky trying to find food and ingredients which you know, but I do try and avoid processed foods.
What you are grateful for?
I am really grateful for the huge amount of support I receive, from the little kids who come into the shop, to locals and friends and family. And I am so grateful to my sponsors, who help make it all possible: Ripcurl, Weet-Bix, Air Tahiti Nui, Whanga Surf, Tony Kemp, Jucy, Sky TV, Tania Niwa Photography, Pete Anderson Surfboards, ForceXVelocity, Ocean&Earth, Marley Headphone, 2XU, Go Pro.
To help Ella keep riding the waves, sponsorship inquiries can be made to Tony Kemp (Little Drop, Big Ripple).
Email email@example.com or visit www.tonykemp.co.nz