On Surfing

Karina Petroni

Illustration by Matt Titone

Born somewhere in the Canal Zone’s lush understory, Karina Petroni was born traveling. As an activist, traveler, and professional surfer, Petroni has garnered a number of accolades to demonstrate her time in and out of the water. In 2008, she was the top surfer on the World Championship Tour, still the last woman to join the ranks from the East Coast. She’s acted, served as a conservation ambassador, modeled, taken up public speaking, among operating sea planes. Today, Petroni finds herself out in the Central Exumas of the Bahamas, often taking off on trips with her husband David. We pinned Petroni down for a quick run-down of her take on surfing with all this in mind.

Can you describe one of the most challenging aspects of surfing to you?

There’s quite a few things that I find very challenging about surfing. The first challenge would be: to come to a conclusion if surfing is a sport or a lifestyle. In my opinion, it’s clearly a lifestyle. Nobody handed me a rule book when I first learned how to surf. Instead, they showed me proper etiquette and technique. They also showed me that it was all about having fun. You can stand on your head and catch a wave if that’s the way you want to surf! This has always been a challenging aspect of surfing for me— being a competitive surfer for so many years.

The next wonderful challenge would be: surfing is something that you will never be able to master. I personally feel that this is one of the biggest draws to surfing. There you are surrounded by one of God’s biggest creations with just yourself and your watercraft. You find yourself constantly humbled and in constant awe of your surroundings. Not only is that a physical challenge; it’s a mental and spiritual challenge.

What is one of the most redemptive or rewarding parts of surfing?

The most rewarding part of surfing for me would be when I see the massive expression of joy on someone’s face that has just stood up on their first moving body of water; that feeling constantly brings out the child in all of us.

What has surfing afforded you in your life?

Surfing has afforded me the greatest gifts ever: the gifts of travel and unique life altering experiences. This is something that money can’t buy. My surfing career has not always been an easy road. It takes hard work and sacrifices. However, it is all worth it to be able to see and experience this amazing planet and the diverse human beings that inhabit it.

How long can you go without surfing?

Surfing has become more about quality over quantity for me. I can go for a little longer in between surfs than I used to be able to and I’m ok with that. As long as I am near the ocean and I’m able to swim, dive and be surrounded by the sea, I am happy. If I’m able to catch some beautiful waves in the midst of all that, then it’s that much sweeter.

How and when did you fall in love with surfing?

I fell in love with surfing when I was able to go out and do it all by myself; the feeling was so liberating and powerful. It’s empowering and humbling all at the same time to know that you are this tiny dot in this huge ocean all by yourself. I am still falling in love with surfing each and every time I go for a surf. It’s a relationship that never stops blossoming.

What’s one of your pre/post-surf rituals you hold dear?

I don’t have too many hard core pre or post surf rituals. I’m pretty easygoing. I like to have water, food and great people around me before and after, that is something I hold really dear, in that specific order too.

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On Surfing is generously supported by our friends at McTavish

Michael Adno

Michael is a writer and photographer born in Florida as a first-generation American to Austrian and South African parents. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Bitter Southerner, and The Surfer’s Journal among other magazines.

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