Interviews

Kassia Meador's Surfing Career Taught Her More About Business Than an MBA

12 min read

Essential Takeaways

  • After launching a professional surfing career at age 14, Kassia Meador spent the next two decades of her life competing around the world.
  • In 2015, she left her athletic career behind to launch Kassia+Surf, a collection of sustainable wetsuits and surfwear. But Meador links the success of her business to the grit and resilience she relied on while surfing—as well as the daily rituals she continues to swear by. "I'm just more adaptable," she says.

The greatest tool in a woman’s toolbox isn’t a cosmetic or a brush. It’s self-determination—the daily commitment you make to yourself and your future, and the hard work and rituals that create the foundation for that journey. Make Your Self is a series that spotlights the stories of women who fiercely embody this relentless pursuit.


"All the things I learned from surfing—patience, dedication—really helped inform how I created a company," says former competitive athlete Kassia Meador. She's referring to Kassia+Surf, a collection of wetsuits and surfwear built for performance and a better planet. While her products are purposefully built to last, Meador wanted to scrutinize their life cycle even further—which evolved into a parternship with Suga, another earth-minded company that repurposes neoprene wetsuits into sustainable yoga mats.

While the transition from full-time professional surfer to planet-conscious business owner hasn't always been smooth, those ups and downs have felt, in a way, quite familiar for Meador. When she started her surfing career as a teenager, she was one of only a few women competing on the world stage—and found that she had to work doubly hard to earn the respect of her peers. But in a way, the water was her greatest mentor: It reminded her to adapt and overcome, a mentality she has taken with her into this next chapter.

"Experiencing that humility over and over again was a lesson," she says. "It gave me the skills to just continue to push for what I believed in, no matter what I came up against."

Did you know?

While neuroscientists still aren't exactly sure why it has such an effect on the brain, just being in close proximity to a body of water is linked with a sense of calm and improved self-reported wellbeing (1).

Below, she takes us through some of the obstacles she has faced on the road to success in a male-dominated industry, the daily rituals that keep her moving forward, and why optimism makes us all better at what we do.

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On the transition from pro athlete to business owner…

"As a professional surfer, I traveled to a lot of developing nations to really see how the consumption choices we make in the western world affects lives and our planet in those places. And so I really wanted to do something that wasn't contributing to the problem; that focused around solutions. So I left professional surfing and started my own company.

"I still surf and do contests and invitational events, but I really wanted to create something that inspired myself, other women and other businesses to think differently; to be more mindful of how they're creating products and to think about their life cycle. I wanted to [create] products that lasted longer and had a way to be upcycled, rather than ending up in the trash can."

"I'm not serious about being a female athlete. I'm serious about being an athlete."

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On creating a female-led business in a male-dominated industry…

"Somebody told me that often in the business world, men have an idea and are able to get funding off their idea alone. And a lot of female-owned businesses have to actually start the company, they sell some product for a while and then they get to a point where they've done it for some time, need more capital to keep it moving and they're like, 'Look, I've been doing this thing for a while. Can I get some support around this?' And I think that that's very true."

"The surf industry is very male-dominated. A lot of the companies are owned by men. To get into that world as a female business owner was a lot like being in the surf world as a kid. When I was really starting, I was one of the few girls that was out there. I really had to earn my respect more than if I was a guy and I just paddled out. But because I was a warm woman, I had to earn my respect and my place in the lineup way more than any of the guys because as a girl I stood out, and they expected me to fall and fail—both in the water and in business. I had to prove to people that I could do it before they trusted me. And I think those were some of the ways I’ve seen and experienced prejudice as a woman—but also how I tackled it instead of feeling defeated by it. I was like, "Cool, I’ll prove it to you." And it gave me that much more fire to throw down.

Did you know?

Many studies have linked yoga with a decrease in cortisol levels—in other words, it's science-backed stress relief (2).

On the power of ritual…

"There are a lot of things that I'm really proud of committing to every day— my body, mind and spirit are all really number one. When I wake up in the morning, if there's surf, I go into the water. If there’s no surf, I go to yoga. No matter what the surf's doing, I meditate. So [either way], having a slow practice in the morning focused around my health and well being is really important to me. It's really how I take care of myself; it’s how I do everything. If that’s the foundation for my life and how I live it each and every day—waking up and treating myself with respect—then everything I put out into the world is going to have that same sweet energy. So it's really about the ritual of dedicating myself to myself and committing to my body, my mind and my spirit. From that solid foundation anything and everything is balanced and possible.

"There’s magic in things that are difficult for you. If it was all easy, everybody would do it. You wouldn’t learn through it."

On trying to sit still even when it feels impossible…

"Meditation is not an easy thing to do—I'm a very active person. I love everything and I get super excited. So for me it was a really great practice to bring into my life to balance my fiery energy. The hardest thing about meditation when I first started was surrendering my thoughts and being able to sit still. I still have a difficult time with it, which I think is kind of magic—having that little bit of friction. You start slowly, even just two or three minutes of breathing. I think it was Alan Watts who equated it to water dripping on a piece of wood every day and one little drop seems like nothing. But over 20, 30 years, those drops will eventually make a hole through that piece of wood."

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Did You Know?

In a way, meditation does really make us more adaptable. A 2007 study links short-term meditation to better focus, as well as a more flexible response to stress (3).

Why good habits are the foundation for everything else…

"Having those practices and those rituals in my everyday life—a solid foundation of taking care of my body, mind, and spirit—gives me the flexibility to handle anything that comes to me, whether it's in the ocean, running my own business or somebody cutting me off on the freeway. You're just more adaptable. I look into how I can learn things from every situation, especially if it's frictional. And if I find myself getting wound up, I can kind of push everything back, get into my breath, get into my centered space and then move from there."

"I bring in an activated word, like 'gratitude.' Or 'blessings,' 'peace,' 'harmony,' 'joy,' whatever that is. And then I just focus on that one word each and every day."

On her competition philosophy (in the water, and in her business)…

"How can we push ourselves and each other? How can we be in this field together? That's really how I look at competition: It's an opportunity for us all to empower ourselves and each other by creating a supportive space to share our talents and celebrate and elevate one another. And that's definitely one of the things that I always bring into the lineup. Like, let's just have fun, because life is beautiful and we are out here together. And then everybody's shredding, you know—we’re all getting way higher scores, having more fun, surfing better and putting on a sweet show for the spectators. Nobody's nervous. Like, who wants to be nervous when you're having fun and doing something you love? There's no point."

References:
1) White, M. P., Alcock, I., Wheeler, B. W., & Depledge, M. H. (2013). Coastal proximity, health and well-being: Results from a longitudinal panel survey. Health & Place
2) Kumar, K., Singh, V., Kumar, D., Asthana, A. B., & Mishra, D. (2018). Effect of yoga and meditation on serum cortisol level in first-year medical students. International Journal of Research in Medical Sciences
3) Tang, Y.-Y., Ma, Y., Wang, J., Fan, Y., Feng, S., Lu, Q., … Posner, M. I. (2007). Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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