This series sees Emily Erickson and Izzi Gomez chasing big wave greatness
© Maria Fernanda
No Small Feat is a two-part series that follows American surfers Emily Erickson and Izzi Gomez in in the lead-up to the 2019-20 Northern Hemisphere winter – watch it and get to know them right here.
Watch both episodes in the video players below and continue reading to find out what makes both of them tick:
Training is everything
Emily is from Hawaii and is the daughter of legendary North Shore big wave surfer and lifeguard Roger Erickson. In No Small Feat, she often questions if she was destined for Jaws, or if there’s another path that exists that she can control on her own terms.
“I can never decide if it [big wave surfing] was a pathway that was laid out for me or something that I chose,” she says in episode one. “I think it was just inevitable, really.”
It’s more the opportunities that I think of, not the money
With just a couple of tentative events a year to potentially make a career at surfing big waves, does the Oahu-based surfer drop everything when the event is called 'on' and goes ahead?
“It would be nice to win something,” says Emily. “It would open up a lot of opportunities for me, open up a lot of doors. But in the end, it’s more the opportunities that I think of, not the money. Money is not promised. Big wave surfing is time, money, and risk, with very little potential of a financial payoff in the end,” she continues. “So, it has to be something you love. People that aren’t really into it don’t last.”
Pushing the limits
“I think Emi’s conflicted,” says Australian big wave surfer, Jaime Mitchell. “She wants to do the contest to a degree, but then she really just loves surfing big waves to surf big waves. So, she’s conflicted in the competing side of big waves, or just doing it for the love. And I’d really love to see her figure out what’s best for her, because I really believe that she could be the best.”
Izzi Gomez is from from Florida but lives two Hawaiian islands over from Emily on Maui, perhaps with an entirely different perspective and options to choose from. The five-time Stand Up Surfing World Champion might be only 19 years old, but she craves a new challenge. With limited experience surfing Jaws, Izzi is on a crash course to learn what many of her cohorts have spent a lifetime preparing for.
Luckily for Izzi, she has three-time event champion Paige Alms to guide her through the process. That, and Izzi is a hell of a waterwoman and surfer, so the learning curve isn’t too steep.
“Competitively I’ve accomplished everything I’ve set out to and everything I possibly can,” says Izzi. “So, it’s really hard when you’re at the top of the sport [SUP] and there’s no one pushing you to, like, keep that fire. But I think 2020 has been my year to step away from SUP a little – I mean, I just won my fifth title, so it’s not a bad way to go out.
"My goal is to just get comfortable in bigger surf. I look at all these girls and what they’re doing, and it’s inspiring. I just want to push myself and get better. I could still get more titles, but at the end of the day, if I’m not happy doing it, I don’t want to do it. And Jaws is right around the corner…”
Regardless of whether their motives are dissimilar – Emily questioning a route, even if she’s talented enough to win, or Izzi doing a full-180 at the height of her SUP career to surf Jaws – this discipline is especially tough.
Emily, for instance, blew out her knee in the contest a year prior, an injury from which it took many months to recuperate.
“This big wave surfing thing isn’t something many women have gravitated to in the past, but now there’s a bit more attention,” says Emily. “Maybe it’s the [safety] vests, maybe it’s the contests or the money, but the reality of it is that you can get really hurt, and if you get hurt and there’s no back-up and you’re a normal working person like a lot of us, then what are you going to do?”
Well, if you’re Emily Erickson – you go back out.
“It’s so easy to think about the bad things that could happen out there because Jaws is such a wave of consequence,” says Izzi. “My mind tends to go to getting worked, or freaking out, but I come up and I’m fine!
"So, I just have to be aware of it and catch myself when I go to that place and turn it around and tell myself you’re fine you’ve been to this place before.”
“I think a lot of guys are obsessed with 'conquering' the ocean, or 'conquering' Pe’ahi, but I’ve been trying to make my own judgement on whether this Jaws competition is the way to proceed,” says Emily.
“I’ve been told I have a responsibility and people seem to group women together in this big wave thing, but I’m like, ‘No, I don’t have a responsibility to you!’ I’m literally just going to do it the way I want to do it.”