Chelsea Tuach sits down with Danielle at Business Barbados to discuss her career as the most successful Barbadian surfer, her 2024 Olympic goals, what surfing and sports tourism can contribute to Barbados, and why high performance business people love the waves.
When and how did you start surfing?
I was born and raised in Barbados, and I started surfing when I was eight years old – my sister and I following our older brothers into the waves. My parents loved the water and we spent every weekend at the beach and every August at a beach house in Cattlewash.
We then got involved in the Barbados Surfing Association and some of the local events. My brothers qualified for a junior team to represent Barbados in South Africa and then Tahiti and I thought that was the most incredible thing – to be able to travel the world, represent your country and surf.
At what point did you consider becoming a professional surfer?
From early on I trained hard and qualified for my first overseas event in 2006 when I was 10 years old – the International Surf Association (ISA) World Junior Championship in Brazil. I got to see top female surfers like Bethany Hamilton and Sally Fitzgibbons and I witnessed the level that they trained and surfed at, and thought, wow I love this, this is what I want to do – I want to be a professional surfer. So that’s how the story started.
What have been your career highlights so far?
Definitely ending 2015 ranked fourth in the world and qualifying for the World Championship Tour, as the first Caribbean person to do so.
Since then, the medals I’ve won for Barbados have been pretty special – I just won a Silver at the Pan-American Surfing Games in Panama, and I had a Silver in 2018 as well. I also have two Coppers from the ISA World Junior Surfing Championships in 2013 and then another from the World Surfing Championships in 2015.
What’s your current regional and world ranking?
Right now I’m second in the Pan-American region, sixth in the North American region, and 11th for last year’s ISA World Ranking, but that will be updated for this year after competing in El Salvador at the end of this month.
What's the most interesting destination that you've travelled to, for surfing?
If we’re talking strictly surfing, I love El Salvador. So many surf destinations can be unpredictable, but I’ve had such a great time and great swell every time I’ve been there.
For an all-round destination, I’d pick Portugal – I go every year with my mum for the European leg. We love going out to eat, it’s affordable, there's great sight-seeing, along with the awesome waves.
What does it mean to you to represent your country on the global stage?
The older I get, the more I appreciate how special it is to represent Barbados. When I started we had a smaller team and didn’t get the best results. Now we have such a strong team, and being a part of that, and getting top results as one of the strongest teams in the world is everything to me.
It’s also fantastic to inspire and encourage the younger ones. It’s been a lot of trial and error over the years, but we keep going, turning up at the competitions and winning. So we’re showing what Barbadians can achieve on the world stage.
Barbados is attracting some high profile events. Tell us about them
Surf Promotions Barbados brought the World Surf League (our professional league) to our shores. We started with a Pro Junior event back in 2013, which I participated in. Then it was upgraded to a Qualifying Series (QS) 1000, which is a senior professional event. And then for the last couple of years it was upgraded again to a QS 3000, which is higher rated and you get more points as a competitor. This year it’s been a QS 5000 for the first time, which was the highest qualifying series event in all of the Americas region, which is incredible for Barbados.
The WSL loves this event, the judges and organisers love coming to Barbados. They’re considering it for a Challenger Series Event next year, which would be the second highest world surfing event.
How does Barbados benefit from hosting these events?
It’s great for the country. The Barbados Tourism and Marketing Inc (BTMI) has been really supportive. I think they understand how much revenue and exposure these events bring to Barbados, and there is so much potential for sports tourism to contribute to our economy.
Barbados’ winter season is huge and then there’s a lull. So sports tourism is a way to attract visitors in the quieter months.
Barbados has a lot to offer in and out of the water, so if we can bring the big events down here, the competitors come with their families, they explore and spend money, and they will keep coming back.
What does Barbados offer as a surf destination?
Firstly, the warm water is a big factor. And it’s somewhere you can come with the whole family – it’s great for beginners with our fantastic surf schools. There’s beautiful Freights Bay where you can surf with the turtles, intermediate breaks at Drill Hall – which we call Brandon’s – and for the advanced surfers there’s the East Coast with Soup Bowl, North Point, and Parlour which is another great wave. We are one of the most wave-rich countries in the Caribbean.
Soup Bowl is one of the best waves in the whole world. Even Kelly Slater who is an eleven time World Champion names it as one of his top three favourite waves. That gives me goosebumps!
He can surf anywhere in the world and he still loves Barbados and still comes here to surf. That really puts Barbados on the map. Also Barbados boasts consistent waves, year round. It can be the worst day at Soup Bowl and it’s still the best day of competition that we’ve had anywhere for the year. We have a tour that goes all over the world and so many say that Barbados is their favourite.
I was paddling out with two guys right before a competition at Soup Bowl recently, and one of them said: “This is my dream wave – a right-rippable wave and then a left air section – you can’t ask for anything better.”
You are a representative for Brand Barbados. What does that mean?
I love travelling, telling people about Barbados and inviting them to come here to surf. Brand Barbados encompasses all the things that are unique and special about Barbados, including the surf, but particularly our people. They are so genuine, welcoming and ready to help. When you’re in the water, you’ll feel welcome surfing in Barbados – you can paddle out and chat with people on the water. You don’t get that everywhere in the world. But as Bajans we understand how important tourism is, and how special our home is, so we want to show it off.
A lot of business professionals in Barbados are surfers. How would you describe surfing and what it can offer to someone psychologically and help their performance in the business world?
During Covid I really witnessed what surfing can do for your mental health – just getting out in the sunshine and the salt water and moving your body in a way that’s fun and unpredictable can really change your life. And that definitely has a positive impact on your work or personal life.
On the water you can express yourself, connect with nature while disconnecting from everything else – no screens or phones around you.
I often meet business people when I’m surfing, especially early in the morning. I’ve also met a lot of welcome stampers and chatted with them about why they chose Barbados. They all say that their life has changed, being able to wake up, go in the water, watch the sunrise and just be at peace, before starting their busy work day. And they can still run their businesses efficiently from here.
What's next for you? What are your goals for your surfing career?
We are in an Olympic cycle right now, so my main goal is to qualify for Paris 2024. The surfing event will be in Tahiti. I qualified for the 2023 Pan-American Games, which will be in Santiago, Chile this October. And a gold medal there gets you to the Olympics. If that doesn’t happen, I have a second chance next year at the ISA World Championships in Puerto Rico in February 2024, where the top seven women will qualify. So those are my two chances, and my two focuses right now, along with some other team events.
Feature photo, Chelsea sitting on her board at sunset. Photo: Bajanpro