The North Shore has been blessed by a decent run of swell for the past week or so. Of course, Waimea saw all the familiar faces jockeying for waves in the world’s most crowded big wave lineup. But back a few months ago, during opening day, in amongst all that chaos and carnage was 12-year-old Chesney Guinotte doing big things on a gun that most of us would probably ride as a step-up. After watching her pack a handful of bombs, we decided it was time to sit down with Chesney Guinotte and her parents and find out what exactly is going on with this phenom.
Chesney, we saw you out at Waimea charging during the first swell of the season. How was your session?
Opening day at the Bay was exciting! I was frothing to get out there, but also had some nerves. While I was paddling out, a big set came through and I thought I might get worked, but luckily I made it out. Once I got out, I just settled into the channel for probably an hour just feeling the energy and getting comfortable before I paddled deeper. Then I got a few small ones on the shoulder, and then I was in the spot for this bomb and all the uncles and aunties were screaming “Go!” So I knew I had better go [laughs]! It was a pretty big drop and I ended up riding out of it. It was probably my best ride at the Bay so far!
Wow, what a great way to start the season! How long have you been surfing the Bay? And do you surf any other big wave spots?
I started surfing the Bay last winter. I started on small Pinballs days and then worked my way up from there. I have tow surfed a couple other big wave spots, but I haven’t paddle surfed any other big wave spots yet. But I want to!
Do you feel any nerves when you are out in big waves?
I always have some nerves when I paddle out, but something in me always says to go anyway [laughs]! It’s pretty normal for me to just sit for a while and feel the energy and watch the conditions before I catch a wave. It seems like I’m always pretty nervous on the first wave, but after I catch that one, it’s game on.
(Addressing Chesney’s parents) How about you guys? Do you get nervous when Chesney is out on XL days?
Yes, it is always nerve-wracking watching our little girl paddle out on the XL days. But we feel like it’s important to not hold her back. I think kids are much more capable then we allow them to be. We recently watched a documentary about a 13-year-girl who sailed the world alone! I think the important part is making sure they are prepared and safe when they want to pursue such crazy things. So as a family we did a big wave safety and breath course with Ricardo Taveira last winter, and then we all did a refresher with him again this year before the swells started.
Chesney is also currently working on the BWRAG online course to strengthen her knowledge in big waves and safety. She also wears a Buell impact suit and a helmet when she goes out. And we always make sure that she has someone experienced out with her and there is water safety on the larger days. Preparation is key to us even allowing this and not having a nervous breakdown watching her!
Is big wave surfing a family pursuit, or something that Chesney picked up on her own?
[Laughs] No way! Her dad surfs a little on small days, but if it gets too big, Chesney has to babysit him! I (her mom) actually grew up in a small inland town with horses and cattle. I tried getting Chesney into rodeo because that’s where my knowledge base and love is. We even flew a horse to Hawaii for her when we moved here.
But Chesney wasn’t having it! She was always scared of the horses and didn’t fall in love with it like I did as a child. Ever since she started surfing, she always wanted to catch the bigger waves. On her birthday a couple of years ago, Garret McNamara towed her into a big one and she has literally been going bigger ever since.
Chesney, you have also had a lot of success in small waves. You won the U12 girls US championships this year and even got a 10 in the semis! Do you enjoy surfing competitively, or do you prefer to be free surfing?
Awwwww, that’s a hard one. I love both for different reasons. I am super duper competitive and I feel like winning a contest gives me the satisfaction of proving I can win, and also gives me a reward for all the hard work I put in. But I love free surfing because I really love the adrenaline rush I get when I ride big waves, and I always want to find a bigger one. I really like surfing with my friends too. I surf with a group of boys and we all like to hassle each other and joke.
A lot of people haven’t even started surfing by the time they are your age, but you are already winning national championships and paddling into bombs at Waimea. How long have you been surfing, anyway?!
I have been surfing since I was seven-years-old (five-years-ago). I saw some surfers at Pua’ena Point and told my parents I wanted to try that, and so they got me lessons! I started surfing more and entered some of the local grom contests and didn’t do so good, and that made me mad because I wanted to win. So I started surfing even more, and then I eventually won one and I was hooked!
(Addressing Chesney’s parents) Chesney is only 12, but she has already accomplished a lot with her surfing. Is this something that you look at as a potential career for her?
We just want Chesney to have a career doing something she wakes up loving every day. If that’s surfing, then awesome. If not, that’s okay, too.
My husband and I have careers that we kind of wake up dreading, so we just want to support Chesney in her goals and desires. If surfing ends up turning into a career for her, that seems like it would be pretty amazing and I think she would wake up wanting to go to work every day!
Chesney, the winter has just barely started and you already have a day at Waimea under your belt. Do you have any big goals for the season in Hawaii?
Yes, I want to keep pushing and getting bigger days at Waimea. I also want to work on my barrel riding at Pipe this winter. I have written down a goal to get a good five-second barrel out there.
Wow! Meanwhile, most of us are just dreaming of doing a cutback without bogging! We look forward to seeing you out in the water and can’t wait to see how your season goes. We will check in with you later in this winter and see if you got that five-second barrel!