Rincon Rider

Surfer Heather Tiddens Talks Yoga, Her First Ride, and the Queen

Heather Tiddens on her board.
Steve Bissell

The tightly knit surfing clan that frequents the lineup at Rincon is full of faces we may recognize but don’t really know. Their waveriding skills garner attention every time we see them surf. Each has their own story: how they got into surfing, when they first fell in love with the Queen, and their aspirations and chosen life paths.

It seems that every generation, one of these area phenoms becomes a professional surfer, highly visible on the international scene, who comes to represent the local movement in the sport. Carpinteria native Heather Tiddens is one of these faces, and one of the Queen’s best waveriders. I caught up with her recently to find out more about the woman behind the surfer, who now makes her living as a yoga instructor.

Heather Tiddens
Paul Wellman

Tell me a little about your yoga practice. I started practicing in 1995 and very quickly gravitated toward the stronger physical styles of yoga. From ’98 to ’04, I was very fortunate to travel, learn, and teach with my primary teacher in a personal apprenticeship. Until a couple of years ago, I practiced two-and-a-half hours every morning, doing breathing exercises, core work, intermediate and advanced postures, and finishing with calming, stretch poses and meditation. Recently, I’ve backed off the strong physical practice in favor of more gentle styles of yoga and meditation. I still “tune up” with the occasional intense practice session, but at this time in my life, I’m finding great value and balance with a shorter, lighter, and more contemplative practice.

How does yoga improve surfing? Physically, surfing is an asymmetrical activity — one foot or side of the body is forward — which can lead to imbalances in muscle structure and function. Plus, surfers tend to be strong in the upper body and have weaker legs. So yoga can bring more balance to left and right sides of the body, and lower and upper half. This is tremendous for our surfing longevity. Flexibility, strength, balance, focus, and agility are all skills that yoga improves. Yoga is a very effective tool in healing from injuries, so you can get back in the water and surf to your potential. Best of all, yoga and meditation have changed my surfing experience profoundly. I’m generally happier and less caught up in the stress of a crowded lineup.

So, if it came down to a choice between a good day of waves or a good day of yoga … Both! Yoga warm-up predawn, surf all day, then do some evening gentle yoga to unwind.

When did you first start surfing, and what was your first equipment — board and wetsuit? I remember being on my boogie board at a J-guards event at Jalama, and seeing the lifeguards, one of whom was Debra Trauntvein, surfing by in the sunset. I was probably 13, and that was it. I got off the sponge after that — thanks, Deb! My first equipment was a borrowed beat-up single-fin and a very gross used wetsuit. My first new board was a 6’8” Al Merrick single-fin round pin with channels. I wish I had kept that board; it was beautiful.

What boards are you riding now? One board handles pretty much anything at the ’Con: 5’8” Channel Islands Wizard Sleeve four-fin — thanks to Kelly and Al! It’s the best Rincon board I’ve ever had.

Can you remember the first time you surfed out at Rincon? What was that experience like? Well, I learned to stand up at Backside [the beach break], but that may not count. My first time at the point, John Conti helped me paddle up from the cove and tried to coach me into some waves, but the whole positioning thing was lost on me; I wasn’t getting deep enough to catch anything. I spent a couple hours in the water and didn’t get one wave.

Describe your dream conditions for Rincon. Who would be out in the lineup? Head high: overhead, sheet glass, midmorning. Peeps: the “Rincon moms” — you know who you are — and the folks who are out on the unadvertised swells — you know who you are, too — which, by the way, still occurs on that rare, special day.

As long as I can remember, you have been ripping out at Rincon, and until recently, you were one of two dominant women in the lineup: you and Kim Mearig. The first time I saw you surfing out at Rincon, I was riding on my Kim Mearig model, and I assumed you were also a professional surfer. Were you ever a professional surfer? Yes. After college, I did part of the Association of Surfing Professionals tour in ’88-’89. I didn’t have the funds to travel to all the venues. It was a great experience — free surfing with the pros. Their surfing has so much energy; it’s so fast and edgy. It really inspired me. I think I was ranked 13th at some point, but the grind of struggling to make ends meet was pretty discouraging, and I was already “older” and didn’t see pro surfing as a career for me.

Has there been any competition between you and Kim throughout the years? Only on the ping pong table — really! Seriously, I so appreciate our friendship and surfing kinship. We can convince each other to paddle out into the crappiest conditions and make it fun and get some exercise. It’s been a real gift to surf together all these years and be challenged and inspired by her surfing. Even on the crowded and frustrating days, we always find something to laugh about.

In your opinion, have attitudes toward female surfers and the feeling in the lineup changed or remained constant? It’s definitely changed. When I was younger, a girl in the lineup was a novelty that wasn’t always welcomed. Today, it’s pretty much a given to have women in the lineup; we’re more accepted. There’s a great local documentary that speaks to this very question: The Women and The Waves — just a little plug there.

Describe your Rincon surfing experience in five words. Flow, power, speed, grace, fun.

Who are the girls that catch your eye out at the point? Any favorite surfers? Bo Stanley, Demi Boelsterli, Lakey Peterson, Rachel Harris, Aubrey Falk. I really get jazzed by their go-for-it attitude and their improving skills. They want to rip!


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