New Girl In Surf Beats The Boys

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - August 26, 2009
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Sanja du Plessis shreds at the recent Point Panic contest

Hawaii’s bodysurfing scene has a new rising star and she’s stoked to a part of it.

“Doing well against the guys is an awesome rush,” says Sanja du Plessis. “I do feel a little bad when they are mocking one another for getting beaten by a girl. It is strange to be the enemy.”

Of course du Plessis knows she’s not the enemy but when it comes to competition she is a bonafide threat to beat everyone in the water, including the men. The native of South Africa came to the Islands to swim for the University of Hawaii but didn’t start bodysurfing competitively here until 2008. She’s been a hit since hitting the circuit.

“I usually keep a pretty low profile, so it is strange to suddenly be recognized in the line-up,” says du Plessis. “Its fun going against the top guys.”

Her love for the ocean started when she was 10, bodysurfing with her two brothers in South Africa.


“I remember my two older brothers taking me out way further than anyone else, to the back waves in the deep water where I couldn’t see the bottom anymore,” she says. “I would have loads of fun until a set would come in. They would both take off on waves and I would be left out there alone.”

It forced her to “survive” and made her better.

“We had no fins on, just caught and rode the whitewater as far as we could,” she says. “When I was maybe 12 and a really good swimmer already, a grown-up asked me what fins I was using. He wouldn’t believe me when I said I had no fins until I showed him my bare feet. It was a proud moment for me.”

She got her first taste of Hawaii bodysurfing when UH swimming teammate and fellow South African Angus Macdonald took her to Point Panic, Makapuu and Sandy Beach. She credits her 20-year swimming career for some of her early success but understands it takes more than swimming ability to bodysurf well.

At the 2009 event at Pyramid Rock at Kaneohe Marine Corps Base, du Plessis won the woman’s division in monster surf. Then, as she calls it, “came the shock at having to go out against the winners from all the men’s divisions in the Grand Championship Final.” She caught three fantastic waves and finished second overall. “Being the only girl in the heat, I was on cloud nine.”

At the recent Point Panic

Redwings Memorial World Championships she did it again, capturing the women’s title in perfect surf. The win set up another date with the men where she finished third overall, beating some of the biggest names in the sport

“It is hugely rewarding to get respect from the boys,” says du Plessis, who currently works at the Hyperbaric Treatment Center as a chamber operator and tender, and will enter the Honolulu Fire Department in September in its next recruit class. “I used to just sit on the inside and watch them go by. I would also get dropped in on because they didn’t think I could make it. Now if it’s my wave and they see me coming, they stay back and watch instead.”

When asked to describe her style, she credits a former Hawaii resident who made a trip home and was photographed catching a few waves at Sandy Beach.

“I grew up (bodysurfing) with hands by my sides and learned how to put my leading hand out in front on Oahu,” she says. “To be brutally honest, the famous photo of President Obama bodysurfing Sandy’s made me think, ‘Hey, maybe I should put my other arm out behind me.’ It worked!”

Boy, has it worked!

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