By Rebecca Parsons
Brisa Hennessy is a self-proclaimed citizen of the world. Born in the jungles of Costa Rica, Hennessy spent her childhood in the water, falling in love with surfing and the ocean. When she was nine, Hennessy’s family relocated to Oʻahu, Hawai’i where she began surfing competitively, deepening her passion for the sport and gaining comfort in heavier waves. In 2017, Hennessy’s family relocated to Fiji to work as part-time managers for Namotu Island and she spent her downtime between competition surfing waves in the South Pacific. In 2019, one of Hennessy’s lifelong dreams came to fruition when she qualified for the Championship Tour. Fast forward three years and Hennessy rounded out the season fifth in the world. Here, Hennessy shares what her childhood was like, why she wanted to pursue a career as a professional surfer, how she balances being a competitor and a good person.
What was your childhood like?
My dad had a surf school in Costa Rica and my mom was a chef at an eco-lodge, so I was pretty much born in the water. Being in the jungle in general was a very unconventional way of growing up and living. We lived in this house that was completely open, no doors and no windows, it was pretty radical. I spent nine years of my life there living life super simply and falling in love with the ocean and my surroundings.
Has surfing always been a family affair?
Definitely. I think the moment that my mom even dreamed of having a kid they wanted to manifest us surfing together as a family. I think I was probably two when I was on my first board and then standing by around three. Both my parents taught me how to surf and it’s been a big part of our lives.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career as a professional surfer?
As I did more junior contests and bigger national contests, I got exposed to the best surfers in the world. I grew up surfing against Caroline Marks and we really pushed each other when we were doing nationals in California. I think being exposed to that high level junior competitions was a good stepping stone into competing on the big stage. Doing more QS’s and getting more of that worldly experience was something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I feel like I was called to do it in some ways, and I was grateful to qualify after a rough three years of sticking that out and finding myself.
How did growing up in multiple locations shape you into the person and surfer you are today?
I think all these different places, Hawai’i, Costa Rica, and Fiji, kind of share the same perspective and view on life. Being kind, the aloha spirit, the pura vida lifestyle, and bula: it’s just all about family, taking it easy and slow, and showing kindness and love. They’re all such beautiful parts of the world and the ocean is such a big part of their culture as well, so I’ve been so fortunate to be able to experience that. I think it’s been everything in shaping me into who I am and how I see the world.
What were some highlights from the 2022 season? Biggest challenges?
A definite highlight was winning at Sunset amongst a bunch of my friends and family at a wave I put in a lot of time at with Greg Nakamura. He’s my uncle and he’s come third at Sunset at the QS level and he’s always been such an inspiration for me at Sunset. For him to be there supporting me as well as Kahea Hart, who has really helped me out there and gained more comfortability, was such a full circle moment and it was really special.
There were also a lot of low points; it was a really long year. It was very mentally and physically draining. I clearly remember in Brazil where I lost the first round. It was pretty uncertain on my placement and if I was going to qualify for the top five and I felt in a very fearful place of the unknown. But because of those moments it truly made the special moments even better.
At the beginning of the season you said your goal was to finish top five. What’s it like seeing that dream come to fruition?
That’s such a trip, wow. It’s such an interesting journey surfers are on because we constantly have to embrace the unknown and embrace so much uncertainty—we really have to dig deep within ourselves and connect with ourselves and the ocean. Coming out of that one barrel in Tahiti, I still remember that moment, because it was almost like every experience that I’ve gone through was released in that moment. I felt very at peace and the love and joy for why I surf. Being able to achieve something that for so long felt so uncertain and unknown was everything.
Why do you think you had so much success this season?
Every year, I check in with myself and what my drive is. I had a clear purpose and direction this time around of doing it not only for myself but for Costa Rica, my family, and everyone in my life that has dedicated their time to support me. I just felt like I had a clear direction and felt so grateful to be able to do what I do, and I tried to carry that into the ocean and into every heat. It sounds so cliché, but for the first time I was really finding the true love of competing again.
What do you love about competing?
It’s addicting. The flow state that you reach when you compete, which is pretty rare, is so addicting and rejuvenating—it really makes you be in the present moment unlike anything else. To tap into that as a competitor and as an athlete is like a superpower and I always go back to that feeling. Competing is so challenging but it’s where I think you learn more about yourself than anything else that I’ve done and that growth is something that I always come back to.
A big reason why I compete is to hopefully inspire that little girl on the other side of the screen or on the beach to get into the ocean and to go surfing or to do what she loves. As a woman, being a competitor and an athlete is one way to show our strength and our beauty at the same time. I want little girls to know that they can be strong and beautiful, and they can find the balance of who they are in and out of the water.
How do you balance being a competitor and being a good person/friend?
It’s one thing that I’m still learning a lot about and finding more comfortability in because it’s still something that I have to work on. I really want to be the best in the world, I think that’s everyone’s goal on tour, but I also want to be kind and I want to be known as the best person and someone that people can relate to and connect to. To find that middle ground is really challenging, but I think it all comes down to having respect.
Do you hope to compete in the 2024 Olympics?
Definitely. It’s going to be super exciting in 2024 in Tahiti. It’s at a wave that gives me all the different emotions every single time I think about it. To have that opportunity to represent Costa Rica and surf again as a whole would be incredible. Being a part of it last time has given me motivation in wanting to get a medal even more so.
Do you have a plan/strategy heading into next season?
I really want to base this year with focusing more on my mental health and navigating my stress in a healthier way. You’re constantly putting your body and your mind in stress and I really want to go into this year with a little bit more peace, take it more slowly, and find more of my why and intention in everything I do.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a surfer or retired?
I’d definitely be a cook or a chef. Owning my own restaurant or coffee shop has always been a goal of mine. Food connects us all as humans. When you’re out in the ocean and things are uncontrollable, eating is a way that you can control what you’re putting in your body—there’s something so special about creating something in the kitchen. Cooking is like therapy to me; it keeps me grounded.
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