Deepa Shah

North Devon, UK

Years Surfing: 6 years

Fave Board: 5’10 Shortboard

Instagram: @deepa_n_shah  & @kobe_surf 

What/who got you started surfing? My surf obsession started when I was at university and watched Blue Crush with some mates. Like most ladies, I was hooked! But me being me, I took it to the next level and decided I wanted to learn… never doing things by half! Life took me to Australia after university, where I followed my dream and took a surf lesson. I couldn’t stand up and was so disappointed that I dumped the board on the beach and sat in the sand in a mood. But the obsession stuck. I came back to the UK, went over to a surf camp in Portugal and thats where I caught my first green wave with my then instructor – who now happens to be the shaper of my boards. I’ve been surf obsessed ever since.

What is your philosophy on surfing? I am a focussed and driven person, and this translates into everything I do in life. So this is how I approach my surfing. I’ve spent time learning the sport and taking surf coaching, my exercise regimes are surf related to help me in the water, my holidays have all been focussed around surf trips. And now I am fortunate to live 5 minutes from a range of surf beaches in North Devon. When I head out to surf, I try to set goals for the session – 5 waves, try a couple of maneuvers, or if its massive….just aim to get out back! I can be too hard on myself… my partner is always saying I need to put less pressure on myself when I surf. But I strive to succeed in life in whatever I do… and this is how I approach the surf.

I used to be so self conscious thinking everyone was watching me in the surf – either judging my rubbish surfing!, or my figure (i’m not the skinny minny surf girl thats seen in the surf mags), or especially when I was traveling I would be self-conscious of the colour of my skin. There are not many dark-skinned ladies in the water…and often I would be the only one. This would unnerve me and make me timid. But now I have settled into my surfing, and when I head out into the waves it’s my zone and my time just for me. Forget about everyone else, and just be in the moment.

So.. my philosophy on my surfing – head out there and try to be the best I can be on that day, in those conditions, in that moment – the way that I approach my life.

Most memorable surf moment? Last year I decided to take my surfing to the next level. I took a trip to Indo for 4 weeks with the British surf travel company – Ticket to Ride. I was so lucky to be coached on this trip by Jarred Veldhuis, a young competitive South African surfer. We surfed twice a day, every day for 4 weeks. I caught the biggest and longest left I’ve ever had and if I close my eyes I can still feel the speed, the burn in my legs, the spray on my face. It’s this moment and so many more amazing waves – even just a few seconds can stay with you for life.

What do you love/hate about surf culture as it pertains to women surfers? I think times have progressed and so now there are heaps of things I LOVE about the surf culture as it pertains to women in the water. I think the stereotypical surf girl image is pretty outdated now…and that is because there are so many real strong women in the sea who have driven for this to change. There is a real sense of community with female surfers now. We have just come through the English winter and in the coldest months there were very few women in the sea at my local beaches. So whenever there was another lady out there, I would always smile and without fail I would get a smile back. We recognise and respect each other and thats so comforting in the water.

Female surfers are pushing the limits – and that is huge inspiration. Nothing is out of reach now.

I also have to give a shout out to the guys… more often than not the men in the water are so welcoming and respectful. It’s good to see, and there is a good vibe.

Favorite spot to surf? I have travelled to so many far flung places to surf – Portugal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Panama, Costa Rica… but having moved to the South West coast of the UK, I now understand the feeling of having a ‘home break’. I love the local beaches which I now surf regularly. The waves may not be perfect, it might be a bit cold… but there is a comfort in knowing its home and that I belong in these waters.

How has your surfing life in the water affected the rest of your life on land?
Surfing has had a huge impact on my life. Coming over to the UK from Kenya as a young girl, I was always a little self-conscious. I had short hair (in Kenya we were always outside so mum kept my hair short as I was always getting covered in dirt), was a little tubby, was brown-skinned and always a little different from the other kids. I was never a cool kid at school, just happy having fun outside, never really interested in boys, just wanted to be like my big bro. This kind of sticks with you in life. I started surfing when I left uni, and it gave me a zone in which I felt strong, beautiful, sexy, powerful – all at the same time. I loved the freedom, where it was only myself and the wave that mattered.

I am a qualified dentist, and have worked hard in this field to become a clinical teacher at a top postgraduate dental school in the UK, and to work with the big guns in London. But in this arena there are very few women. It’s a man’s world and I realised I needed to work that extra bit harder to be recognised, to get opportunities, to be allowed into the ‘boys club’. Surfing helped me cope with this – it gave me strength and empowerment and made me feel physically and mentally strong. It also gave me an escape from all the pressure – somewhere to just be me – the easy-going, unassuming, fun-loving lady that I think I am.

Surfing has also given me freedom to express myself creatively. I started a women’s surf brand – Kobe Surf – in 2016. I wanted to design a collection that was flattering, not too skimpy and easy to wear in the surf. One thing led to another – and now we have been running for 3 years and have launched our first collection made with sustainable fabrics – regenerated nylon rom recycled fishing nets and other nylon waste. I have learned so much about fashion & retail, and the wastage that occurs daily in this industry, and am now committed to drive Kobe forwards in support of the ‘fashion revolution’. Kobe Surf started as a little ‘passion project’, but I am proud to say has now developed into a well known surf brand in the UK. I have met so many amazing women on my journey thus far with Kobe, each with their own unique story and vision, and each of them selflessly supportive – it has left me overwhelmed and so grateful for the kindness which these ladies have shown. I’m excited to see what the future holds for Kobe!

Surfing also led me to the place where I finally feel I can call home. When I was 10 years old I went off to boarding school in the UK, and went back to Kenya on school holidays. I went to uni in London. I moved around after uni, lived in Australia, traveled a lot, worked in the heart of London. But I always felt claustrophobic. Never settled, always searching for some place that felt right. I felt like I missed the space, the freedom of Africa. But last year the stars aligned. I met my partner and I nailed a job in an amazing dental practice in North Devon. And so I moved my life down to the sea.

The landscape in North Devon is vast, open and rugged. As my father used to say when we were on the savannah plains in Kenya, I can ‘stretch my eyes’ to the horizon. The sea is so close I can surf everyday. Finally I feel settled and able to set down roots.
I don’t know where my life would be if I hadn’t started surfing – and I don’t even want to imagine it.