Zahli is one of those people who, at the young age of 26, has lived a life some people only dream of.
Growing up on the Gold Coast of Australia and then making a jarring move across the world to Florida in the United States when she was 16 years old made her only consistency the ocean. In a sense, it became her home. Unfortunately for an aspiring surfer, where the Gulf of Mexico meets Florida’s shoreline is calm, still water. This was not ideal, and soon she made her way back to Lennox in Australia, spending the next few years immersing herself, alongside her father, in the surf life. In the blink of an eye, she found herself in Central America, becoming a surf instructor for Barefoot’s surf trip in Nicaragua.
When and where did you start surfing? Did someone introduce you to it?
Growing up on the coast, your whole life basically revolves around the beach — before school, after school, weekends, holidays — you’re just always in the ocean. I don’t remember a definitive time when I started surfing, but I do have very early memories of dad taking me out and me being petrified. We always surfed together, and he would paddle behind me and give me a push onto waves even until I was about 18. It was the best.
When did you start traveling? Where did you go and why?
As a kid, my mum took me to some pretty cool places and made traveling just seem like the “norm”. My first solo trip was moving to England when I was 20 to work as a beach lifeguard, and I was there for 3 years. After the season, everyone would jump in cars and head over to France on the ferry with tents crammed into cars. Then we’d head down to Spain and Portugal to score beautiful, uncrowded waves. After that it was to Indonesia or Sri Lanka before the season started again. Now I’m addicted to experiencing new countries and cultures. I get pretty antsy if I don’t have a trip planned.
Where has been your favorite place to travel + why? How did you end up in Nicaragua?
My fav spot so far has probably been southern France or Northern Spain — uncrowded waves, awesome scenery, friendly people and good bread and olives! I ended up in Nica because of Nao!
That’s right! You’re friends with one of our other surf coaches, Naomi – how and where did you all meet?
We met about 5 years ago lifeguarding on the beaches in Cornwall. We’ve had some pretty cool adventures since then. We ended up living in the field one summer in caravans and surfed around France and Sri Lanka together. She’s a beaut.
In what ways has surfing changed your life?
Being a “surfer” is a lifestyle that, once you’ve tasted, you can’t escape. It’s a life governed by tides and swells, good people, good food and simplicity.
Do you think you’d be the same person you are today without surfing? If not, how?
I guess I would’ve focused on something else if I hadn’t been introduced to this life, probably joined in on the rat race and never would’ve known what I was missing.
What is one of the most important lessons surfing has taught you? What lessons do you try to teach your students?
Surfing has taught me so many valuable lessons in life. It kind of makes you realize the bigger picture; you’re so exposed to nature and all the elements, and sitting out there imagining how big the big blue really is puts everything in perspective for me. It definitely makes me a calmer person. Although being out in a busy lineup can be quite frustrating sometimes, and it can easy to lose sight of why you love surfing so much in the first place, I try to make students realize that it’s the person out there having the most fun that’s really killing it. I think people get so caught up in trying to prove themselves out in the lineup, and they forget to have fun and really enjoy the whole experience of surfing.
What are you most excited for becoming apart of the Barefoot team?
Ahhh, the Barefoot team is so great, I feel honored to be apart of such an amazing team! I’m really excited to share my stoke and passion for surfing and the lifestyle it leads with new people.