I’m not a model, except when I am

        I don’t own a full-length mirror. It was one of the first things I gave away after deciding to radically downsize my “stuff” in preparation to move to Nicaragua. Down in Nica, my house doesn’t have a mirror at all. Not even in the bathroom. If I decide I need to see what I look like, I’ve got to go sneak a peek in the car window reflection or twist my head to check out my mug in the side view mirror. I do own a few sticks of mascara and a tube or two of lip gloss, but their application is reserved for auditions exclusively. Otherwise, I never wear makeup.

Shoveling manure for fertilizer and relaxing with a cold beer and dirty injured bare feet at my other home in Nicaragua.

        I prefer to allow my feet to be rough, tough, and naked. I bite my nails. My body is covered in an increasing number of scars from impacts with surfboards, tropical reefs, and suburban pavement. I’ve never had a manicure or pedicure. My boyfriend cuts my hair with a pair of kitchen scissors. I buy organic, and love a salad made from the garden, but basically I eat whatever I want in large quantities. Fortunately, I have good genes, plus a serious adrenaline addiction that keeps me active enough to burn through an almost-daily enormous burrito prefaced by chips and salsa.

        I’m not a model. And yet, for some reason, people keep asking me to pose as one.

        It started when I was only sixteen, in Cabo, on a trip with Rusty Surfboards. Through a random series of events I found myself the scabby-kneed, boardshort-tanned, totally clueless, un-self-confident surfer amongst a trio of gorgeous, manicured, dyed and bleached, tanning-bedded, food-conscious models. I survived, and was rewarded with a photo of me in a red bikini holding a surfboard that appeared in numerous magazines and a surfboard sponsorship that has lasted twelve years and counting.

The photo that started it all (above) was on this magazine cover, in a Rusty ad in Surfer and Surfing mags and used on Rusty products like school notebooks. 

        Since then I’ve been on surfing and fitness magazine covers, and learned the subtle and seemingly hypocritical art of ignoring the camera while being conscious of it. I’m well accustomed to walking back and forth, laughing on cue, and staring into the sun without blinking. It’s not really that exciting. I don’t particularly like it. It’s surprisingly exhausting and I’d really rather be surfing. But we all have to “work” sometimes.

        Like everything in life, it’s all about the people. If the photographers, stylists, and assistants are supportive, communicative, and sharing positive energy, it makes all the difference in the world. If you feel comfortable in the clothing, even better. If those factors are present and the posing involves a physical challenge then I can say I am actually having fun.

I love photo shoots that involve a challenge. I’ll scuba dive with sharks, climb waterfalls, bomb hills on a skateboard, whatever. Give me a physical challenge and have the camera ready!

        On my way home from a quick trip to Bocas Del Toro, Panama for a catalog shoot for Athleta I almost wish the shoot was lasting another week. We woke up at 4:30am daily to begin the process of having tangles removed and replaced with curlers. Faces and eyes coated in powdered color. We changed outfits every twenty minutes and were asked to wear sandals constantly, even on the sand. I had a stylist’s hand inside my bikini top and bottoms, constantly adjusting everything. My retinas were repeatedly burned while staring into the sun. I laughed and laughed and laughed at absolutely nothing whenever the photographer asked, which I guess was pretty funny. Sometimes it was a million degrees in the shade and sometimes we had to fight to keep the shivers from taking over. I was reminded of the aboriginal belief that a camera will steal your soul, and while I didn’t feel particularly soul-full, neither did I feel completely soul-less.

Pre-sunrise makeup and curlers.

        It rained. The boat broke down. We nearly capsized in big storm surf. I rode a piece-of-crap skateboard switch-stance on a roughly paved road strewn with deadly gravel while carrying a surfboard and looking over my shoulder laughing. I carried an open umbrella while riding a bicycle and posed as a hippy in a hostel while the real hippies ate pork and beans out of a can and stared. I passed up stand-up left tubes at a reef around the corner to pose on a longboard in mushy two footers. BUT by the end, while you might think I’d be desperate and relieved to hop on a plane and jet back to my normal life of pro surfing, I actually felt reluctant to leave.

This is how I felt when I finally got to go surfing!

        The large group of people assembled by Athleta and our hosts at Tranquilo Bay were interesting, intelligent, entertaining, and there was not nearly enough time to spend getting to know them all. Despite my momentary feelings to the contrary, it was a lot of fun and I am hopeful that I’ll be invited back on the next shoot.

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6 Responses to I’m not a model, except when I am

  1. Anonymous says:

    I LOVE your writing, holls!!! it was so awesome cruising with you, come to hawaii soon! :) xoxoxoox

  2. Anonymous says:

    I LOVE your writing, holls!!! it was so awesome cruising with you, come to hawaii soon! :) xoxoxoox corinne

  3. staubbers says:

    Hey Holly,
    I was just watching your Panama trip. Great post. I’m one of the peeps at Athleta. I forgot to have rachel or amber ask you if you happen to know a friend (surfer) of mine who just moved to Nicaragua with her man and baby. Julie Speier. She is orig from Cincinnati (our home town) via hawaii. You should look her up. her FB says she in La Talanguera, San Juan del Sur, i have no idea where that is. She’s a great woman you def should hook up with if you haven’t already. Just thought i would give you a shout out. Can’t wait to see all the pics of you beautiful ladies out there. We’ll do you proud on our end. take care!
    -laura staub

  4. staubbers says:

    Hey Holly,
    I was just watching your Panama trip. Great post. I’m one of the peeps at Athleta. I forgot to have rachel or amber ask you if you happen to know a friend (surfer) of mine who just moved to Nicaragua with her man and baby. Julie Speier. She is orig from Cincinnati (our home town) via hawaii. You should look her up. her FB says she in La Talanguera, San Juan del Sur, i have no idea where that is. She’s a great woman you def should hook up with if you haven’t already. Just thought i would give you a shout out. Can’t wait to see all the pics of you beautiful ladies out there. We’ll do you proud on our end. take care!
    -laura staub

  5. I remember that picture in Åka Skidor, the Swedish ski magazine! Found it in a train station bookstore when I was visiting my dad that year and it blew my mind that I knew the girl on the cover :) I probably still have that issue laying around somewhere, actually.

  6. Anonymous says:

    My wife gets the Athleta catalog, and I thought that looked like you. The picture of you on the skateboard carrying the surfboard confirmed it. Most people don’t know it is harder than it looks, and I am pretty sure most stereotypical models couldn’t pull that off. I love that Athleta uses real athletes as their models. It is inspiring to my three daughters.

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