Lola Bleakley: A Rising Star in Women's Longboarding - From Cornwall to the World Stage
At 16 years old, the British Women’s Longboard Champ, Lola Bleakley, has carved a prominent name for herself on the international longboarding scene. Which is quite something for a young surfer hailing from the tiny surfing community of Sennen on the westerly tip of Cornwall.
Between sessions at her home break and on her longboard skateboard, Hayley Lawrence caught up with Lola to find out what it’s like being one the UK’s most progressive longboarders in the midst of the evolving female surf scene.
(photos by Nathan Benham)
So Lola, when did your surfing journey begin?
When I was just a few months old, Dad would lie me on his longboard while he rode little peelers in Barbados, and also on summer days at home in Gwenver. When I was three I got my first stand-up rides in Hainan, China, when Dad was working on the ASP Women's World Longboard Champs out there. So it all really started from there. As well as surfing as I was growing up here in Cornwall, I got to travel to India with my family when I was small, which was also a big part of me learning to surf.
Why longboarding over shortboarding?
I prefer longboarding because I think it’s more graceful and elegant. For me it’s more like an art form and a dance. There is a really awesome female longboard scene in Sennen and around the world and it’s empowering to see how much women’s longboarding is growing internationally.
You’ve designed your surfboards alongside longboard legend Ben Skinner – what’s in your quiver?
I have two single fins – 9’6” and 9’4” – which are Skindog Surfboards’ Double Scoop models. Plus a Skindog 9’6” Peacemaker single fin Thunderbolt and a 9’2” Blender Thunderbolt. And yes, I’ve been a small part in the design journey of the Double Scoop with Ben Skinner. I’ve ridden a lot of the prototypes of this amazing model – which he performed the most insanely long hang tens on in the last WSL finals at Malibu. It has a double scoop concave in the back third of the deck to help direct water movement and create more lift on the nose, while allowing a narrower tail, with an outline that helps with turning. Actually, my dad made a great film about it which you can see here:
What’s kept you so passionate about surfing through the years?
One motivation is knowing that I might have an opportunity to be in big competitions such as the Olympics, national events, or even the World Tour. I’ve also had so much inspiration from Izzy Henshall (my cousin), my Dad, Mike Lay, Sylvie Puddiphatt and international longboarders such as Soleil Errico and Kelis Kaleopaa. But over all of that, I just love surfing and being in the sea throughout the seasons.
Tell us about growing up in the third generation of a big surfing family in Cornwall.
It’s so special to surf together as a family. I often surf with my grandad, who taught my dad, my mum and my brother Ruben (who’s nine and already good at nose riding). Surfing as a family has influenced my appreciation of just getting in the water, no matter how good or bad it is. It’s also taught me respect for all generations, as well a lot about surf culture and history.
So how has surfing shaped you growing up?
Surfing has given me a lot of confidence and respect for the ocean. I’ve learned to express myself through surfing, and in many ways it has inspired my love of art. Being part of the surfing community has made me tolerant of others, and passionate to travel and experience cultures around the world. I think my presence and identity as a surfer has shaped how I am on land, how I communicate with all generations and have an open-minded perspective on life.
How has the female surf scene changed in your lifetime?
It’s great to see the number of women surfers growing – both in the line-up and in comps. In international longboard competitions, the level of women’s surfing gets better and stronger every year. Watching Soleil Errico win the last two WSL titles showcased a new level of women’s longboarding. There is also a great free-surf scene and other comps such as the Mexi Log Fest, where you can witness talented female longboarders who don’t always compete at ISA or WSL events.
What’s it like being a UK surfer on the international scene?
It’s exciting. Getting silver at the European Junior champs when I was 14 was the stepping stone that led to a WSL event in California, being invited to Rising Tides at Malibu and surfing the WSL World Longboard Champs, then doing the Mexi Log Fest. Other British surfers who have been competing internationally, such as Emily Currie, Beth Leighfield and Amelia Hewitson, have been super inspiring.
You’ve been invited back to the Mexi Log Fest in 2024 – congratulations. How was your experience travelling to Mexico for the festival in Saladita earlier this year?
Saladita is one of the best longboard waves in the world, and going there was a super cool experience – especially travelling by myself, which was scary at first. It was incredible to meet the top longboarders and surf a perfect left hander. I met so many amazing female longboarders who are now friends and I hope to surf with them again in the future. Watching Kassia Meador was a highlight.
Dream surf destination?
I’d love to go to Noosa. I do prefer left points, but the longboard culture of Noosa is something I would love to experience.
Home or away – which do you prefer?
I love being at home, but I do enjoy being in warmer climates and it’s pretty cold here in the winter. When it’s nice here in the summer, it is really hard to beat Cornwall.
So, cross-stepping – come on, what’s the secret?
Practice and longboard skating. Being really light-footed and making sure you look forwards and keep your arms low is also key. And watching good longboarders do it well. But the main thing is to keep trying and trying, and enjoying the process.
How does longboard skateboarding influence your longboarding in the water?
Longboard skateboarding is a great way to develop balance through footwork and also flow in turns. Having flow is so important. Moving fast with flow is something you can feel on a long skateboard. Practicing turning on your rail is great as well. And walking in and out of noserides – into a hang five and ten. There are all things you can experience on a long skate and then take into the water.
You make it sound so easy. What are your plans and ambitions in surfing?
I would love to be on the WSL World Tour and be able to travel around the world and experience loads of different waves and cultures.
Any words of inspiration for other female surfers from the UK?
It can be hard in the winter, but getting in on small, clean days is key to keep your spirits up. When it’s busy it can be difficult too. So I suggest finding your own space on those days. Also, just get in, even on poor surf days or very small days when it’s quiet, because you always feel good when you’ve been in the sea, no matter what the conditions are like.
Most essential items of surf kit?
Board, wetsuit, fins and sun cream are key, of course. But alongside that, for me ear plugs (especially for coldwater surfers), a good changing robe, good wax, a good board sock and healthy, energy snacks like dried fruit and nuts.