Serena Brooke was one of the surf world’s best-liked and brightest stars in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The superfit and fresh-faced regularfoot claimed ASP Rookie of the Year honors in 1995, won her first tour event the next year, and twice finished second in the world (1998 and 1999) before bowing out of full-time tour competition after the 2008 season. In the years since, Brooke’s gone on to do charity work, appear in surf fitness how-tos, and started her own clothes company. This past spring, Brooke moved on to the most important chapter of her life, giving birth to twin girls; she’s raising the future shredders with her long-time partner, visual artist Emma Sheldrake. (The couple briefly made Australian news recently for standing up in support of same sex marriage.) We caught up with Serena to find out what post-tour life has been like.
First, where are you living and what are you up to these days? How’s your new clothing line coming along?
I’m living in Noosa on the Sunshine Coast. I moved back up here a couple of years ago. I grew up here and my partner was living up here, plus the Gold Coast has become so crowded to surf these days, so it’s a little more relaxed up here which is nice. Serena Sportwear is going well, there has been a bit of time off after the birth of the girls, but it is going well, all the samples are done and they look great. We are using some of Em’s artwork on the pieces.
How’s your surfing? Are you able to get in the water much with newborn twins?
Surfing is going well, although I found it really hard at first after the birth of the girls. I had a C-section and I felt so weak, like I had no core strength left. We have a neighbor who loves the girls and comes every morning and watches them, so I have been surfing again quite a bit. When there is swell I surf the national park waves. Tea Tree Bay has been insane lately—great sand, lots of barrels, and not the crazy amount of people like the Gold Coast. When it’s smaller I just surf whatever beachbreaks have the best banks. There are a lot to choose from up here.
Tell us a bit about your partner and your little girls.
My partner is a graphic designer and a fine artist. We work from home which helps a lot as there are always two of us here for the bubs. She is very busy either painting for galleries or doing design work for her own company. Motherhood has been the biggest blessing for both of us. It is the best thing I have ever done. It’s so rewarding in so many ways. I am super happy and have loved transitioning into this phase of life; everyone tells you how amazing parenting will be, but you don’t know the love you will experience until you do it. It’s love on a whole new level. It’s the best.
2008 was your last year on tour. Were you hoping to re-qualify for 2009 or were you ready for life on tour to be over? Walk me through your thoughts as that year ended.
I was totally ready to leave the tour in 2008. I did it for 14 years and was not too much into competing at that point in my life. I was actually excited, rather than bummed, and didn’t try to re-qualify at all. The timing was perfect to leave full-time competing behind. As much as I had loved doing it, the thrill of being in a different country surfing crappy contest waves was not for me anymore. We had super bad waves on tour that year; all of the good waves weren’t on the women’s tour schedule anymore, so it was more of a beachbreak tour than a dream tour. The days of surfing J-Bay, Trestles, Fiji, Tahiti, and Hawaii were gone. I actually felt bad for the new girls coming on, and fortunate that I got to compete on tour in the earlier years when we had amazing waves and events. I did a bunch of side trips that last year when I was around the WCT events and just enjoyed myself.
What was life like in 2009? Were you doing contests? Did you have a plan in place for life after full-time competition?
2009 was a fun year. I competed in select events with Bud Light and traveled to great waves for photo/video trips: Indo, Hawaii,Tahiti, the Philippines, and all around the USA. It was very relaxed, no stress, just hanging out or going where the waves were good. No points to worry about, and no getting out of bed to surf crappy waves. I enjoyed the more relaxed schedule and enjoyed leaving that little bubble life of the WCT behind. It served me well, but I was ready to explore more outside of full-time tour life. I didn’t really have a “plan” so to speak, but I was still getting paid to surf and I had set myself up over the years so I didn’t have to run out and get a job right away or anything which was a blessing. From when I left the WCT to when I gave birth to the twins, I’ve had a blast. Now I just cant wait to surf with my kids.
What are some of your favorite memories from your pro career?
I have so many amazing memories it’s hard to pick, but my favorite is probably my first WCT win (Hossegor, 1996) when you had to surf all the way through from the trials to get to the main event. It was big, heavy Hossegor and I was stoked to beat the top girls and take my first WCT win. I also loved winning events at home like the Billabong Pro, and competing in Japan when we had WCT events there. It was such a trip going there as a grom, so different from where I had grown up.
Also, I enjoyed side trips like the OP Boat Trip Challenge in the early 2000s. They would take the top four women from the Surfer Poll awards and the top four men. Surfing for 10 days with Bruce, Andy, Occy, Shane—all the top guys—and me, KK [Keala Kennelly], Rochelle [Ballard], and Layne. It was such an amazing concept: hour long heats and perfect waves and a bunch of money just for showing up and a LOT for the winner. We all got into trouble the first year as the contest organizers tried to make it like the “Survivor” TV show, and turn us against each other with a winner takes all concept. So the boys and girls got together and scribbled a little hand-written contract which we all signed, secretly agreeing to just split all the money no matter who won. I think Occy won the men’s and Roach [Ballard] won the women’s and they split it. Although the contest directors were onto it and the next year told us we could not split the money again.
Who were some of your favorite competitors on tour? Were there girls you hated to face in heats? Who do you think was the best surfer you ever faced?
I liked to compete against everyone on tour because they all had their strong points at certain spots. All the heats were tough. The best surfer I faced on tour was probably Steph [Gilmore] as she was coming on strong just when I was leaving. Chelsea [Hedges] was almost unbeatable when there were barreling waves—she was amazing. And of course Layne was the contest queen. I finished runner up to the world title to her twice so she was obviously a tough one.
Do you still follow the women’s tour? Who are your favorite surfers today?
I don’t follow it as closely as I thought I would, there is so much more to life than contests. You don’t realize that until you’re out of that bubble because when you’re in it it becomes all consuming and it’s all you focus on. But I think Steph, Carissa Moore, Tyler Wright, Courtney Conlogue, Sally Fitzgibbons, Lakey Peterson, and Coco Ho are the strongest all around surfers on tour at the moment.