Mind surfing Sunset Beach | Photo by Shannon Marie Quirk
Name: Brittany Marie Gomulka / Age: 30 / Location: Oahu / Occupation: Craft Bartender / Passion: Big Wave Surfing
Britanny where you live and how did you get into surfing?
I was born and raised in Ocean County, New Jersey where I learned to surf in cold, stormy waves. I started competing at age 12 at the local surfing contests along the US East Coast. I was a lifeguard at the Seaside Park Beach Patrol during the summer months where I trained to race in lifeguard tournaments. My favourite event was the “paddle pickup”, where competitors raced to their teammates out in the ocean, picked them up on their paddle board, and raced back to shore to the finish line. I won this event almost every time. After 13 years as a lifeguard along side of my father, Captain Joe Gomulka, he retired in 2013 which is around the time when I started to become permanently established in Hawaii after graduating college. I moved to the North Shore of Oahu in 2013 to pursue my passion to surf big waves after a few enlightening surf trips out here. I have been working in the hospitality industry since moving here. Currently I am a full time craft bartender at Chef Peter Merriman’s “Moku Kitchen” in Kakaako, Oahu which is located in the new urban centre “SALT” in downtown Honolulu. Check it out the website here, or instagram here.
Paddle Racing in New Jersey. First place finish in the “paddle pickup” event at the Island Beach State Park Women’s Tournament 2013 with Kelly Newcomb
Sharing a wave with the boys at Waimea Bay Photo by Terry Reis
How you’ve changed/adapted your life to fit surfing in and how difficult was it to achieve this:
I have adapted to fit surfing into my life in more ways than I can count, but mainly, moving to a place that provides big waves was the main step. When I lived back home in New Jersey, I was always keeping updated on the weather patterns and storms in order to ride some big juicy bombs along the east coast, however, I knew in my heart, mind, and body all my life that something more was possible for me as a storm rider. I was always on a tight budget so traveling often wasn’t tangible to get to the level I knew I was capable of. I had to be conveniently located where the big swells hit, and Hawaii was the place I chose. I scored moving here at just the right time because in 2015/2016 we were graced with the most incredible El Niño in modern history. I had been training for a few years prior to this season so I was physically ready for it. Even though I was just getting started with my “big wave” riding achievements, I progressed very quickly during that time once I was stationed on Oahu and got onto the right equipment. One of the obstacles I faced from the moment I moved here was making a living wage. Nobody was sending me checks in the mail to surf or shipping me any gear. I took on several different job opportunities wherever I could make ends meet and it took a very long time before I really began to establish my financial circumstances so I could live more comfortably here. Right now I am working full time with a daily commute into the city which takes about 1-2 hours each way. I am driving almost 4 hours a day, but at least the view is nice here and I can check the waves driving along the coast. The traffic can be pretty mind numbing though. It’s summer right now so balancing training and work is a little easier with the extra hours of sunlight. When I’m not working, I’m usually training or focusing on my surf goals in some way. Both surfing and my career have me working overtime, but I love what I do very much.
The Wipeout at Waimea Bay Novemever 2016 that perforated my eardrums | Photo by Junior Maosi
What has surfing taught you about yourself:
It’s taught me patience and perseverance. I have to be patient waiting for the right waves to take off on. I can’t make mistakes on big waves because the consequences can be really intense. My mistakes have taught me perseverance because when I make a mistake that results in an injury, I have to persevere through those moments in timeout and recenter my focus in order to play smarter next time. I recently recovered from an ruptured eardrum injury where I blew out both ears after wiping out at Waimea Bay in November 2016. It took 6 months for the holes in my ears to close. I now wear special earplugs called “surfears” to prevent another injury. I wear them surfing in all surf conditions now, even when it’s small. This injury had caused me hearing loss and severe vertigo in the first month which resulted in a second injury of breaking my foot after losing my balance walking barefoot. I couldn’t walk for a month and the ears took about 6 months to heal. I learned how fragile the human body and mind is during this time. I nearly lost my mind in the beginning when I first got injured because I felt like I had really blown my chances to achieve the new goals I had set for myself. I wasn’t sure how long I would be out of the water and I was plagued with depression watching an entire big wave season pass me by.
However this experience made me 1000x more determined to bounce back stronger than ever. After my foot injury healed I started getting active again after several weeks in bed. I started off with a few easy hikes and then I started to paddle for fitness and distance on my big wave board once my ears began to heal. Now I am running the beach every day, surfing or paddling as often as possible, swimming, and getting ready for the next big wave season. My goal is to prove that I am capable of being on the WSL Big Wave Women’s tour. I feel that am ready to perform right now if asked to do so.
A closeup of me riding my 9″8 magic board at Waimea shaped by Dick Brewer | Photo by Matt Paul Catalano
Surfing with a few of my best friends on the North Shore (left to right: Nakia Fleuren, Me, Cris Ribeiro, Raquel Heckert)
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pick up a board for the first time:
For the very first time? Get in shape first. Work on your fitness and balance and then get a good coach to train with. Click here to visit my blog that provides a fun list of tips for first timers.
What is your advice for women looking to get into big wave surfing?
I see a lot of really talented women who I believe have the capability to surf big waves but don’t utilise the right equipment or refuse to make the transition onto a big wave gun. If you want to do what I’m doing, all you have to do is invest in the right equipment and learn how to ride smoothly on a big wave gun. Go ride a big wave board in small mushy waves at an outer reef to get a feel for it first. Learn the board and push yourself to master it. Then when it’s big you’ll be confident on your gun to push yourself over that ledge. If you allow yourself to gradually progress on a big wave gun, you’ll be surprised at what’s possible on a board like this. It opens up and entirely different realm of possibilities in the ocean. Short boarders with big wave talent need to get out of the box and give this genre a try. I’ve offered to share my big wave boards with other women who have actually told me no in the past, but the ones who did try it were pleasantly surprised with what I shared with them. I used to be in the box once, stuck riding only shortboards, until I rode my first good wave on a proper gun. It changed my whole life and made me fall in love with surfing all over again.
Paddle/Hike to the summit of this secret spot on Oahu