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Five Minutes with Cori Schumacher, JettyGirl Online Surf Magazine

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Five Minutes with Cori Schumacher: JettyGirl Visits with the Women's Pipeline Pro Longboarding Champion

cori schumacher portrait by maria cerda
©Maria Cerda 2009

"To any young girls (or anyone, for that matter) who happen upon these "five minutes"... I want to encourage you to strive to know yourself, to be true to yourself and to make a difference each moment your eyes are open. You have the power to change the world. But first, take the time to become you. Don't look at anyone else... this is your story. There is no comparison.

There will never be another you."

--Cori Schumacher

It's the bane of every interviewer to open up an email from a subject only to find one-word answers that are dwarfed by the length of the questions themselves. This edition of "Five Minutes" is with Cori Schumacher though, so we knew we'd be receiving a goldmine of thought-provoking and insightful answers...and she did not disappoint. The responses below paint a picture of a rare person in this world—one who's a champion in her sport while at the same time, humble enough that she routinely deflects praise onto others.

Special thanks to Cori for taking time to answer these questions...on her birthday no less, and to Maria Cerda for providing the photos. Read on and enjoy! --Chris Grant

JettyGirl: First off, congratulations on your recent win at the Women's Pipeline Pro. Is the whole experience a big blur or do some specific memories stand out in your mind?
Cori Schumacher: Thank you, Chris! There are some pretty clear moments I can recall. The first would be Jen Smith noseriding at Backdoor. Up until her heat, the girls had been avoiding noseriding. She set the pace with a jaunt up to the nose on one of her takeoffs. After that, everyone was racing to the nose. I also remember my semi-final with Kaitlin Maguire and Bianca Valenti. We had the best waves of the day roll through during that heat. It was glassy, about 4 ft. (Hawaiian) and consistent. I was watching Bianca going for these huge floaters and pulling in at Backdoor on a board that she borrowed from Surftech while Kaitlin was racking up some tip time and throwing some strong turns. During the final, I can remember running up the beach and laughing. Surfing Pipeline with only three other people is one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had.

JG: Whenever I meet with longboarder friends at San Onofre and paddle out on a shortboard, I often have those "What am I doing on a shortboard out here?" moments since my equipment is not necessarily the best match for the break. Did that ever cross your mind as you paddled out at one of the heaviest waves in the world...on a longboard no less?
CS: Oh yes, that certainly crossed my mind. The first day we surfed Pipe, I got pitched and was compacted into the reef on a particularly nasty drop. I hesitated in my thoughts but only momentarily. I then reminded myself of the days when Linda Benson rode Waimea Bay... or any of the boys who first rode Pipeline on flat, balsa wood tanks... or Joel Tudor who makes riding Pipeline on a longboard look effortless. I am going to paraphrase something that Bianca Valenti said that struck me: "If you haven't surfed Pipeline often, it doesn't matter what you ride. You are a novice out there. Plain and simple." I work within the belief that a good surfer can make any piece of equipment work at any given location. It might be tougher with an increase in the surface area of the board, or a decrease in some cases ;), but adjustments can be made. For instance, we can get into waves earlier at Pipe. We just had to learn to draw the right lines. At Pipe, it's all about the line you draw, not necessarily what you draw it with. The other aspect of this equation is the level of confidence and commitment that you bring to the experience. After Leah Dawson watched me get pitched, she paddled up to me and reminded me that I needed to paddle with everything I had if I was going to paddle for a wave at Pipe. I was confident in the board Donald Takayama had shaped me and I was confident in my fitness so really, it was fear that was getting in the way, not the length of my board.

JG: You've been on quite a roll this past year with big wins at the Roxy Jam Cardiff and now at Pipe. Word on the street is that you've been doing a lot of training on land in addition to your regular surf sessions. How large a part has your fitness regimen played in your recent contest successes?
CS: My fitness regimen has played a huge role in my recent placings. One of the first things the girls said to me after my final at Pipeline was, "You must be spent!" I had been non-stop from the qualifying round and during my semi-final and final, catching waves and jogging up the beach relentlessly. My reply: "I'm ready for another round!" It was more than adrenaline and the excitement of the event. My stamina and strength have never been this high. In last year's Roxy at Cardiff. I surfed from the beginning rounds all the way through to the finals and still had energy to spare. Back in 2007, when I made the Roxy final at Cardiff, I had no breath. I was exhausted in the finals and this caused me to lose focus. I decided that I needed to do something more than the occasional surf for my body. I think the most important gift you can give yourself is a process whereby you build trust with your body. Surfing is an experience that constantly challenges the body to respond at lightning speeds. Supporting the intuition of the body through training and strength allows a surfer to push into new realms of his/her potential. I workout with Liz Motshagen of SWEAT (Surfers With Excellent Athletic Training). She has zeroed in on a program that focuses on strengthening reflexes and building core strength.

JG: While contest surfing is more or less an individual pursuit, pre-Pipeline Pro photos have been trickling in and it appears that you had some teamwork going on with fellow Pipe competitors Leah Dawson and Ashley Lloyd. Tell us about that.
CS: Leah Dawson was kind enough to let me stay with her for this event. When I walked in the door the evening of my arrival, I was pleasantly surprised to find Ashley Lloyd perched behind an acoustic guitar in the living room, strumming away. None of us had spent any length of time with each other but we soon developed a bond that I won't soon forget. We had a few nicknames rolling around but the one that stuck was The Trifecta. Leah ("The Conductor") was the grom, charging Pipeline with little regard for the reef below. She had won the Pipeline event the years prior to this one and surfed both shortboard and longboard in the event. She is the hardest charging female longboarder I know and is among the hardest charging female surfers, period. She was the first girl to break a board at Pipeline during this event. Ashley Lloyd ("The Situation") is probably the most talented and underrated person I know. She needs a manager who can sing her praises because she never will. She plays amazing guitar, writes beautiful, heart-touching songs, shapes her own boards and is one of the best longboarders on the planet. If I had to choose one word to describe her it would be grace. She oozes it. The problem with grace is that it can slip under the nose of judges who don't notice that when Ashley is taking off on an 8 foot face at Backdoor, the leash is around her front foot because she is riding switchfoot! She is too smooth, too graceful, too... GOOD on a longboard. Judges don't know what to do with her.

We stuck together on this trip, pushing each other and supporting each other in every way. The contest itself was a high pressure event and we were waking up early every morning, for nearly a week, to be told the contest wasn't going to be held. We'd mentally prepare to surf then would have to dissipate this energy somehow. We would rock climb at Waimea Bay; go to yoga in the Valley of Waimea; surf big waves; laugh into the night; Leah and Ashley would play guitar any spare moment they had; we shared smiles and secrets and dreams and because of this, we share a bond only this moment could have created.

Two memorable experiences with The Trifecta-in-Effecta:

We were staying at a house that Ashley's parents had rented on the beach just south of Laniakea. The waves had come up over night and we were chomping at the bit. We loaded the car, with Ashley's parent's in tow-including 91 year old grandpa-and drove to Chun's. Chun's to the right, Jaco's to the left... 6-8 ft. (Hawaiian), we thought. Suited up and headed out. We tried to get Kaitlin to come with us to Jaco's but she wouldn't have it. She ended up surfing with Bonga Perkins that day. Jaco's had a non-stop current going that was strong enough that we had to paddle consistently to keep our position. We were the only ones out. We surfed for about an hour before Leah got antsy and wanted to paddle south to Holden's. Ashley and I surfed for a little while longer, Ashley positioning herself into the tight pockets perfectly while I tried to avoid the rocks directly inside. We saw Leah catch a good left at Holden's and both of us decided to paddle over simultaneously. We paddled over and soon found that Holden's had some 10ft. sets rolling through. Leah and I had a quick conversation about how Ashley's continued decision to hang inside was causing us anxiety before Leah paddled for another wave. As I turned around and cleared my eyes of the spray brought by the nasty tradewind gusts, I saw the horizon go dark. "Expletive!" I started paddling out to sea. As I began paddling up the first 20+ foot face, digging as hard as I could to get over, I prayed that Ashley and Leah were a good ways inside. I was barely making it over these mountains. As I crested the third, I turned and saw the heads of Leah and Ashley. They were together, at least! I paddled over 5 or so more then attempted to catch a left. I was smashed all the way in and ended up paddling up behind the other two girls after having been swept to the most southern end of Laniakea. We surfed outside Laniakea catching waves that were disjointed and massive for another couple of hours before paddling back to the house on the beach at Papailoa. Despite being smashed by the largest set of the day, Ashley and Leah continued to surf for a half an hour longer than I did and crawled up the beach laughing and smiling as if having just surfed "fun" Malibu.

The waves got to be pretty big for several days while we were over in Oahu. One of the days we had been driving around not really seeing anything that looked... fun? rideable? sane?... and we ended up at Sunset Beach near dusk. We were all just sitting watching the SOLID 10-12ft. walls (that's 20-24 foot faces in California-speak) march through. It was peaky, unpredictable and disjointed. The West peak was doing its nastiness, something I remember from when I surfed it in 1996 but the inside looked clean. The car was silent. Ashley piped, "Does anyone want to go out?" I looked from the back seat and caught Leah's eyes reflected in the rear-view mirror. "Nah", "No."

A few minutes rolled by.

Ashley, "Well, I'm going out." The declaration dropped like a hammer. "I'll go with you," I might have squeaked. Leah threw up her hands. "Ahhhhh! Well I can't stay here!" Ashley was already unstrapping the boards and after a little nervous procrastination, we headed out. We paddled out and all got our butts handed to us. I got crushed by the west peak first... after telling Ashley to watch out for it; went over the falls twice on one wave, then got beaten by the next so hard I tried to unstrap my leash so I would stop being dragged. Leah got hit by the west peak and her leash snapped. She had to swim in and ended up being dragged over the dry reef in the inside. Ashley sat, eyes glowing, taking it all in... and then she got slammed by one wave so deep she hit bottom... AT SUNSET. She opened her eyes and saw only black. That ain't good. I managed to get a couple. The first happened to be in front of some poor bloke and the second jumped up in front of me hissing "I'm going to crush your brainzzzzzz!" so I kicked out. We eventually made it back in and were able to laugh at our crazy, impromptu excursion. I looked at Ashley, still a little breathless, and told her she had added another layer to her mystique. Ashley... The Situation.

JG: We hear that you donated half your Pipeline contest earnings to the Rell Sunn Educational Fund. In many ways surfing is a fairly selfish pursuit but you have made it a point to give back. Two questions, is giving back an important aspect of your worldview and second, what is it that makes the Rell Sunn Educational Fund special to you?
CS: My surf history is littered with influences of the most unselfish kind. Donald Takayama is the most prevalent example of the "Aloha spirit" that I try to embrace.

We think of waves sometimes as "mine" or "yours" and we don't like sharing waves, but I think this has more to do with our beaches being overpopulated and our society being competitive than the suggestion that surfing might be inherently selfish. Competition is selfish, but not surfing. That is how surfing spread in the first place. The experience was shared, given as a gift.

Since I compete, I fall into this category of "most likely, probably selfish" so what's the deal? Yes, giving back is an important aspect of my worldview. One of the reasons I stopped competing after my second world championship win back in 2001 was because I wanted to make a difference in the world and I didn't think I could do it winning contests in surfing. It seemed so self-serving. After 9/11, I was a part of the forming of The San Diego Peace and Justice Coalition which began marching through the streets of downtown in protest of going into Afghanistan and later, into Iraq. It was here that I began to understand Ghandi's adage "Be the change you wish to see in the world." I heard so many people talk about making a difference or taking a stand but so few actually did. I was discouraged at this reality at first but then I took a good hard look at myself and realized that I wasn't creating the reality that I wanted around me. So I began to change myself, to become the difference.

Through this exercise, I reconnected with my roots, with surfing. Being a performer, I wanted to get back into competition but I didn't want to feel the hollowness I felt when I relied on validation from the surf industry. Since the Roxy contest in Cardiff last year I have been seeking ways to give back to the world through my surfing.

Before Hawaii, Rell's documentary, Heart of the Sea, was shown in Oceanside. Although I wasn't able to attend, I was reminded of the grace and spirit of Aloha that Auntie Rell personified in her lifetime. I had the opportunity to spend some time with her over the years before she got sick and during the time she was trying to fight her breast cancer. I was in a play at the Surfing Hall of Fame with Rell, surfed with her, attended Donald's famous barbecues with her and listened to her talk story. My family was a part of the Oceanside Longboard Club which put on a benefit event to help pay for some of the medical expenses that she had. It was a contest... but it helped Rell. The event at Pipeline was a benefit for the Girl Scouts of Hawaii... all the little pieces began falling into place on one of my sand-jogs... I have friends and family that have been affected by breast cancer... "Why not give back whatever I can to Rell's foundation?"

It is in this way that I am seeking to break the cycle of "taking" that has lead to the assumption that surfing is a selfish endeavor. There are a surprising number of women longboarders who feel the same as I and who are actively pursuing ways to make the world a better place through their surfing. I am simply continuing the lineage as I originally received it.

JG: Final question, with your recent high profile contest wins, you no doubt have earned quite a few young fans. Do you have any advice for young girls who may be coming up through the surfing ranks?
CS: To any young girls (or anyone, for that matter) who happen upon these "five minutes"... I want to encourage you to strive to know yourself, to be true to yourself and to make a difference each moment your eyes are open. You have the power to change the world. But first, take the time to become you. Don't look at anyone else... this is your story. There is no comparison.

There will never be another you.

Special Note: JettyGirl's good friend, Claire Bevilacqua, also walked away with a Pipeline Pro victory that day, her title coming in the shortboard division. Check out her story on Claire Bevilacqua: "The Freebird"


Additional Resources:

Hawaiian Pro Designs - Surfboards by Donald Takayama

Banzai Surfing Productions and Betty Depolito

Tidal 9 Women's Pipeline Pro

Girl Scouts of Hawai'i

Ashley Lloyd

Rell Sunn Educational Fund

Oceanside Longboard Club

Surf for Life
- Surf For Life is a non-profit organization designed to connect surfers and non-surfers with community service activities to create impact at an international level. The mission of the organization is to channel the interest and energy of individual surfers into teams that travel internationally to various project sites where they serve as hands-on volunteers.



Photo Gallery Format: Flash uses Adobe Flash for many of our photo galleries. Download the free player for Mac or Windows by clicking the banner on the left.


Caption Index - All photos © Maria Cerda 2009; Photoshop border courtesy of Andrea Rascaglia (Rome, Italy)

1. Two of this year's Women's Pipeline Pro Champions, Australia's Claire Bevilacqua and California's Cori Schumacher.
2. Leah Dawson and Cori Schumacher with the driving force behind a women's event at Pipeline, Betty Depolito.
3. Cori Schumacher and Leah Dawson for Keep A Breast.
4. Ashley Lloyd, 'The Situation' and Cori Schumacher, 2/3's of the Trifecta.
5. If you were looking for a noseride, Backdoor would probably be the last place you'd search. Cori perches one anyway.
6. Super strong and ultra-flexible, Cori stalls to get under the hook.
7. All smiles on Finals Day, Cori Schumacher looking relaxed while Kaitlin Maguire intensely surveys the lineup.
8. Cory has one of the best cutbacks on the planet. Here she is applying the pressure at Backdoor.
9. Finalists Crystal Dzigas, Rachel Spear, Cori Schumacher and Kaitlin Maguire.
The Trifecta, ready to paddle out at Sunset. Cori Schumacher, Leah Dawson and Ashley Lloyd.
11. There's a time for amping and a time for quiet reflection. The Trifecta, moments before paddling out at Sunset.|
12. A long way from Cardiff Reef, Cori Schumacher nabs a nice one at Sunset Beach, Hawaii.
13. Lights and TV camera on Cori Schumacher. A longboarding win at Pipeline doesn't go unnoticed by the media.
14. Tidal 9 Women's Pipeline Pro Longboarding Champion, Cori Schumacher.


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