Meet ZAHLI KELLY – the 19 year old Billabong athlete from Cabarita Boardriders Club determined to surf her way to some more wins!
This year she qualified for the Challenger Series and came away with a semi-final finish at the last event in South Africa, Ballito Pro.
Zahli has been in the surf scene for many years and had to deal with her fair share of losses.
We had a chat with Zahli to find out how she manages her losses and what drives her to win competitions.
Zahli started surfing 11 years ago. She then started to compete locally and now internationally for the last five years.
“I started surfing because my brother needed company in the water and I hated every minute of it. I would have much preferred to be building sandcastles on the beach,” Zahli said.
“After many involuntary surfs, I went from hating it in those early days to almost qualifying for the Championship Tour in 2019 – I missed out by one heat!”
Picture by Kody McGregor
With four WSL Qualifying Series wins, one Australian Title, six State Titles, two Australasian Pro Junior Championships, and countless more grom comp results, she said, her competitive spirit was ignited when she started winning and that was when Zahli said she truly found a love for the sport.
“I just loved winning,” said Zahli confidently.
But when it comes to the sport of surfing – with winning comes many losses. Athletes can often take losses a number of different ways. For Zahli, losing was her biggest motivation and drive to win.
“Plain and simple, the biggest driver for me to win is how much it sucks to lose,” she said.
“It may sound weird but winning also drives me to win. I love the feeling and it makes me want to feel that feeling as often as I can.”
Zahli explained it hasn’t always been like this. After many years of competing it’s taken her a great amount of time to be able to deal with her losses in a healthy way.
“Competing is definitely draining, that’s for sure. But as an athlete you are always going to lose a lot more than you win. So for me it’s finding the little wins out of those losses.
“For example, I make sure to go back and watch or even just think about my heats to see what I did well, as well as seeing what I can improve on so the focus isn’t solely on the negative things,” she said.
Picture by Ethan Smith
Being able to take a loss and pull out the positives is one of the greatest skills an athlete can take away from competition.
Without finding that drive, a surfer won’t last long in the cut-throat competitive world.
Zahli said another thing that has helped her on her journey to success was ensuring that her life isn’t centred around surfing.
“I like to be able to switch off from it at times and focus on other things that I love to do. I find this keeps my mind healthy!”
“I still love to keep surfing but I love to be able to go on surf trips without thinking about the training and just try new things and have fun. Also just spending time with the people closest to me.
In the winter I spend a lot of my time snowboarding.”
Zahli would like to thank her supporters – sponsors, coaches for the impact they have had on her surfing career and for creating the surfer and person she is today.
“I’ve always had the best support from all the people at Caba Boardriders,” she said of her northern NSW club.
“Even when I’m away travelling, they’re always in my corner and messaging words of support. It feels nice to represent such a great club and town and I’m proud to call Caba home. I’m forever grateful for everyone at the boardriders there.”