Gabbard at Lanikai Beach, Oahu.
Gabbard at Lanikai Beach, Oahu. (Photo: Joao Canziani)

A Hawaiian Congresswoman Paddles into a Wave…

What, are you surprised? Tulsi Gabbard learned to choose her own line on Oahu's South Shore.

Gabbard at Lanikai Beach, Oahu.

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Political junkies take note: Tulsi Gabbard is one to watch. The 35-year-old Democrat from Hawaii was elected to Congress in 2012 and is both the first Hindu and the first American Samoan to serve there, and one of the few combat veterans. With that sort of résumé, it’s no surprise that the Democratic National Committee tapped her for vice chairwoman in 2013. But in February, she gave up the post to back Bernie Sanders. (DNC officials are barred from making endorsements.)

When Gabbard’s not rankling party leaders in D.C., she’s elbowing her way into the lineup back home on Oahu on a 5'8″ Hypto Krypto. You could say she’s the most active member of the congressional surfing caucus. “A couple of guys from California used to surf,” she says. “But I’m pretty sure I’m the only female.” We talked to Gabbard about how young politicians are changing Washington and why Hawaiians are the only ones who can properly measure a wave. 

POLITICAL BEGINNINGS: I was born in American Samoa but grew up on Oahu learning to swim, surf, and hike. That’s what got me interested in politics. When I ran for the state house when I was 21, I wanted to take action on the environmental issues I cared about. 

WAVE-RIDING ORIGINS: I bought my first surfboard from a friend for $25. It was a very yellow six-foot fish-style board. I still take it out sometimes in dumpy surf. 

REAL-LIFE SUPERHERO: In high school, I came up with an environmental skit called “Adventures of Water Woman.” The villain was Oily Al. I got a grant and took it to elementary schools across the state. I wore a cape and boardshorts. 

CHAMPION OF THE YOUTH: More millennials are getting elected to Congress and state legislatures. There’s a shift in mentality with our generation. We want results. Earlier generations want to pay dues, bide their time, and wait 15 years to gain seniority before getting anything done. But my constituents hired me for two years. I’m going to do what I can and work with people who are like-minded. 

BIPARTISAN PRIORITIES: A bunch of us from both sides of the aisle meet every morning at 6:30 to work out. It’s led by a congressman who was a mixed martial artist. It’s important to see each other outside work and build relationships with people you don’t agree with so you can have candid conversations about the issues. 

UNINVITING WATERS: I haven’t tried to SUP in D.C. yet. The water in the Potomac is a little less inviting than Hawaii’s. 

HOMEWARD BOUND: I make surfing a top priority when I’m home. I jump in the ocean as soon as I get back to Oahu.  It’s just such a wonderfully centering experience. It brings everything into perspective. 

FOR THE FUTURE: When you take the politics out of it, making sure we have clean energy, keeping our water clean, our oceans clean—these are things that are important to all of us. 

MIND RIGHT: I start the day with some meditation and yoga asanas. Most people see yoga simply as a way to stretch their bodies or increase flexibility. But the greatest gifts of yoga are wisdom and spiritual love, which lead us to true peace and happiness in life and fearlessness in the face of death. 

BIG FUN: I have a Hypto Krypto that I really love, but the waves are small on the South Shore this time of year, so I’ve been trying a 7'6″ fun board. The waves are 40 feet on the North Shore right now. I don’t surf that. 

INTO THE CURL: In Hawaii we measure waves differently than everywhere else. Hawaiian surfers measure from the back rather than the face. So the biggest wave I’ve ever paddled into was a few feet overhead, which would be around four or five Hawaiian feet. 

ATTITUDE MATTERS: I’m goofy-foot, so if I can find a nice left, then I’m stoked. The size and conditions don’t matter so much. Any day you can get in the water and catch some waves is a good day. 

Lead Photo: Joao Canziani