Talk Story: Nage Melamed, raised a surfer

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Nage Melamed

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Nage Melamed poses next to the statue of Duke Kahanamoku outside Duke’s restaurant at Kalapaki Beach.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Nage Melamed delivers a customer’s order at Duke’s

  • Photo by Ashdan Ahuna

    Nage Melamed rides a wave.

Nage Melamed was raised a surfer on Kauai.

Her dad, Andy Melamed, introduced her early to the waves of the North Shore.

And she became good. Good enough to win contests, titles, land sponsors, travel the world to compete and was set to turn professional. A knee injury, right before a major event about three years ago, derailed those hopes — at least for now.

Today, the knee is good again. Nage (which means swim in French) is a bartender at Duke’s Barefoot Bar at Kalapaki Beach. She still loves to grab a board and find the swells. She still has big plans, hopes and goals. And some say she’s surfing better than ever. Nage doesn’t disagree. The 24-year-old says without the pressures of titles, qualifying and meeting sponsor expectations, surfing has been what it used to be. Fun.

You were raised a surfer?

I was a water birth in the Hanalei house that my dad owned. I guess I was just kind of born into it. We lived right across the street so we’d be at the beach every day. My dad loved surfing and my older brother and sister started surfing.

I think I was about 5, I wanted to start getting into it. We were already in the water a lot on boogie boards. I jumped on a surf board, my dad would push me in. After that I just surfed pretty much every day.

We started getting older, I think I was 9, and getting into other sports. We all started playing soccer. It would take up the weekends. My dad said, ‘Do you guys want to play soccer or do you want to surf?’ We all chose surfing, so we kicked soccer to the side.

We just surfed and started doing contests. I think the first contest I did was the Irons Brothers contest and that was my favorite. They’d give you the best prizes. I remember the waves just being huge. It was just so much fun. Pretty much have all your idols there, being able to surf with everyone.

Were you naturally good?

I wasn’t super into surfing. I think what got me into it was all my friends. We would all hang out and surf and then once, we got a group of girls we all just started surfing every day and we all got competitive a little bit with each other. I think that’s also what pushed me, like, ‘I want to be better than them.’

I just got some surfboards. I don’t think I was the best out of the group, but I tried to be.

My dad pushed me a lot. He was pretty much my coach, but I never really wanted to listen to him. He was probably the best person to listen to. He definitely helped me get to where I wanted to be.

Did he give you tips, motivation, advice?

All of it. Once I got to that teenager point where you don’t want to listen to your parents, I started bringing in other coaches. They pretty much were telling me the same thing that my dad was telling me. I was like, ‘OK, I should just listen to my dad instead of paying for these people to coach me.’

When you were really into surfing, how much time did you put in?

I would wake up every morning, first thing go check the shore breaks, ride my bike, drive down when I got my license. Jump out first thing. I did home school, so surf a few hours in the morning, come back, do a few hours of school work, eat, then go back and surf pretty much until dark.

What was it you liked about surfing?

I just loved being in the water. I always tell people, if you had any bad vibes on your mind, just jump in the water and it’s pretty much just washed away. Just putting in that good ride all the way to the beach was the best feeling.

Did you start traveling and competing?

We started traveling interisland when I was 11 for NSSAs and then we had the HSAs here and then when I started going out of the inner islands. I think the first year I made nationals over in California, I think I was 14 and then after that I started getting into the QSs (Qualifing Series) and some Hawaii contests. I started traveling to different countries and doing the QS. I really got into that that, I want to say when I was 16.

What were some career highlights for you?

Definitely one of the biggest ones, I won state championships two years in a row over at Ala Moana Bowls and that was a really big accomplishment because the waves were so amazing, I was up against the top girls in Hawaii and just to be in Hawaii and to be able to bring it home was really nice.

I won the Rip Curl GromSearch over in Salt Creek and that made me be able to go to the Bells Beach (Australia) contest while they were doing their international GromSearch and I think I got third or second over there. So even being that young and being able to travel and go to Bells during the CT (Championship Tour) and watch all the people you grew up with and idolized. That was just a really cool experience.

Who were some people you idolized growing up?

Definitely Andy Irons, always a favorite. I always loved Joel Parkinson. Those are guys I always loved watching. And the girls, obviously there’s Stephanie Gilmore.

How close were you to joining the pro circuit?

The year I came closer to qualifying, I think I was ranked third or fourth on the QS. I was living in California at the time just to be closer to my sponsors and it makes it easier traveling and everything. I was practicing at Oceanside for the next QS, and it was about midseason. I think there were four contests left after that.

I was practicing one morning and I went to do a turn on my front side and I pulled my left knee and I never had that feeling before, I never had an injury like that. First, I was like, ‘Oh, it felt a little weird.’ I paddled back out to try and catch one more wave to see and tried to stand up. I couldn’t. So I had to lay back down. I could barely walk up the beach, I was by myself, so I drove back to San Clemente from Oceanside, knee just throbbing. I think it was a week before the contest. I called my dad, met up with a physical therapist, I was there every single day. A lot of people were telling me, just skip Oceanside and get ready for Europe.

I just didn’t listen. I surfed on it, I wore a knee brace. It was like a grade one tear is what had happened. I was at Oceanside, first heat, went on a wave. It felt good at first. Then after my third wave in the heat, I felt like it tore more. I came in, I was like, ‘I don’t know.’

How disappointing was the knee injury?

I was devastated. I was crying to my dad. It was a bummer. I just think everything happens for a reason.

What next?

So I went back to the physical therapist. I was supposed to leave in about a week and a half, two weeks for the European leg. Everyone was saying ‘I don’t know if you should go. Seems like it’s bad.’ I was like, ‘I’m qualifying. I can’t give this up. I need to at least try. If I don’t, then it’s going to be stuck in my head.’

So I went there. The first contest was France. I made my first heat. My second heat, I made it. When I finally got to the round I should have started off in, I felt it tear even more. And I was just like, ‘I’m done.’ I didn’t even go to the last two contests. There’s no way I’m going to be able to surf.

So I went home. I was still in California after a few months I decided it was time for me to come home. Better for me to come here, get my knee better, a more healthy environment, save money. So I moved home and did a lot of physical therapy and it felt like it was getting good.

The following year, I went to the Australia contest, it was still a little twingey, but it felt a lot better. I was still wearing a knee brace. But I didn’t feel like my head space was the same. I was there, I think I was just bummed from the last year, I was so close, I felt like it should have pushed me to get better but I was like, ‘It doesn’t make me happy being here any more.’

So what happened?

I lost my sponsor and everything was not going the way I wanted it to me. I just wanted to take a break and see if I miss it and I’ll do more contest. I haven’t, really. I’ve been loving free surfing and being home.

How is the knee today?

Good. It’s perfect. I can move it in all directions. I’ve maybe felt it a little bit here and there but pretty much, I forget that it happened.

How often to you surf these days?

I try to surf as much as I can. I think I surfed so many bad waves on the tours, I’m kind of picky now because I can be.

Obviously, I’m going to surf because I love surfing. But if it looks terrible, I’m not going to go out. But I try to get in the water as much as I can because it’s what I did growing up and I love it. It makes me happy

How does it feel when you’re back on the waves?

I love it. I still have the best time. It’s nice being out there with other people. Some are saying ‘You’re surfing better than ever. How come you’re not out there doing contests anymore?’

Honestly, I think I might be surfing better because I don’t have that pressure on me and I just enjoy doing it. My boyfriend likes to surf and I just want to surf with him and take a few fun surf trips.

Where are your favorite surfing spots here?

I still tend to love to go to the North Shore. But now living on the Eastside I surf a lot more places.

Growing up, I was such a North Shore girl. I never would go to the other side of the island. I’m kind of all over the place, wherever there is swell.

Do you ever worry about sharks?

Sharks are always going to be in the water. That’s where they live. Obviously, they’re going to be around. Sometimes, I’ll feel like a sharky vibe and if I feel that way, then I’ll just go in. When I feel that, there’s usually something around. It’s what I grew up doing. It’s in the back of your mind sometimes, but it’s usually just about enjoying the waves.

Who have been some of your strongest influences?

Definitely my dad. He’s probably the No. 1. He never forced me to surf. He told me if I want to do it, I have to be 100 percent in He told me, ‘Whatever you want to do, I’m here to support you.’ Definitely my mom (Christine). She’s always there, too.

Do you think you might try to go pro again?

Maybe. I don’t know if I want it to be 100 percent if I do it. I would love to do it in a few contests again. I’m not opposed to it, maybe go and do a few contests a year and see how it goes. If it goes well, I’ll be really into it. But I don’t know. It’s not my full lifestyle anymore. I just don’t love the contests anymore.

It used to be, ‘I have to do good, I have to qualify, I have to make my sponsors happy.’ And that’s how it was before.

Lots of pressure?

Oh, yeah. There are some sponsors out there who don’t really care for contests. Just be an ambassador for them, show up, makes appearances, do this and that. Most of the sponsors I had were like, ‘You have to qualify. If you qualify, we’ll give you more and more.’ It was always, qualify, qualify qualify. I don’t really care for pressure.I more of a laid-back person now than someone telling me you have to do this or that.

What else would you like to do?

I’d love to still be part of that surfing lifestyle and hopefully one day I can start my own business to help kids growing up who want to get into that. Just help them get better in their surfing and have fun and develop a love for the sport.

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