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Five Minutes With 15-Year-Old National Champion Maya Mateja

At 15, Maya Mateja became one of the youngest surfers to win the Open Women’s title when she won the 2024 New Zealand Surfing Championships. We catch up with the Raglan-based phenom to find out how she did it and why she won’t be surfing for Team New Zealand.

Maya Mateja carves her way to a title at the 2024 New Zealand Surfing Championships held at St Clair. Photo: Derek Morrison

With this win, Maya joins an exclusive rank of legendary female surfers. They include Heidi Shanks who took the honours in 1994, during a nationals that was also held at Dunedin. Heidi won the Open Women’s at 15. Sixteen years later Ava Henderson became the youngest ever to win the title. She won it in 2020. Ava was 14 at the time. That event was also held in Dunedin.

Maya takes a gap from her busy schedule to tell us about some tough decisions and what lies ahead for the young ripper.

NZSJ: Firstly, congrats Maya, tell us how does it feel to win the Open Women’s national title?
Maya Mateja: It is an amazing feeling to win any competition, but to win the open women’s against New Zealand top surfers was so special.

NZSJ: In your final you were up against some pretty feisty competitors – how did you keep a calm mind and pull that win off?
Maya Mateja: I was already happy to have made the finals and was just trying to stay calm and focused. When the right wave came I took the opportunity and got the score I was looking for and by the end of that final I was just hoping that the score would be enough to take it.

NZSJ: Throughout the event you have kind of kept your head down and got the job done. Did you think you could win it before you arrived?
Maya Mateja: It was never going to be easy with such a talented field of surfers there in Dunedin, but I felt I had the experience and talent to win the comp.

NZSJ: What was your preparation like in the lead up to the 2024 Nationals?
Maya Mateja: I’m always committed to training, staying focused and I try to do my best, both in and out of the water.

Maya Mateja was a popular winner in Dunedin. Photo: Derek Morrison

NZSJ: Tell me about your link with Mexico? We understand you can also compete for Mexico so how do you decide which country to surf for and what are the implications of that? *
Maya Mateja: I was born in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. My mother is Mexican and my father is kiwi. I’ve decided to surf for Mexico, which was an extremely hard decision, because I love Raglan and the kiwi surf community and it would have been an honour to have represented New Zealand.

“I’ve decided to surf for Mexico, which was an extremely hard decision, because I love Raglan and the kiwi surf community and it would have been an honour to have represented New Zealand.”

2024 Open Women’s Champion, Maya Mateja

NZSJ: What does it mean to be one of the youngest ever to win the Open Women’s title? Are we seeing a changing of the guard in women’s surfing right now?
Maya Mateja: I think there’s a very talented pool of young kiwi surfers coming through at the moment. That’s very good for the sport – the future of New Zealand women’s surfing looks very bright.

NZSJ: What’s next for national champion Maya Mateja?
Maya Mateja: I really want to keep surfing for fun and enjoyment. I love to spend time in the water with family and friends. And of course I’d like to keep improving.

NZSJ: Any philosophies on life you’d like to share?
Maya Mateja: Stay positive, enjoy your life.

* By winning the Open Women’s title Maya gets an automatic entry into the New Zealand Team. However she has also qualified for the Mexican Team. The two countries run very different World Championship Team programmes. In New Zealand team members must raise the money to cover themselves and to contribute to the Surfing New Zealand staff and coaches. This usually comes in at around $12,000 per surfer. In stark contrast Mexico, through Federación Mexicana de Surfing, pays all the costs for its surfing team when competing on the world stage.
Maya Mateja (third from left) competes for Team Mexico at the 2024 ISA World Surfing Games. Photo: ISA/Sean Evans
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