Leia Millar is not your typical 14-year-old surfer. The North Piha local has been brought up on a steady diet of gymnastics, which has shaped her into an extraordinarily promising young athlete. A career in surfing is now well and truly in her sights … she’s already taking national titles.
Leia was born into a family of surfers: her mum Caro occasionally competes and her dad Stu made the Over 45 semis at the Nationals earlier this year. She also has a little sister, Portia, who also competes in surfing. New Zealand Surf Journal visited on a decent-sized day at the Piha Bar and Leia paddled around the lineup like it was a playground – most adults were struggling to paddle back to the take-off zone. She’s energised by the West Coast’s power and has enough competition savvy to back it all up.
We caught up with the effervescent and charismatic teenager at her family home in Piha.
NZSJ: Tell me what drives you and motivates you in surfing?
Leia Millar: Lots of things – finding new waves, progressing in surfing, winning or doing well in surf comps helps. I also love surfing with my friends and family and I look forward to traveling across the world again to surf pumping waves. That’s what drives me and motivates me in surfing.
NZSJ: Who do you surf with at home and how have you come to be so talented so quickly?
Leia Millar: I surf with the usual Piha locals most days – I would usually just see everyone out in the surf. I think being brought up with surfing around me through my parents and living by the beach helped me really get into surfing. I also love the water so I would be in the surf heaps. I was also super inspired watching all the good pro surfers on TV and I would imagine myself there in the future, which would drive me to progress my surfing.
NZSJ: Which surfers do you watch and study?
Leia Millar: Carissa Moore – everything about her is something to look up to, but I especially love her power. I also like Caroline Marks and Tatiana’s backhand – the power and flow is awesome to watch.
NZSJ: You have a very strong work ethic – where has that come from?
Leia Millar: It has come from the goals and expectations I set for myself. Every time I do a training session or go for a surf I always think back to why I’m doing what I’m doing. That helps me to keep pushing till the end and keeps me working harder and harder. I used to do competitive gymnastics, which also helped me gain a strong work ethic, which I put into my surfing. It showed me that things don’t come easy and you’ve got to keep working hard to get there.
I used to do competitive gymnastics … it showed me that things don’t come easy and you’ve got to keep working hard to get there.
NZSJ: You’re often competing up an age group or two – why do you do that and what is it like when you battle the older surfers?
Leia Millar: I surfed up a division this year because I had some good results in the Under 14 division in 2020, and also from the beginning of the 2021 season, that I was happy with. I wanted to surf up a division to push myself to the next level by surfing against some of the better surfers in the division, and learning from them to make myself better. Competing against the better and older surfers is inspiring – you get to see and learn how they surf their heats. I really liked surfing in the Raglan Pro, the waves were pumping and it was a really cool atmosphere. It was also sick to compete against all the best surfers there.
NZSJ: You have a group of incredible surfers your age with Maya Mateja and Chloe Groube. Are you friends with them? Would you draw an interference on them if you had the chance in a heat?
Leia Millar: Yes, Chloe, Maya and surfing with all the girls definitely helps motivate me because we all want to keep up with each other and we all want to become better surfers together. I am very good friends with Chloe and Maya, we hang out a lot and we go to surf together in either Raglan or Pauanui or Whanga and they occasionally come to stay in Piha – it completes a small triangle of surfing destinations. When it comes to comps I think all of us would draw an interference on each other if that’s what it came down to. We all know that it is part of the game and if that’s what it takes to get through the heat, then for sure we would all draw an interference.
NZSJ: What is life like on the road for you at comps and with your family?
Leia Millar: It feels like we are traveling every weekend – it is super fun and it gets tiring driving from one side of the country to another. But when you get to your destination it is super fun competing and catching up with your friends from across the country. It is also fun traveling with family on the road and surfing together – I do spend a lot of my time competing, but it is fun to hang out with family on the way there.
NZSJ: Where do you want to take your surfing, Leia?
Leia Millar: I want to take my surfing pro – I want to compete on the World Surf League World Tour. I dream of traveling around the world and being able to surf as my job and surf with my friends. And hopefully I can expand on that to become a world champion one day.
NZSJ: Tell me who supports your surfing?
Leia Millar: First off I want to thank Primal Surfboards and Skinnies sungel – they help me out a lot. But my family are my biggest sponsors – without them I wouldn’t be where I am today. My friends, they are great supporters, too. I’m also very grateful to Woody’s Movement Workshop, which pushes me and challenges me. That helps me so much with my surfing in so many different ways.
NZSJ: 10 years from now where will you be?
Leia Millar: Well, I will be 24! I hope I’ve been to some big comps, had some really good surfing results and traveled to surf waves like Teahupo’o, and many other awesome waves throughout the world.
NZSJ: Thanks Leia and keep ripping!
Leia Millar: Thanks, Derek!