The Partridge twins prove powerful role models
Despite the packed schedule that comes with being in demand, or perhaps in order to give thanks for the associated good fortune, Sierra and Hailey Partridge generously donate their time to numerous charities. To watch the twins execute exquisite carves off the lip of an overhead wave or see them smiling sweetly from their window ads at the O’Neill Surf Shop on 41st Avenue in Capitola, you wouldn’t know that these local surfers-turned-models were born with cataracts. Nonetheless, it quickly became apparent, in speaking with them, how very profoundly this condition has shaped the lives and philosophies of these young women.
Having grown up with a healthy respect for the stories surrounding their father’s 1970 Eaton Waimea gun, the Partridge twins would accompany him for their first surf at the age of 10. Over the next few years, they would share a 9-foot soft top at Cowells—their surfboards gradually decreasing in size until they were teens and their boards a few feet shorter. At 14, with the advice and company of their father giving them the courage, Sierra and Hailey spilled down over the rocks and into the unknown at infamous Steamer Lane. “Think of things as an inconvenience, not as a problem,” their father Rym, a former pro surfer, would tell them. “If you get washed in, just stay calm and cool.”
Spurred on by his patient schooling, the girls took the plunge and never looked back. Little did they know, a few short years later their images would grace advertisements for the likes of O’Neill, Hobie Surfboards, Ocean Minded, Betty Belts, and Gorilla Grip. Now 20, Hailey and Sierra have traveled extensively for both surfing and modeling. They have paddled out in double-overhead waves at world renowned breaks such as Sunset on Oahu, and jetted off to Bali, Mexico and Australia for photo shoots. In between teaching their 10-month-old bulldog Gidget to surf and studying at Cabrillo College, the twins have been featured in both Allure and Vanity Fair magazines.
Such high doses of fame and athletic accomplishment might prove intoxicating for many a 20-year-old, but Hailey and Sierra keep things in perspective by volunteering for various charities. This past July, they spent three weeks volunteering as surf instructors with The O’Neill Surf Academy’s Out of Bounds program in Holland and Belgium. Now in their third year with the program, the O’Neill Team Riders joined forces with 18 other instructors to teach hundreds of visually impaired and blind children ages 8-16 to surf. During this year’s program, Sierra and Hailey coached children such as a 17-year-old Belgian girl who lost her sight due to an allergic reaction to Aspirin at age 5. Born with cataracts, the twins themselves underwent surgery at age 10 to correct their vision, so Out of Bounds is particularly meaningful to them.
“I know how easy it is to feel discouraged when you have vision limitations,” says Sierra, who was born with almost no sight in her right eye and still suffers from cloudy vision in it. “Living with cataracts has been a struggle my whole life, but, in the end, trying to make the most of my situation has made me stronger.”
Hailey, who still makes a point to get out of the water well before dark due to poor night vision, remembers the frustration of not being able to read the white board from the front row of her elementary school class and having to walk right up to it in order to take notes. She was so deeply affected by her experience with cataracts that she formulated her own credo around it: “Your life can seem great or awful depending on how you look at it.”
Breathing life into those words, the twins volunteer for programs through which they teach children facing various physical and economic challenges. In addition to Out of Bounds, the girls donate time and effort to Santa Cruz’s Ride-A-Wave and the East Bali Poverty Project.
Someday, Hailey and Sierra dream of starting a foundation to help families that can’t afford medical care for their children’s vision problems. For the immediate future, the sisters are looking to transfer to UC San Diego in the fall to pursue a degree in communications. While they hope that surf and photo trips will continue, they say they plan to take life as it comes. And, as always, continue to view the cup as half full.
WOMEN ON WAVES LONGBOARD SURF FEST
Continuing with this week’s surf page theme of feminine wave prowess linked with philanthropy, the annual Women On Waves longboard surf contest hits Capitola Beach on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 3-4, and it’ll be a nice breather from the standard aggression in the Eastside waters. That’s not to say you won’t see enough enviable longboard moves weaving their way through the sets to fill up your booties, but with proceeds from the event now in its 12th year dispersed to reputable local nonprofits (WomenCARE, Women Crisis Support, and the Barry Hamby Cabrillo College Scholarship), the battalion of contestants will pretty much embody the spirit of surfing that manages to be both gutsy and giving at the same time. In between Sunday’s bouts, the noon “Dash and Splash” is a co-ed mixer run-swim-run competition, while music from 300 Pounds, Wiki-Wiki Wednesday DJs Lani and Michael, Lara Price, Michael Annotti and more will espouse beats on land to match the heats in the water throughout both days. The ladies may be the ones charging hard as the lines come through, but the fest is friendly to all in the fam. | Linda Koffman
All day. Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 3-4. Capitola Beach, Capitola. Free to watch, $40-70 to participate. wowsurffest.com.
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