Story of a… Surf Instructor

Former competitive surfer Molli Miller now gets her biggest thrill from teaching the next generation how to catch and ride the waves.

Roberto Gonzalez

Teen dream. Miller first connected with a surfboard shortly after her parents divorced when she was 15. “I saw a house on the beach and convinced my mom to rent there.” So they moved from Jacksonville to Atlantic Beach. “I saw all these people surfing and knew I was supposed to do it. One day I got out there with a board and just kept going. I’m totally self taught.”

Pro deal. Miller stayed with it, eventually tackling competitions. That led to a Billabong sponsorship. In 2003, Miller, then 19, won a spot on an MTV reality show called “Surf Girls,” which took a group of young women across the globe to locations like Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa and Australia in search of epic waves. “I didn’t love the spotlight, but it was an awesome learning experience.”

Unforgettable ride. Miller still remembers the hardest day of filming. The group was in Samoa on a boat taking them out to a reef break with 12-foot waves. “More than half the girls stayed on the boat. I was shaking. I remember thinking that thousands of girls had tried out for the show and would be willing to catch these waves. Miller jumped in and paddled out. “Then somebody yelled, ‘Go Molli—this wave!’ I remember something taking over. A courage I didn’t have five seconds before was suddenly there. I dropped in for what felt like an eternity. It was the biggest wave I had ever surfed.” Miller heard the rush of the whitewater powering behind her. Then the wave ended. “Tears just started falling down my face. Never had I felt so ecstatic and connected to the power of the ocean.”

The question everyone wants to know. “Yes, I’ve seen sharks, but I’ve never had a negative experience with a shark. I have been stung by countless jelly fish—and Portuguese man-of-war are the worst!” She’s also seen dolphins riding the waves and manta rays jumping up and flopping back into the water.

Then and now. Having traveled the world winning numerous surfing contests, Miller has since retired from competitive surfing. Today, she runs her eponymous surf school out of Orlando—typically teaching along the Cape Canaveral coast.

Home grown. It’s easy to overlook Florida as a surf destination. It doesn’t receive nearly the hype that California and Hawaii do. Yet the Sunshine State has raised many a surfer, including Cocoa Beach’s Kelly Slater. “Florida is a great breeding ground for good surfers. What makes surfers from Florida so good is that if you can surf small waves, you can surf big, powerful waves much better. You’re used to working harder and generating your own power to stay up on the board.”

Everyone can surf. So far Miller hasn’t found a child or an adult she can’t teach. “The key to surfing is adaptability. Every wave is different. It takes balance, coordination and responsiveness, so we focus on those skills.” That said, “Kids are easier to teach than adults. They don’t have the fear adults have. Sometimes kids start off scared,” but when they see that Miller is having fun, “it rubs off on them. Next thing you know they are laughing and catching waves.”

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