From the first time Elizabeth Sneed touched down in Hawaii during a trip in college, she felt an immediate connection with the Aloha State. So five years ago], the Texas native packed up for Honolulu and has not looked back. “I just felt a sense of belonging and a home within myself when I was in Hawaii,” she says.
The Curvy Surfer Girl founder is bubbly, personable and full of confidence – something she hopes all women no matter their shape and size can be whether it is on land or at sea. “I started surfing at the heaviest I've ever been. At that time, there were no role models for being body positive,” she says. “It felt very isolating. As the Curvy Surfer Girl community kept growing, I kept finding more and more women that were having the same experience I had. I could have never in my wildest dreams thought that I would be sitting with you in the middle of Manhattan talking about how this movement is changing the world.”
On her first trip to the Big Apple, where she turned Times Square into her runway while modeling a bikini, it was announced that the JOLYN surf ambassador had been named to their design team. The line goes up to size 3X and has plans to expand further while also working on different styles with Sneed’s expertise – her own capsule collection will be out in 2023. There is so much more she hopes to accomplish, and there is no doubt that it will be done.
More from SwimLife
Let’s start from the beginning. You grew up in Texas, lived in Arizona and moved to Hawaii five years ago.
“I just happened to serendipitously meet this incredible young woman, and she would then become my Hanai sister. I called her up when I was ready to move to Hawaii, which was like a life dream, and they took care of me. I eventually found my own home where I live now in Honolulu and went on to work a full 9-to-5 career. After the pandemic, I lost my job, and I said, Well, the thing that I love the most in my life is the ocean. I just want to be in the ocean all the time, surfing and free-diving. The day that I came to that realization was the day I received this divine inspiration for Curvy Surfer Girl.”
Being so far away from family and friends, what would you say is the hardest part of making this big move?
“The beginning is definitely the hardest part, moving to the most isolated land mass in the world is no easy task. I had my Hanai family on the ground in Hawaii. I lined up a job. Of course, the hardest thing about moving to a place like Hawaii are the drastic cultural changes that you just are going to have to learn through trial and error and then building that sense of community, friendship and your local family. That takes years to do, but if your heart is there and you really want to be in a place that you feel connected to, I would just say follow that feeling because it knows the way, honestly.”
What have you learned about yourself since moving?
“I’ve never had access before to the ocean, and so I feel like the ocean has just molded me into the person that everyone knows and sees today. I’ve learned so much about patience and humility, about the real concept of surrender. And I’ve just learned so many lessons about life, about who I am. I think the greatest thing Hawaii has taught me is that when you love something and when you’re passionate about something, there’s purpose behind it and that’s where you draw the meaning for your life from.”
You almost drowned when you were 14. What happened and how did you get back in the water?
“It was really hard. When I was 14, Hurricane Katrina had just happened, and I went on a humanitarian relief effort to help restore Mobile, Ala. One of the days that we were there, we swam to a sandbar. On our way back, the weather changed instantly and a massive thundercloud rolled in. We were caught in a riptide and lost at sea. We were hanging on at the end of this pier, which was about a quarter-mile long. A fisherman found us and helped us get back to shore. We watched a young man drown in front of us. We were out there for hours. After that happened, I was so terrified of the ocean that even when I was near it, I would involuntarily shake and cry because I was paralyzed with fear. When I moved to Hawaii, I knew I was going to need help to follow this desire and this pull toward the ocean, to be with it and in it. My surf instructor Chelsea is the hero of my life. She’s one of the most beautifully wise, strong, talented women I’ve ever met. She is a huge part of my story, of my success, of my rehabilitation. Because of her, I really found the courage to believe in myself and keep surfing through all of the challenges because it’s a very difficult thing. Surfing was that medium that helped me heal from that traumatic experience.”
Think back to your first wave, what was that feeling like?
“It’s a very transcendent experience because your mind is no longer controlling your body. You are kind of freed from your mind and thinking. You’re just solely present with nature because all of your attention has to be within that moment to stay in the wave and to have your balance. It’s an extremely liberating experience to go surfing, especially if you’ve struggled with anxiety or depression or you are kind of a control freak. This is an opportunity, even if just for a moment, to release all of that. I enjoy my two- to five-foot waves.”
Do you ever worry about sharks or the current?
“Being in the ocean is all about being in harmony with nature, regardless of whether you’re surfing. As long as you’re calm, observing and present, nature just exists around you. I know it’s really scary because I was mortified when I first did it. Now, on the other side of the fear, I can really tell you that it’s probably one of the most transformational things you can do just being in the ocean with large animals.”
You’ve battled plenty in the surfing world for acceptance and inclusivity. How did you not give up?
“When you get those messages that you’re changing people’s lives; you’re showing women what’s possible for them, and you’re giving them the confidence and motivation to go out and pick the sport back up that they once loved but stopped doing because they gained weight, it’s a totally different feeling of purpose. It gives you strength and courage to keep going even when things would get difficult for me. I’ve done all of this for the 26-year-old Elizabeth who had very little hope that this could maybe really be a thing for her.”
Did you ever expect Curvy Surfer Girl to take off as it has?
“Honestly, I was hoping that it would even be mildly successful. I literally used my rent money to get the first photos for Curvy Surfer Girl, and I was just praying that it would be received on some level by the larger community.
You have a swim line that was announced, a partnership with JOLYN…
“JOLYN was actually one of the very first ever bikini tops I wore surfing and here we are years later. We did our first collaboration together last year with Eryn Krouse’s line. Then this year, they reached back out and they wanted to do more with me. These are performance swim, which is something that has been really overlooked for a long time, especially in our demographic. It just really hasn’t existed to tell the truth, and so when JOLYN was so enthusiastic about bringing this performance swim to our demographic, this was a dream come true.”
What was the thought process in terms of what you want your collab to look like?
“I really want women to have options that are curvy, so if you want the full-coverage shorts or long-sleeve one-pieces, rash guards, I want you to have that. And if you want to feel sexy and confident and show your best assets, I want that for you, too. We’ve got a combination of high-performance swim with the tops that are going to be built for a larger chest, larger hips. We’ve done some very thoughtful things like expanding the crotch seams so that it supports women in this larger demographic because oftentimes swimsuits forget to grade the crotch seams. We’re being very thoughtful and intentional about the designs and how they’re structured for diverse bodies. It’s going to be an amazing collection in which you can go surfing, jet-skiing, waterskiing, kayaking.
You have mentioned that wet suits are an issue for plus-sized women…
“This is going to be a little bit of a longer-term development process, but JOLYN and I are working to try and make the first plus-size wet suits for women. They stop at a U.S. women’s size 14 internationally. This has been a dream of mine for the last two years at Curvy Surfer Girl. I told JOLYN about it, and they said, ‘Let’s see what we can do together.’"