Interview: There’s Something About Mary Osborne

Mary Osbourne 2Mary Osborne is more than just our favourite longboard surfing lady. Other than being immensely talented on the water, the Cali girl with the contagious smile has a beaming personality, world worthy ethics and a heart of absolute gold.

A leading figure in woman’s surfing since the early 2000’s, Mary Osborne has found herself on the cover of various surf mags, as well as winning a number of accolades both in and out of the water. After winning MTV surf girls and the Teen Choice Award in 2003, and being nominated for Action Girl of the Year, it’s no wonder many young surfers place Mary Osborne top of their list when it comes to inspirations.

It’s only natural for a surfer to have a strong connection with the sea, but very few have gone to the lengths Mary has to try and preserve our beautiful oceans. In 2010, accompanied by the 5 Gyres team, she sailed across the Atlantic Ocean on a mission to study the devastating effects of plastic pollution. Mary’s passion and work for this cause landed her the title of Ambassador for the United Nations Environmental Safe Campaign and the 5 Gyres Institute.

With a busy career competing, broadcasting and campaigning, Mary hit the headlines once again when she became the first ever woman to surf the tidal bore of Qiantang River, China, in late 2010. Did I mention that she even found time to co-author the book ‘Sister Surfer: A Woman’s Guide to Surfing with Bliss and Courage’?

So, after that quick run down…you can see why we were thrilled to interview the lady herself.

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To us you’re a bit of an action hero (what with all the competition wins, awards and saving the planet!) but who or what has had the biggest influence on your life?

Action hero hahah, I wish…I would be so much more efficient with my businesses if that was the case (just kidding). My family has played a big influence on who I am and how I live my life. My three older brothers have been such an incredible influence on my surfing skills and daily motivation. Obviously, the ocean has played a big part in my life as well. I have been able to use the ocean not only to surf, but to travel the world, meet interesting people, and learn about various cultures around the world. All of those combined have shaped who I am as a person today. Every day I feel really blessed.

Being an ambassador for Patagonia you’ve had the opportunity to travel to some amazing places. What do you love most about visiting somewhere you’ve never been before?

I love learning about other cultures and meeting new people. You never know what you are going to find or who you are going to meet when traveling. I always make sure my eyes and ears are open. I have met some of the most incredible people while traveling. Being interactive with other people and cultures has made me much more accepting and forgiving in life.

Where is your favourite place to surf and what makes it so special?

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I love home because I get to surf my favourite breaks with my friends and family. I am a huge fan of right hand point breaks and warm water, so I love places like Cabo and El Salvador. Cabo (East Cape) area is one of my favourites because it’s easy to fly there, fun waves and the country is very safe. I try to go down at least 3 times a year chasing south swell and warm water. This year I drove from Ventura to the end of Baja and back up chasing swell. It was an incredible trip. El Salvador has also become one of my favourite places to travel to. The waves are incredible, culture is fantastic and the landscape is gorgeous. It still has the stigma of being such a rough country and unsafe, but that has slowly been changing. This year I hosted a 10 day surf trip with AST Adventures and it was a blast. We scored big waves, hiked to waterfalls, ate local food and, overall, it was a huge success.

You were the first ever female to successfully ride the tidal bore of Qiantang River, China. What was going through your mind whilst you were surfing this wave?

That wave is mind blowing! The first time I saw the wave I was in shock. It was a massive wall of whitewater in the distance and as it moved closer to me it was looked like a growing giant. The wave changes constantly, so you really have to be on your game and wait for open sections and glassy parts. It is like surfing 10 different days in California but all on one wave. Some parts are sheet glass and perfect, while others can be bumpy and closed out. I have surfed the tidal bore three times and every single time has been completely different with no dull moments. While surfing it I was just trying to keep my legs from burning too much because you ride for minutes at a time. I was also trying to be safe so I could pick up my partner if he ever needed it and not run into any other boats, rocks or bridges. It really does get a little hectic out on the river. Surfing this tidal bore has been by far one of the most exciting adventures in my surfing career.

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Mary surfing the tidal bore!

Do you have any more notorious surf spots you’re eager to tackle in the future?

There are so many places I haven’t been to yet in the world. I could leave the cold water spots out since I hate cold water. Hopefully Ecuador, Italy and I want to surf more in the British Virgin Islands.

Have you ever been in any sticky situations whilst surfing which you thought you might not make it out of?

Nothing too exciting to talk about. I don’t surf super big waves (tow in or anything) so my stories are not as exciting as others these days. A few good hold downs, reef hits, rock smashes, broken boards, etc.

What do you do to prepare for a competition? Do you have a certain routine you go through or perhaps a favourite song you put on to get you hyped?

My only thing I do before a contest is not eat. I get too jittery to eat food so I wait till I am completely done for the day to eat.

You ventured on a month long crossing across the Atlantic to study plastic pollution and are obviously very passionate about this. What first inspired you to study and campaign this problem? 

My friend who worked for 5 Gyres talked me into going on this adventure. I didn’t know much about the issue except there was a “giant ball of trash” in the middle of the Atlantic. I was pretty nervous to sail across the Atlantic. Before I left I didn’t know a thing about plastic pollution or even how to sail. After 31 days at sea, collecting samples and studying with various scientists and environmentalists, I learned an enormous amount about plastics and how the effect our entire eco-system. Since then, I have been acting as a spokesperson for 5 Gyres, sharing what I learned with my network of people and participating in fundraising events. You can learn more at

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©Ellen Barnes via

If you could teach anyone in the world to surf, who would you choose?

Great question! I would love to have met Rell Sun so she could have taught me a few things about life and share her surfing skills with me. I love Frank Sinatra…he would have been someone fun to teach if still alive. There are so many amazing people in the world I would like to take surfing…maybe Oprah. She would be an inspiration to all women. I would love to shadow her for a few days.

If you could design a board that allowed you to surf and do one other thing at the same time, what would it be?

Fly…I could surf one spot, then fly directly to another…maybe even pick up a friend along the way.

If you could swap lives with anyone for a day (past, present, real or fictional), who would it be?

I am pretty blessed in my life but it would be fun to swap lives with…I really don’t know. Maybe I would swap with someone like a professional diver because then I could actually enjoy diving without freaking out underwater. Or maybe a helicopter pilot because I think it would be so fun to learn how to drive a helicopter. Maybe a doctor, so after helping save a life I could walk up to the family and let them know I helped save their family member. Or the President…that’s a obvious one.

You also host a number of eco-tour and surf retreats which include amazing adventure tours and day trips as well as surf lessons. Describe to us your perfect retreat. What would it entail?

The retreats are a blast. Every one that I hold is entirely different. Some are just for the day with surfing and yoga, while others are all inclusive and 5-star.  I don’t like to use the word “retreat” too often because the events are more like a “getaway.” Retreat sounds too perfect and “zen-ish.” The getaways are more of an exciting weekend. We laugh, cry, drink amazing vino, do yoga, surf for hours, dance at night, listen to amazing motivational speakers. Overall, it is just an incredible weekend at the beach.  I also host surf adventures in places like Mexico and El Salvador. I try to keep my website updated with the upcoming weekend getaways and surf adventures at or people can always email me with their questions or adventure ideas at [email protected]. I do a lot of catering to clients that have a specific destination and budget in mind. I do everything from plan the vacation, take them surfing, and book their reservations (food to massages). I can guarantee all my camps, retreats and adventures will be something you will never forget.

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©Justin Bastien via

With a huge thank you to Mary for all of her time! We’re excited to see what she has planned in the future!

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