Tahlija on the ride of her life
THE last time the NewsMail caught up with Tahlija Redgard she was 12.
Now, 10 years later, the 22-year-old has travelled the world as a pro surfer.
Her next step is touring Australia surfing in remote locations and making documentaries with partner and fellow surfer Mick Campbell, who Tahlija brought back from the brink of death in June last year.
"My love for the ocean started at a really young age, around 3 probably.
"Dad used to take me snapper fishing out the front in the tinny in winter at two in the morning and with three beanies and three jackets on.
"My surfing started around the age of 5. Dad took me down to Nielson's every afternoon. Didn't matter if it was flat, cyclone or raining.
"I remember those first few surfs with Dad like it was yesterday.
"Through my teens I did a lot of junior contests on the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast.
"I was never chasing QS (qualifying series) from a young age. It was always just about being out there and surfing for me. "I was living down in Port Macquarie, where I met my partner, Mick Campbell.
"Mick said to me a few times 'have a crack' and I thought, 'Yeah I will.'
"I gave myself a two-year goal and went hard at it, training six days a week, surfing three times a day.”
In 2016 Tahlija first got the opportunity to compete in the World Surf League.
While she's not competing this year she would take the opportunity if a wild card was thrown her way.
"I went to events in Japan, travelled to Hawaii, contests all over Australia,” she said.
"I got a few good results the first year. I had a little bit of backing and once that ran out I couldn't carry on to the other events.
"I got to a point halfway through the year and I felt like it wasn't making me happy any more.
"I thought, 'Stuff this, I'm going to follow my own path, do what makes me happy.' Surfing crazy waves, getting barrelled off my head, fishing, spear fishing and travelling, finding new and untouched places.
"So Mick and I booked a month in the Mentawai Islands on a land camp with the only money I had left ... we both went over there in search of crazy waves and crazy land-base fishing - and to document our trip.
"On the last week we heard of this crazy swell hitting Indo from a local boat driver.
"Mick and I straight away thought of Kandui, a heavy shallow left-hander about 40 minutes' boat ride.
"We got to Kandui and it was crazy, six to eight foot, and the biggest, deepest barrels I'd ever seen. We got out there, snagged a couple nice ones each, surfed for four hours in the morning and only five people surfing with us, amazing.
"We came back ... and the swell had gone from six to eight feet to 10 to 12 feet and it was low tide.
"Mick said to me I don't have to come out - 'you got nothing to prove to me' - as he jumped off the boat. I sat there for a few minutes scared, butterflies, all the emotions were high, then I said to myself, 'Stuff this, I didn't come here to sit in the boat,' grabbed my board, whacked some zinc on my lip and got out there.
"As soon as I hit the water all I cared about was getting a crazy barrel and making it to the channel.
In the arvo we paddled to the channel together and just looked at each other and laughed. It was at that moment I knew what I wanted to do with my surfing: earch for amazing waves with no people and feel that feeling I felt that day.
"I can honestly say that Mick has pushed me and been there for me through my surfing and life and I'm so lucky to have him as a mentor and best friend and partner.”
Three days after they got back from the trip they headed to their favourite slab.
"Mick paddled for this wave and it was heavy, six or eight waves went through, big set it was. No sign of Mick, my stomach dropped ... I knew something wasn't right.
"I spotted his board ... then I saw him floating face down.
"I thought I had lost my best friend, I grabbed him by his wetsuit and wrapped my hand in it to keep grip, he was so heavy and I was punching on his chest screaming to him there's nothing wrong with you, just come back.
"I knew I had to try and resuscitate him out there, he was seconds off dying.
"We dragged him up the beach. I couldn't feel my legs from kicking.
"I grabbed him and laid him on his side and started rubbing the water out of him. I just held him and made sure he stayed awake.
"We got to the hospital and they put him straight into the coma for four days.
"Our goal after the accident was to get strong again.
"All I wanna do is what I did in Indo ... catch big fish off the rocks, document it along the way and show the world what I do 'cause I love it.
"So no more contests for me, I'm chasing my free surfing 100 per cent now, surfing, land-based fishing and adventures. I want to show kids and the world what I do and show them my love for the ocean.
"Myself and Mick just got a new troop carrier, we are all decked out, living in it permanently and on the road. I love training every few days, I love keeping healthy and looking after myself, maybe in other people's eyes we're not living it up, but in my eyes, yes I definitely am.
"Waking up every day at the beach, having two arms and legs that work and a healthy mind. Might not have all the money in the world and 10 cars but I'm definitely happy with what I have. You only live once so I'm gonna make the most of it.”