SUP Women: Sophia Tiaré Bartlow, Spawn of a Wave Dancer
Sophia Tiaré Bartlow is a girl on fire. She’s ranked fifth on the Standup World Tour, she championed the 2014 US SUP surfing tour and this year, she’s relentlessly determined to win her first world title. But beyond the stats and skills, Bartlow’s competitive drive is buttressed by an uncanny energetic spirit. On land, her aura inspires stoke; she prances around her contests giving hugs and singing praises, encouraging competitors, congratulating groms, all with a smile. In the water, her vibrancy is channeled into fierce competitive prowess.
Bartlow credits her electric nature majorly to her mother, Jericho Poppler, a legendary female surfer nicknamed the “Wave Dancer” after winning the first-ever women’s world title in 1976. SUP sat Bartlow down for some insight about rising under the influence of the original Wave Dancer.
SUP: How did growing up with a legendary mom influence your SUP career?
SB: I honestly didn’t understand that my mom was a legend growing up. But she used to hold a contest every year, “Jericho’s Kids for Clean Waves,” and we were always doing a lot of events. I got to meet all these cool people from SUP and surfing, but I didn’t realize who they were till I got older and gained some perspective. It wasn’t till later on that I realized I’d been brought up by a legend.
Describe how you were raised.
My mom brought me and my siblings up super liberally. She’s more than just a surfer; she’s an environmentalist, a dancer and an artist. She raised us with principles from a lot of different cultures she’d picked up from traveling. I had all these Hawaiian influences; she’s always been so “Aloha.” I think she learned that from her mother, my grandma Bobby, who is known for surfing Makaha back in the day. She’s also known for her cheese bread (laughs).
How did Jericho help shape you as an athlete?
My mom never forced me into SUP surfing, and I think that’s why I love it so much. But she always supported me and my siblings in the water. Having my mom at contests was ridiculous. She’d be louder than the loudspeaker giving us tips. It wasn’t always easy; I had to ban her from coming to some of my contests. Looking back, it was a huge part of my development because she gave me advice that’s stuck with me to this day.
At any point did you feel pressure to perform because of how good your mother was?
Yeah, but the thing is, I know I can do it. I’ve beaten the best, so it makes sense to chase a title. I never wanted to be world champion because my mom was world champion. I’ve wanted to do it because I know that I can. Chasing this title is just another stepping stone in the road, a platform toward the plateau of great things I want to do in the future. I feel really blessed to be who I am and to come from where I do.
Who’s a better surfer, you or your mom?
My mom is definitely better at surfing. She’s so stylish! Even now, at 64 years of age, on a bumpy, windy, closed out day in Huntington, she’ll go off the lip, come down in the backwash with fins out, extra hair flip for style, soul arching like nobody’s business. She’s so graceful when she surfs. That’s why she was the first to get the title “Wave Dancer.”
How does she inspire other female surfers?
Her presence alone is inspiring, in or out of the water. But the fact that she’s still ripping at her age is pretty encouraging. On land, the way she carries herself and the things she says embodies the same things her surfing does—power, grace and flow. She’s the epitome of living art, still surfing all the time. It’s enough to inspire any woman.
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