Brisa Hennessy: The Costa Rican surfer who always has a smile, on finding her inner power

The Olympic surfer shares how a colourful upbringing shaped her as a competitor, and how finding her inner power has helped the 22-year-old grow and thrive in 2022.

By Ash Tulloch
Picture by 2022 World Surf League

It doesn't take much to realise that Brisa Hennessy is special.

Besides the fact she grew up in the jungle in Costa Rica, the professional surfer is renowned for always having a smile on her dial and a sunny outlook.

The 22-year-old is currently ranked tied for second in the world, but what sets her apart, is her persona - genuine and open-hearted.

This season, more than ever, she's learned to harness this side of herself with the fierceness needed to excel as a competitor on the World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour (CT).

It was most evident when she won her first CT competition, the Hurley Pro Sunset Beach in February, and became number one in the world for the first time.

Hennessy says, "I've been very fortunate for my start of the year, and I think it definitely came with a lot of work, a lot of dedication, a lot of tears and a lot of just normal human emotions.

"It's definitely been a wild ride and a journey. I think it all just comes down to mentality and your sense of self. I feel good with who I am and feel good with who I am in and out of the water."

Hennessy has also done a lot of learning and growing in recent months.

"Expectations really, really affected me a lot for sure, most of my life. I think one thing that that helped me overcome that was really embracing every step of the journey and embracing the now.

"We always talk about the present moment and I think I did a really good job of preaching that, but I wasn't quite there because I was thinking about the past and thinking about the future where I wasn't really living and in the now," she says.

"I just kind of let go a little bit. I let go, but also found my own inner power. And that's where I think the magic happens for anyone." - Brisa Hennessy to Olympics.com

An identity in and out of the water

Success and self-discovery seem to have come hand-in-hand for Hennessy.

She has accepted that being a fierce competitor doesn't take away from her being a nice person.

"It's something I struggled with for a while. I really wanted to keep my image on land because it's really important to me and I think being just kind and and gracious and connecting to others is so important.

"I felt like that really hindered me in some way because I felt like I was something different in the water and I couldn't find that drive," Hennessy says.

The Costa Rican native began working with sports psychologist Mike Duff a couple of years ago and believes it's helped her navigate this mental hurdle. Drawing on her roots and family has also be instrumental.

"I think I knew I always had that within me. My mum is so kind and she has such a beautiful heart and so is my dad, but my dad has this craziness and he goes with the flow, but then he also fights the flow a little bit and he's not afraid to stand up and fight for what he believes in.

"I really tried to just tune in to both my parents and what I've learned in Costa Rica as well," the 22-year-old says.

Armed with this renewed confidence there's no telling what she can achieve for the rest of the 2022 season.

"I have that fighter competitor within me. I truly feel that and I think really tuning into that and know that it doesn't hinder my image on land because I've got a job to do and my job is to mostly just compete against myself," Hennessy shares.

"I'm not competing against others or trying to fight against others. It's honestly within myself." - Brisa Hennessy

Hennessy: Born to surf

In some ways it's not surprising Brisa Hennessy has achieved her goal of becoming a pro surfer and competing against her heroes.

Combined with skill and talent, she was born into a surfing family, with both her parents surf instructors in her homeland.

"Growing up in Costa Rica has definitely shaped me to who I am and how I see the world.

"I think living such a simple, beautiful life, and connecting to Mother Nature and connecting to your family and connecting to other people is the most important part to me," Hennessy says.

She also acknowledges the purity and rawness of the jungle in her native country may be sparking her competitive spirit.

"I think what drives me as a competitor also, [is that] I constantly was like in survival mode with all the animals, and I think that's where I get my competitive nature." - Brisa Hennessy

Her strong, confident and smooth style can also be attributed to her time spent in Hawaii and Fiji.

When Hennessy was eight, her family moved to the Island of Oahu, on Hawaii's North Shore. They lived there while she was at school and began spending her summer holidays on Namotu Island in Fiji at a resort that her family manages.

Riding some of the best waves in the world helped young Brisa hone her craft, and by the end of 2018 she had qualified to compete against the world's best on the CT.

Hennessy was impressive in her rookie year. After claiming third place in Bali, she finished her inaugural season on tour ranked 11th in the world. This helped her qualify to represent Costa Rica at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021, where she made it through to the quarter-finals.

Brisa Hennessy: My goals in 2022

As well as striving to be a good human, Hennessy has high hopes as an athlete.

"This year I mean business. I definitely want to be in the top five. That's my goal, and I'm going to do everything I can to get there." - Brisa Hennessy

Focusing on the essentials has helped her find a rhythm on tour, and despite losing that number 1 ranking to Carissa Moore in April, she safely made the new mid-season cut on the WSL tour following the Margaret River Pro, as one of just 10 female surfers progressing to the second half of the season.

"I have a lot of goals, but I think the main one is to simplify," she says. "To come out of it (the 2022 season) knowing that I really did my best. I really simplified my routine, simplified who I was and also I think soaking in the moments between all the stops on the (WSL) tour.

"I feel like that's what makes you who you are and makes you a well-rounded, happy person. I want to know I soaked it all up and did my best and came out a better surfer and a better human."

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