Sierra Lerback can’t help but pick flowers wherever she goes. Along the windy Hana highway on her island home of Maui, she pulls over on the shoulder and disappears over the guardrail into the jungle. A few minutes later, she emerges out with bouquet of ginger stems in all hues: white, pink, and red (the same flower tattoed on the inside of her wrist). She gets back in the car, drives on, and does it again. By the time she’s parked at home, the trunk of her car looks like a flower shop heist. “It's so nice having the fragrance of fresh cut flowers in every room,” she smiles.
For Sierra, the wildest parts of Maui feel like her extended backyard. Before she was old enough to paddle out into the surf, her dad left her on the beach alone to play as he and his friends took turns surfing and keeping an eye on her. Nowadays, she’s still like a kid playing on the beach, scrambling over rocks, awed by petals and fronds, and marveling at the crustaceans she encounters skittering on the sand. We think she might be a sea creature and flower whisperer.
Through high school, Sierra traveled and competed in women’s short board contests but lately she’s fallen in love with riding weirder boards and exploring wherever the tides and swell take her. We caught up with her to talk more about growing up on the paradise of Maui, and dancing hula on a parade float. Welcome to the Seeababes family Sierra!
Photos by Dylan Gordon and Luki O'Keefe shot in Sri Lanka and Maui.
Surfing and the ocean is a huge part of the community in Maui. How has living on an island shaped your identity?
The surfing community on the west side of Maui is very tightly knit and supportive of each other. We all helped each other whether it was by borrowing boards or learning from our elders. Every time you paddle out, you know every face in the lineup and it’s an awesome feeling.
Growing up, my life revolved around the beach. My mom would take us to the beach every day after school and we would be there until sunset, playing in the waves and surfing our brains out. There I made my best friends, whom I still get to surf with all the time. On the weekends, we had a whole grom pack and we would be out in the water all day till our parents were calling us in.
Who were your teachers when you started surfing and competing?
I never had a surf coach growing up. I actually never really imagined competing and traveling the globe being able to do what I love.
I was backed by an amazing community of surfers, and I’m still learning from them with every session. My biggest surf inspiration was my brother and his friends. I always wanted to keep up with them! In my eyes then, they were fearless and that’s all I wanted to be.
How did your family end up in Maui? What have they told you about their experiences growing up and how was it different back then?
From the 1930s to the late 1960s, whalers from across the globe would sail to Lahaina town to rest and recover from their long journeys. My grandfather, a Norwegian whaler, met my grandmother, a Filipino pineapple picker, on his rest stop and then along came my father. My family has been deeply rooted to this small town ever since.
My grandmother has told me of how much the town has changed since she was young: The rise of tourism, and the transformation of the island from a place of sugarcane and pineapples, to now a popular holiday destination. It was a simple life, based off of what the land and ocean could provide. It is a place full of rich history and culture that lives on.
Between surfing, you used to dance hula. Tell us more! What did you love about it?
For a few years, I strayed away from surfing and went into dance. I was constantly doing ballet and hula. I was more passionate about doing hula and the people and friends I had met through it. Learning the dances and what each movement meant was such an experience for me. I feel in love with hula because each dance would tell a story.
I would dance Tahitian on the floats during King Kamehameha Day In Lahaina with my Halau, and did shows all around Maui. Watching the older girls dance in their shows, I had sparkles in my eyes and it was to this day the most beautiful form of dance and storytelling I have ever seen.
Having grown up in Hawaii and danced hula, how has Hawaiian culture become part of who you are, even though you are not native Hawaiian by blood?
In every grade we were required to have one class devoted to Hawaiian Studies. We learned about the overthrow of the monarchy, the way Hawaiians lived and worshiped the land, and all about the true Aloha spirit and more.
Growing up in Hawaii has made me appreciate and respect the culture immensely. The pride and love Hawaiians show for their history and the islands has influenced me to help preserve what land the Native Hawaiians do have left and to help promote The Aloha Spirit wherever I am in the world.
What are your other passions when you’re not surfing and traveling?
Lately I’ve been diving into learning about essential oils and all of the amazing things they can do for your body and applying what I learn to myself and my family. I am currently reading “The 5 People You’ll Meet In Heaven.”
This year I’ve set a goal for myself to surf bigger waves than I ever have and also expand my quiver with fishes, asymmetrical, and all kinds of different boards.
I enjoy gardening and learning about horticulture, I hope one day to buy a plot of land and be able to live off of what I grow.
We can't wait to come visit you again on Maui and see your garden. Welcome to the family Sierra!
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