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MAMALA ︱Angela Horacek


Photo by Amber Jenks (2024)

Starting a women’s wetsuit brand, from scratch!


Angela Horacek had never planned on starting a wetsuit company. The San Diego local was already a successful business owner; for decades, she’d run youth tennis camps. Surfing, for her, had always been purely recreational. She began in her early 30s, as a way to enjoy her surroundings more and find some balance in her hectic life. 


It wasn't until much later that her surf-focused business idea took root. In early summer 2020, she was looking for a 2 mil, women’s full suit that would keep her just warm enough during dawn patrols. But despite her search, she came up empty-handed. That’s when inspiration struck. 


The global COVID-19 pandemic had put much of the world on pause, and Horacek had time to research things like, wetsuit production. If she couldn’t find a women’s 2 mil full suit, she’d make one herself – and maybe a few thousand for other women, too. 


"I thought, it can't be rocket science," she said. "It's been harder than I thought. But really fun, because everything's brand new to me."


That summer, Horacek started calling as many potential manufacturers as she could find. “I just pestered people,” she said. One company made wetsuits, but only for the military. Another made for consumers, but not at the level of quality she sought. Eventually, she was introduced to someone who could help her with the pattern, which she modeled, in part, from her research into the woman superhero costumes. 


Pattern in hand, Horacek put in her first order, for 600 wetsuits. Mamala Surf, named for the shark-woman demigoddess of the sea, was born. 



That first batch, however, wasn’t the dream suit she had envisioned.


"It was awful," said Horacek. In some cases, the patterns were wrong (every pattern was wrong, they made the back seam 3” too low). In others, the fabric wasn’t what she had ordered. Neither of those would have been dealbreakers, she said. The real issue was stitching that, in some suits, went all the way through the rubber, letting water flush through. Horacek pulled them off the market and debated what to do. 


Some of them, the ones with proper stitching, worked well. Those were made with Yamamoto 40, a Japanese, limestone-derived rubber that’s malleable and light. 


"When you got a good one, it was like winning the lottery," said Horacek. "They were fun to surf."

Delilah (left) and Luella (right) by Amber Jenks (2024)

That was when another idea took hold. As she went looking for another, better, manufacturer, Horacek began looking for women surfers to gift with the Mamala wetsuits that worked. She reached out to women on Instagram and gave wetsuits to up-and-coming young surfers.


Kay Saffe by Jeff Kerridge (2023)

Jen Smith by Scott Smith Media (2022)

"Before this project, I had always surfed alone and didn't know many women surfers. I wanted a longboarder for our photo shoot. At Tourmaline, I couldn't find any women, so I asked the guy in the parking lot if he knew a female longboarder who could surf. He suggested Jen at Soulgrind. I introduced myself to Jen, asked her and a friend to be in the shoot, and offered them wetsuits once we had them. She agreed, never mentioning she was a 2x world champion – I was just hoping she could surf. Jen and Kay wore my first rough prototypes for website pictures. During the shoot, Jen blew me away, spending most of the session on the nose or walking the board backwards. When Kay came in, I mentioned how good Jen was, and Kay filled me in on Jen's accomplishments. Jen and Kay have been really supportive, and they'll get wetsuits as long as Mamala exists.


Summer Romero by Jersson (2024)

Summer Romero won the 2023 Supergirl Long Board Pro. She was wearing our wetsuit. I met Summer surfing in PB in the water. Not realizing she was a former World Champion and US Champion I was blown away by her surfing. She rips. She was also super nice. I asked her if she ever competed, and she said a little bit. I asked her if she was sponsored, and she said not anymore. I asked her if she would like to try our wetsuits out because everyone would be watching her in our wetsuit) I met her for a surf and she tried our wetsuits and liked them and started wearing them.


Besides the women I reached out to on IG, I met quite a few at the women’s surf contests we sponsored and the events we attended. The other competitors in the Supergirl Pro wearing our suits were Cash Hoover (Who made it through the amateur to the 2nd Pro round), Kat Neff (pro), Ella Stocker (amateur) and maybe Luella Pace (amateur), and Delilah Safron (amateur). Hard to remember all of them now.


We have lots of upcoming surfers for this year who are doing really well. Summer Romero continues to compete in our suits and seems to win every contest she enters. The younger ones are still in school or college. "


Cash Hoover Oahu IG @cash_hoover

Luella Pace CA IG @luellapace

Chloe Colemaan NY (Going to college in SD) @chloecolemaan

Delilah Safron CA @delilah__alani

Kayla Burke CA @surfergirlkaylaa

Tristan Moorea Johnson CA @tristan_moorea_johnson

Stephanie Wise CA @Stephanie.wise

Hazel Dixon CA @hazie_days_n_waves

Skylar Steinmetz NC @skythesurfergirl

Coral Sasser FL @coralthesurfer

Maggie Demsey FL @maggiedemsey

Olivia Jansen FL @olivia_jansen1

Kenzie Tily FL @kenzietily

Isabella Goodwin FL @Isabella__goodwin

Ella Stocker CA @ellastocker

Maylee Madsen, CA @maylee_madsen

Zoey Howland CA @z0eyhowland


Still frothing Older Competitors


Deana Dhillon CA @sunnyyddee

Leah Pakpour CA @leahpakpour

Shaya Alexander CA @shayaalexander


Horacek also found non-profits that might need wetsuits, from Peru to California, and beyond. It was during this time that she connected with someone who would become a key partner and supporter of the brand. 

Holly Beck by Monica Gavaris (2023)

In 2021, Horacek was attending the Surf With Amigas, a weeklong surf camp in Costa Rica with former pro Holly Beck. One day, on the way to one of the breaks, Horacek shared that she was starting a women’s wetsuit company – and Beck was intrigued. 

 

"My experience with the surf industry was that the women's side of performance products were an afterthought," said Beck. "They would just take the men's suit, slap on a hibiscus flower and call it a women's suit. So I was very involved with [my then-sponsor] Body Glove and to their credit, they listened to me. We worked together for many years on fit, design and logos."


Beck wanted to support a woman-owned company and offered to help however she could. The timing was perfect: she would be traveling more between Costa Rica and California, and she'd need some neoprene when she landed stateside. Together, they began promoting the Mamala brand with a contest celebrating women board shapers. Horacek had only one prototype, which happened to be Beck's size, and they used it for their first photoshoot. " If I could keep Holly warm I could keep anyone warm. This is true. Holly's support, friendship, and candid input were immensely valuable for the evolution of our wetsuit."


The kicker, though, was Mamala’s logo. 


“The mermaid shark is beautiful and feminine, but also badass,” said Beck. "It’s the perfect combination of how I want to show up in the water. Like I'm cute, I'm a female, and all that. But don't drop in on me."


Their first project together was a photo shoot at a San Diego break. Beck brought a vintage fish for the occasion, and Horacek brought the suits. The shoot, and subsequent partnership, yielded a swath of marketing material for Mamala, as well as, confidence. 


"If I can keep Holly Beck warm – because she's always in Central America – I can keep anybody warm," said Horacek.


And for Beck, it yielded something else: At one point, she took a surf break to cool down and turned heads in the lineup. Back on the sand, one of the men in the lineup introduced himself, he’d just bought a lot near hers in Nicaragua. They kept in touch and now, three years later, he’s her husband.

Holly Beck by Monica Gavaris (2023)

Beck’s partnership with Mamala has also been a chance for her to take a stand for her values.  "Supporting a female-owned business is the thing that's important to me," she said. "But I'm not going to support a product I don't believe in. It's cool that a woman owns it, but it's a super-quality wetsuit."


"As a female business owner, I really believe in supporting others. And I know that the surf industry is so male dominated."


For Horacek, the goal has been entirely about the wetsuits.


"I wanted the stretchiest, warmest, softest wetsuit that I could find. I wanted it feminine, but at the same time, functional, but not just functional  – have a little style to it."


Since launching her collaboration with Beck and finding homes for the first batch of wetsuits, Horacek has found a manufacturer she loves. Her first order from the new factory, for 2,000 wetsuits, arrived last fall. So far the response has been good, but Horacek knows there’s a long road ahead. 


"What happens is at a lot of surf shops, the guy [buyer] goes, ‘women don't care if it's warm or cozy or if it paddles well. They just want colors. You should get colors on your wetsuit."


"Colors are nice, but they look good for one second and they're not as warm and they don't dry as fast," said Horacek. 


"Why not produce the best wetsuit that you can for women?" she said. "Even if you're a beginner you want to be warm, you want it to be easy to get on and off, and you want it to paddle well. Why get a $200 wetsuit that you're going to hate, that’s not going to last very long and get one that you're going to enjoy and it's going to last you? That's what I'm trying to do."


Soleil Errico by Jersson (2024)

We will be sponsoring several women's surf contests this year with the winner receiving a Mamala wettie.


Queen of South Bay Manhattan Beach: @queenofthe_southbay

Queen of the Point Malibu and Ventura: @queenofthepoint

Diva Cup: @divacup_surf

Wahine Classic NC: @wahine_classic

Folly Beach Wahine Classic SC: @follybeachwahine

Sisters of the Sea Jacksonville: @sistersofthesea


"The women’s surf community is both incredibly small and remarkably vast and throughout our journey to create a high performance wetsuit for women, we’ve been overwhelmed by the unwavering support and genuine friendships we’ve formed. Truly thankful for this incredible experience."


Such an honor to be a Withitgirl for the day! Truly enjoy your posts. Angela!



 

Anna Dimond is a journalist and creative based in Los Angeles, California. She was the first senior editor for the World Surf League and her work — from writing feature stories and developing content strategy to filmmaking and podcast production — is grounded in people and story: how adventure, politics, gender, culture and passion shape who we are, the choices we make, and the way we live. Anna earned a joint M.Sc. and M.A. in Global Media and Communication from the London School of Economics and the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She earned a B.A. in Political Science from Barnard College at Columbia University.


Other Platform: IG: @annadimondcomedy



Photo Credits:

Photos of Holly Beck in Mamala by Monica Gavaris (2023): @bymonicaandrea

Photo of Summer Romeo and Soleil Errico by Jersson Barboza: @jersson_barboza_photos

Surfer product shots: Sol Glezgree: @sol.glezgreen by John Vasquez: @johnwilliam_photo

Jen Smith @jensmithofaloha and Kay Saffe @ksaffe byJeff Kerridge @jeff.kerridge

Photo shoot of girls surfing by Amber Jenks: @ajenksimagery

Two Girls with Boards: Delilah (left) and Luella (right).

Top Right: Luella Pace IG @luellapace

Top Left: Luella on the left and Delilah Alani on the right IG @delilah__alani

Top Right: Luella, Top Left: Delilah

Mamala Promotional Video by Scott Smith: @scottsmithmedia


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