Filipa Leandro was born in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1972 and went on to become one of Portugal's first female surfers. She competed in surf contests for a decade, received a degree in Diplomacy, and traveled to Hawaii where she worked on her thesis for a Masters in Human Ecology. She has been a contributing writer for several magazines, published many books, worked as a surf instructor and a water awareness educator. Withitgirl reached out to Filipa to hear the beautiful story of her personal journey as a surfer, mother, friend, and mentor to her daughter, who recently became the 2021 National Surfing Champion. Filipa's first language is Portuguese, and we did our best to translate her heartfelt story in such a way as to maintain her unique voice and charm, which we now present with gratitude.
Early Years in Portugal
I was born in 1972 in Lisbon, Portugal, and I've always lived within walking distance of Carcavelos beach. Ever since I was a little girl, I remember wanting surfing to be a part of my life. When I went to the beach and saw a surfer in the water, I became fascinated. My brother Gonçalo, three years younger, started when he was seven, but my journey was longer. It took time because I wasn't taken seriously by other surfers. I was a little girl, and there were no girls in the water. In the summer, I would borrow windsurf boards and make a foam surfboard.
The 80's surf culture and tradition in Portugal was minimal and poorly rated. It was not until I was seventeen that I saved up enough money to buy my own equipment. My first board was a Tropical Line, shaped by PICOS, and the wetsuit I bought was from a surfer on the English surf team that came to Portugal for the Euro Surf 1989. You could count on your fingers the number of female surfers in Portugal, about five (Té Ayala, Estela, Teresa Montalvão, Patricia Lopes, and Teresa Abraços). Lucky for us, we had an immense coastline with perfect waves, all to ourselves.
In and out of the water, I was constantly reminded by the other kids that it was a sport for boys—girls should go bodyboarding. Instead, I decided to ignore their statements and committed to learning to surf by going out daily!
It took me a while to stand up due to how small and thin the boards were, and received no advice from local surfers. Once I managed to stand up and take the white water to the shore, it was not long before I started catching waves on the outside. People began to notice how quickly my skill level was advancing. This was the early '90s in Portugal, and the sport of surfing was still developing. My surfing career started gaining momentum as sponsors gave me equipment and resources to enter competitions. The better my results, the more exposure I had. I wasn't paid. I used prize money and worked to have enough money saved to go to competitions. I was sponsored by Rip Curl by the end of the '90s.
In 1996, while simultaneously earning my International Relations degree, I represented the National Team in the European Championship in Ireland, and our team became European Champions. It was a great feeling, mostly because I had an excellent performance. I was 25 years old. I traveled worldwide with a surfboard under my arm, which I still do whenever it's possible! Two years later, I decided to do a Master's in Human Ecology.
Motherhood + Surfing + Education
In 2000, my son Joey was born. We moved to Huntington Beach, California, with his father, surfer Joe Veselko. Even when I stopped competing, I kept surfing. After breastfeeding, I would run out to surf; other times, I would surf and run out to breastfeed! Two and a half years later, my daughter Francisca (Kika Veselko) was born. I repeated the process. She was very different from her brother. Kika was bald with blue eyes and screamed a lot. From the start, she knew what she wanted, had incredible energy, and proved to be very competitive. We moved to Portugal when she was only one and a half months old. Our son, Joey, started riding waves at five years old. While I helped him in the water, I would try to leave Kika by the shore, but she would start screaming until I picked her up and put her on my back. She would watch me push her brother, clinging to my back, and she loved it.
Having surfers for both parents, my kids spent a lot of time at the beach. They had their own wetsuits and would pull their boards by the leashes along the shoreline, as we would do cartwheels. We let the kids play with the boards at the water's edge; sometimes they would take a wave with us, but it didn't go beyond that. When Kika was about three and a half years old, our friends' son Christian Ulher, who was 12 years old at the time, asked me if he could put her on a wave. I trusted him, but the board overturned when he pushed the longboard and he let go instead of holding onto the back to stabilize it. Kika fell and got a bit scared because she stayed under the heavy board for a while. As a result, she didn't care about surfing for a few years—but the water and waves she loved.
In May of 2009, our third son, Jaime, was born. During this time, Kika was taking swimming lessons and began regaining her confidence. She started first grade and was now the big sister since there was a new baby at home. One day she said, "Mom, I want to surf again!" She was almost seven years old. I was delighted. Between work, kids, home, etc., I would push Kika into the waves. Her taste for riding waves was getting bigger and bigger. Several surfing coaches started to notice her potential, and one of them asked me if he could train her. At the age of eight, I enrolled her in a surf school. The following year, she entered her first championship at age nine.
I wanted to be intimately involved with the development and education of my children, so I decided to become a surf teacher.
My work schedule gave me the time and flexibility to make the most of my time with them. During the eight years that I taught, I passed on my passion for surfing and the planet to hundreds of kids. To this day, I am grateful to have spent so much time with my children while they were young, and doing what I love to do: teach.
As a surf instructor, I saw a lot of diversity in the surf school I was teaching at the time. I began thinking about writing a collection of books about surfing for kids. It was 2012 and Joey was twelve, Kika was nine, and Jaime was three. I realized it would be a difficult task, but I never gave up on the idea. By 2015, everything came together, and I went ahead and wrote the first three books, which contained real stories about how kids got started surfing, and the fun they had doing it. I didn't want to stop there, so I wrote several others: The Gigantic Waves of Nazaré, in Peniche during the Surfing World Championship…SuperTubos; Cascais, Capital of Portuguese Surfing, It's All Down to King D. Luís and his Love of Swimming in the Sea; The Resano Sisters; Ericeira, World Surfing Reserve; Viana do Castelo, The Nautical City of the Atlantic; and The Trip to the Hawaiian Islands! Between waves and laughter, the characters travel to towns and cities with world-class waves and learn about the local surf, cultures, and traditions, always with civility and respect for the environment.
Kika's Surf Career Highlights
When Kika was ten years old, she went to the Maldives for the first time on her own. I was very torn about her traveling solo since she was still my baby girl. Today, the world perspective has changed from when I was a child, and it's normal for kids to travel on their own at such a young age. Kika made a significant leap in her surfing during that trip! At the national level, by twelve years old, she won the Under-16 Women's and Under-12 Men's stage with big and strong waves. By thirteen, she represented the Portuguese Junior National Team for the first time. She won a bronze medal in the European Championship. The team became European Champions! Kika went on to win titles and always represented Portugal in the National Team. In 2019, when she was 16 years old, she was the runner-up at the EuroSurf in Santa Cruz, Portugal, and lost by less than a point to the last wave taken by the former Australian World Championship Tour athlete, Claire Beveilaqua, who was representing Italy.
Adolescence & Motherly Love
As a mother, my love is unconditional. I choose to be a mother but also a friend. I have heard people criticize this approach to parenting, for us, it has worked out. We do a lot of talking, provide a lot of mutual support, and always try to look at both sides of the coin. I organize our family adventures around healthy experiences and good memories. It is essential, as a mother, to give my children enough freedom so that they don't feel suffocated, and at an early age learn to be independent and responsible.
I have observed parents raise their children to be what they want them to be—not what the children wish to be—so I often ask my children: “What do you want?”
My daughter Kika is a strong warrior with a strong personality—a girl with immense potential.
As her mother and friend, I support her surfing career in every way I can because she has told me that is what she wants. We share this bond and experience with competitive surfing. Sometimes I get frustrated that I can't support her more and that she hasn't had half of the experiences that other younger girls have, but that's just how it is. Every person works with what they have! Kika, who is now eighteen, wants to be on the Champions Tour. She recently won the second title of National Under-18 Champion and the National Open 2021 Champion. She will soon compete for the European Junior title.
I am passionate about surfing, environmental issues, education, civility, human and animal rights, culture, and traditions. Now that my children are all grown up, I still go to the beach and make new waves for myself. More and more, I am invited to read books and talk to kids at academic and surf schools. I spread the magic of surfing, give examples of healthy living, and focus on various issues that I consider essential to society and the health of our planet.
Since I was a little girl, I remember wanting surfing to be a part of my life... and it has been!
This story was published back in November of 2021
Additional Information & Links:
Come Surf with Pipa, Jaime and Kika Books purchase
Pedro Stichini Vilela Instagra
João Candeias, Instagram
Video Links & Information
Associação Nacional de Surfistas (ANS): Women's Division Rankings 2021
Facebook Link Video (ANS) Kika National Champion
Surf Total 2021: Kika National Champion, Article
On Fire Surf 2021, Article
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