Ella Riley-Adams’ job as Living Editor for Vogue.com affords her a number of opportunities to travel, even occasionally with surfboard in tow. We loved her recent piece about Hawaiian longboard culture: “The Ocean Women of Oahu,” and reached out for a chat about writing, surfing, and balancing work and waves. And while she brings her board along every chance she gets, Rockaway Beach is still her home turf.
Where did you grow up?
Where do you live now?
Brooklyn, New York.
Can you tell us a brief history of your writing career and how you got to be the Living Editor at Vogue?
While in school at Sarah Lawrence, I focused all my papers on digital media (relating Snapchat to French cinema, and Diderot’s encyclopedia to Wikipedia), and interned at Vice and Surface Magazine, both places that stoked my desire to work in publishing. After graduation, I worked at AOL’s Makers before doing social media at The New Yorker then working on social video for Vox Media. As a writer, I’ve always been interested in the food world, along with fashion and culture, so Vogue Living was a good fit. I’ve been lucky that, with travel as part of the Living beat, surfing can be work related! Getting to write about the women in the waves of Oahu is my favorite story so far.
When did you learn to surf? Do you have any memories from how you felt when you finally got up?
I really caught the bug when I spent time in Itamambuca, Brazil. My uncle has a house that’s just steps from the water, so my friend Carmen and I would take out his surfboards and just try our best in the wake. I’m not sure I ever stood up, but that got me excited to surf when I got back to New York. I really learned to surf in Rockaway, at Locals Surf School. I love standing and really being on a wave, but the most memorable part of surfing for me is just being in the water, seeing dolphins or diving birds, and figuring out how to read the waves.
How do you balance city life and getting out to the water to surf? Do you have any advice for creating this balance?
In summer and fall, and sometimes winter, I set aside one weekend day for BEACH. I look forward to it all week, checking the surf report at work. Being in the water just transforms my outlook on life, so I try to prioritize it, but I have yet to figure out the work-week water/office balance!
What did you learn from the women longboarders of Oahu when you did your Vogue piece on them?
I loved hearing how much surfing is a family sport there. Mothers, daughters, sisters, brothers, everyone’s out in the water together. Surfing can be an intimidating sport, and it was reassuring to see how inclusive it can be. I think that vibe has really carried through to the growing women’s longboard world tour; it’s cool that there’s a sense of camaraderie even at the highest levels of competition.
Was there anything that changed your thoughts on being a woman in a predominantly male-dominated sport?
I feel lucky to surf in Rockaway, where there are lots of women in the water. I always have my eye on other women out there and am learning just by watching them. The Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing is doing really important work fighting for equal pay and recognition, while locally Davina Grincevicius’s Women’s Surf Film Festival is showcasing some really cool creators who will hopefully inspire more girls to get in the water.
Where in the world is your favorite place to surf?
It’s hard to say! I’ve caught my longest waves in Rincon, Puerto Rico and on the North Shore in Oahu, so those spring to mind first. But I also love the adventure of cold water surfing in Oregon and Maine, where the beach is more rugged. That said, I could barely make it past the break when I went out at Cannon Beach. And once I finally paddled out, I just sat in the water for an hour. No waves were caught, but it was still a gorgeous experience. (Oregon surfers say that when you surf there, you can surf anywhere.)
As a journalist, how do you generally get your inspiration for a story?
I’ve found a lot of inspiration while traveling this year, and I feel lucky that my job is so social – a lot of my ideas come from meeting people at parties (and also seeing what they’re up to on Instagram!).
How do you get through writer’s block?
It sounds so basic, but when I feel blocked I just try to remind myself: just start typing. It’s so much better to have something, anything on the page, even if it all gets cut in the end. Sometimes I start a piece in the middle, or write out the conclusion. I try not to get caught up in making a perfect start.
As a Living and Beauty writer, what are your tips for how to keep looking fresh after a day in the salt water?
Obviously I’m all about sunscreen – SuperGoop’s Unseen Sunscreen is great, and I love Shiseido’s UV protector stick. For daily use, lately I’ve been obsessed with Kari Gran’s Three Sixty Five moisturizer which I found at Follain, my favorite all-natural beauty spot.
After I get out of the water, I’ll spray my hair with Goldie’s lightening spray, which now just evokes pure “beach” smell to me (and is all natural, made in Rockaway). I love how it enhances salty curls.
You also write about –and obviously love– food. What are your go-to spots in the city, and any that you must hit up while spending a day at the beach?
Lately in the city I’ve been into Crown Shy, a new spot in the Financial District which serves the most melt-in-your-mouth, complimentary (!) olive bread with dinner. The pastry chef is Renata Ameni, who was at Manresa and Eleven Madison Park before; besides the bread, she does an incredible set of desserts. Otherwise, I’m always eating the hobo noodle at Lovely Day, and intending to make breakfast plans at Atla. At the beach, it’s tacos at Surf Club (early before the line!), a veggie burger and the best michelada ever at Ripper’s, or pizza at Whit’s End in the evening.
Check out some of Ella’s Vogue writing.