Zen and the Art of Bikini Design
By Kelly Vander Kaay
Photo by Kitfox Valentin
Aylana Zanville—born and raised in the mountains of Boulder Creek and surfing for 17 years—finds a sense of grounding where others grow unnerved. It’s no secret she prefers giant walls of water over the standard user friendly, tourist approved surf spots. The thing is bikinis tend to come undone when an avalanche of that magnitude unloads on you.
In 2005, Aylana decided to do something about it, founding Ola Chica (www.olachica.com), a Santa Cruz-based maker of fashionable yet functional bikinis designed to stay put in even in the heaviest of conditions. Since the line’s inception, Aylana has tested her suits at breaks from Australia to the North Shore, Indonesia to Costa Rica, and many other exotic destinations along the way.
She recently returned from a two-week trip to Hawaii where she was fine-tuning a new Brazilian-inspired bikini due to come out this summer. On March 20, she could also be found promoting her wares amidst the buzzing and screeching of surfboard planers at the Sacred Craft Consumer Surf Expo at the Rittenhouse in Downtown Santa Cruz. In between it all, she caught up with us to expound upon the suits big wave stand-outs Jamilah Starr and Jenny Useldinger wear.
Here’s what she had to say about entrepreneurship, her life inspirations, underwater rock running (yes you read that right), and more.
How are your suits unique?
My suits are made in small batches with limited material so each one is different. While traveling, I have had them made in Bali, Brazil, and Costa Rica, in addition to here in California, of course. My work as a massage therapist has played a role in the design of the tops in that there is no knot at the neck pressing on C7. When I would surf in other suits that tied around the neck, I would feel the pressure on my neck after a full day of surfing. So I designed a suit that crisscrosses over the shoulders and has only one tie in the back for adjustment. This design is very functional for all day use in the water, as well as for sports.
Tell us about some of the challenges of running your own business
I don’t have a business background or formal design training so I am constantly learning what works. I have gotten past a number of hurdles by personally testing out all my bikinis. That way I am able to make sure they are truly functional. Also, figuring out a perfect sizing chart has been difficult because everyone is so different, but now I have a nice variety of suits that fit a wide range of body types. Having my own business has been both challenging and exciting. I love it though, and my suits are selling so I’m pretty stoked!
So what size surf have you’ve tested your suits in?
I got to do some tow-surfing at Revelations on the North Shore when most of the other surf spots were maxed out. It was pumping, and my friends were calling it 25-30 foot faces. On one of the bigger set waves I rode, I could see it closing out ahead and knew there were several bigger waves out the back. I had to straighten and got completely annihilated. I was held under for a super long time and had to dive under the next three waves before the Jet Ski could come and grab me. When I came up for air, I was stoked to find my Ola Chica bikini still in place.
What compels you to throw yourself over the ledge of a big slab?
Big wave surfing makes me feel good. It is very grounding and humbling. In big waves, I have to be completely present. I always take my time, breathe and pick my waves carefully. Sometimes I’ll wait 30 minutes to catch that perfect wave. It’s important to be patient and make smart decisions. There is no feeling in the world like riding a double-overhead plus wave. Maybe it’s the endorphins… It’s exciting and fun and scary all at the same time. When I get a good ride, I’m not thinking about anything else. The present is all that matters. Sitting way out there on a big day and looking in to see the whole coastline with the trees and people looking like tiny miniatures toy figures in pretty cool. You are really immersed in the elements.
Do you cross-train?
I do Capoeira (Brazilian martial arts) a few times per week, swim either open ocean or a pool at least once a week. I practice yoga and pranayama (meditation with breath), walk my dog every day, and ride my bike around town as much as possible. I also love to dance. When I’m in Hawaii, I do underwater rock running.
Who has influenced your surfing?
I have a tight group of surfing friends who are my surfing influences/mentors. My good friend Elisa, who I have known since pre-school, took me out for the first time. My friend Ioane in Hawaii is my big wave guru. And all my other partners in crime who love to charge.
Tell us a little bit about your Hawaiian big wave mentor
Ioane burned me at Ma’alaea (“Freight Trains”) on Maui before we became friends. When he realized I could surf, he got stoked and offered to take me places. I’m positive and always have fun. I think he liked that. His confidence and Zen helps me stay centered and calm. I am very grateful for everything I’ve learned from him.
Favorite all-time surf film?
[Smiles.] September Sessions, a very inspiring surf film – I feel like I surf better after watching it.
If you had to describe a philosophy you live by, what would it be?
Be in the present and enjoy life because you never know what can happen.
Who influenced you in the development of this credo?
I am very fortunate and grateful for my upbringing. My parents always encouraged me to follow my heart. My family and friends have been incredible influences on me. They’ve completely supported me in my lifestyle and choices. I have spent a lot of time away surfing in other countries and missing birthdays, holidays and special events. And they were always supportive and happy to see me when I finally got home. Through my travels and surfing experiences, I’ve learned how important it is to be present.
Where do you see yourself in a few years?
My goal is to have my logo recognized. I’d also like to have an Ola Chica rep, someone who believes in these bikinis as much as I do. I like designing, and eventually I’d like to focus more of my energy on the designs and have someone else take care of the shops and marketing. [Grins] I’ve had this dream about doing a boat trip to Indo with a boat full of ripping chicas all wearing my bikinis and, of course, getting some great pictures for promoting. That would be awesome.
Where are your suits sold?
Santa Cruz Skate and Surf Shop, Skate Works , Arrow Surf Shop, HomeGrown Surfboards in Davenport, Palapa Lounge in Los Gatos, and on my website at www.olachica.com
How much do your suits go for, and what other products do you have in the works?
The suits are $60-80. As for new stuff, I am in the process of making some Ola Chica hats. They will be here by summer, along with the Brazilian-style suit. In the future, I also hope to make a kids line of swimsuits, as well as one-piece suits.
For more information, visit Ola Chica at:
FACEBOOK LINK TWITTER LINK MYSPACE LINK