In March 2020 when Sierra Lerback boarded a plane bound for Australia, she had no idea she was leaving her Hawaiian home for the foreseeable future. No stranger to the HNL to BNE route, Sierra figured she’d spend some time in Noosa then head back to Hawaii once this “COVID thing” blew over. As the plane touched down, passengers were informed they’d just caught the last flight out as international borders slammed shut behind them.
“I’ve only been on one plane in almost two years,” says Sierra from her home on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. “It’s definitely the longest I’ve stayed in one place for a very long time.”
Not that she minds too much. At 16, Sierra came to Australia to compete at the Noosa Surfing Festival. With each visit, her love for its world-class point breaks and beautiful national parks was growing. She’d also uncovered another one of the coast’s gems: Her now-husband Zye Norris. They did the long-distance thing for close to four years before deciding it was time to semi-settle in one place, with frequent sojourns to Sierra’s home on Maui thrown in.
“I do miss home but it’s nice to buckle down and stay put,” Sierra reflects. “You can kind of build your life in one spot where usually we are travelling all the time and it’s like whatever, we don’t need to buy any furniture or plant a garden because we’re never home.”
Growing up in Hawaii, surfing was non-negotiable. Sierra lived across the road from the beach and was in the water from a young age. Every day after school, her dad would take her older brother surfing. He gave Sierra the option to sit on the sand and wait or grab a board and tag along. She was keen to shadow her brother and his friends, following them onto big waves, but they didn’t exactly roll out the welcome mat.
“I just enjoy doing events where it’s not super competitive, but everyone is surfing at a high level and having a bunch of fun,” she explains.
Sierra initially competed shortboard but at national competitions her parents encouraged her to enter longboard divisions, too. As someone who isn’t competitive by nature, she had an inkling longboarding might be a better fit. Once Sierra started attending fun international events like the Duct Tape Invitational and Bali’s 9ft and Single, she knew she’d found her place.
“It took a while before I wasn’t a liability!” she laughs. “But we worked it out by high school and then it was good to have someone to surf with all the time.”
Step inside Sierra’s garage and you’ll spot a few shortboards hidden amongst the nine footers. Sunny Coast beach breaks and a job at the Thomas Surfboards retail store have nudged her back into 5’6 to 6’0 territory.
“I have a 5’6 modern fish from Thomas Surfboards and I’ve got the FCS Mod Keels in them,” Sierra says. “I love that they’re not as bulky as the traditional keel fins – turns can be a little bit faster and a little bit sharper rather than long and drawn out.”
She says the Sally Fitzgibbons Tri Fins are working out great on her standard grovel board but she’s keen to try the new Mick Fanning twin and trailer set up, too.
“I’ve always been longboard or shortboard and nothing it between,” Sierra notes. “But I’ve got a 6’6 version of Thomas Surfboards’ Momo being made now and I’m super excited about it.”
She’s hoping a little more board under her body will make paddling against the Noosa sweep slightly easier. But when it’s simply un-surfable, Sierra trades her board for a dirt bike. At home in Hawaii, the gate in her backyard presented two choices: Head down the path to the beach or ride your dirt bike up into the mountains.
“Pretty much everyone on my mom’s side of the family, and my dad, grew up riding dirt bikes,” she says. “I’ve been able to continue that here because my husband rides too.
“When we first met, I didn’t realise how into it he was - our whole garage is full of bikes!”
In a perfect world, Sierra will soon be able to get back on a plane and make up for lost time in Hawaii.
“I want to spend a couple of winter months there and catch up with my friends and family,” she says. “After that, I just really want to go on a boat trip to the Mentawais and surf my brains out!”
SurFebruary is a fun annual event in February, where participants raise money for cancer research by catching a wave or getting in the water every day – rain, hail or shine.
This episode sees Rich catch up with Mick Fanning on his recent trip to the US to chat about what he’s been riding, the development of his iconic fin template and how he came to embrace the FCS II system.