Collins is wave of future

Meah Collins is 11 years old, and yes, she's a girl.

These facts describe her as a person, but they don't come close to limiting her as a surfer.

The Costa Mesa resident has a future in surfing that appears as bright as her pink and neon yellow board. In late June she captured the girls' 12-and-under title at the Quiksilver USA Championships, at Lower Trestles in San Clemente.

She broke through at one of her favorite breaks.

"I thought I could have done a little bit better," said Collins, who also placed fourth in the under-14 competition. "But I think I did pretty good."

Collins was honored for her achievement by Mayor Gary Monahan earlier this month at a Costa Mesa city council meeting. Yet, in surfing, the beat goes on. Every weekend there seems to be a different contest. She surfed at the U.S. Open last month, making it to the quarterfinals in the Junior Women's event.

She couldn't feel too bad about not advancing; the two surfers who did (Pauline Ado and Coco Ho) are both 20 years old.

"That one was a little harder for me, but I still liked it," Meah Collins said. "It was a good experience to surf against the older girls. It's good to surf against older girls, so I can learn from them."

The teacher who has the most influence isn't a bad one to have. Her coach is her father, former top-10 surfing professional Richie Collins. Yes, that Richie Collins, the Newport Beach native who turned pro when he was 14 and won the 1989 Op Pro championship at Huntington Beach. He's been shaping surfboards for more than 30 years and owns his own surfboard company.

But her father said Meah choosing surfing was anything but a slam dunk.

"I never thought she would surf," Richie Collins said. "I didn't want her to surf; I wanted her to play golf. I started her playing golf when she was about 2."

On a trip to Hawaii a few years later, though, she picked up a surfboard for the first time. It became increasingly hard to get her to let it go.

"She just got into it," Richie Collins said. "She'd surf every morning when she was 8 years old. Before school, after school, I'd take her out of school."

Meah Collins, who is going into the seventh grade at Dwyer Middle School, still manages to gets straight A's in class. On a surfboard, she's no less adept. She's ranked No. 9 in the Assn. of Surfing Professionals North American junior women's rankings. Her sponsors include DaKine, Bubble Gum Surf Wax, M&M Surfboard Cuts and — of course — Richie Collins Surfboards.

Meah is one busy girl. She has earned quite a bit of money modeling, Richie Collins said, for several well-known clothing stores. And, at an age where many of her peers might save up their allowance for the latest toy or video game, Meah uses her earnings to go on surf trips around the world.

Richie and his wife, Caroline, have an account with the money Meah has earned. Their oldest daughter already knows plenty about economics.

"[The money] stays there until we need to go on a trip," Richie Collins said. "[I tell her] 'Meah, you need to do this, and it's going to cost you $1,500. We can't afford it. I can pay for myself, but you've got to pay for yourself.' We don't take money out for gas or hotels. Whatever we can pay for, we do, so she keeps all her money in her savings. When she gets older, say when she turns 16 and wants to buy a car, she has money to pay for it. We know for a fact, in the next couple of years she can start making a lot of money."

Recent trips have included excursions to Florida, Costa Rica and France. In three weeks, father and daughter will head to Spain, where Meah will compete in a six-star women's competition and Richie will surf in a five-star men's competition.

Richie Collins said Meah's younger sisters Lylah, 6, and Anelah, 5, now surf too. Lylah is a bit jealous of her bigger sister having highlight videos on YouTube, so Richie is working to add more videos.

Having all three daughters surf is good news, because now the family can take boat trips and, as Richie said, "go surf perfect waves somewhere."

One day, Meah said she wants to win a world title. The day might come sooner than some would expect. One person who wouldn't bet against it is Newport Beach resident Chad Towersey, the surf industry veteran who has produced three surf videos.

"I'd say she has a great chance to win a world title — I'd put money on it almost — by the time she's 18," Towersey said. "The great thing about Meah is that she's got Richie. There's a lot of tough love there, but at the end of the day they have a really good understanding of each other. Richie loves his family and he'd do anything for his kids. With Meah, he's groomed her into an amazing surfer. The crazy thing is, if you watch them both surf, they surf a lot alike … She's really being groomed to be a world champion surfer one day."

Until then, there will be plenty of waves to ride — for father and daughter both.

"It's something that you don't want your kids to start doing, because once they start doing it you might never see them again," Richie Collins said. "There's nothing like surfing. As long as you're taught the right way, where to go and how to get good waves, there's nothing better than going out there and riding what the ocean can throw toward you."

It's that feeling that keeps soft-spoken Meah going out there day after day, set after set.

"I like the feeling of the waves," she said. "It's too incredible to explain."

In the water, she doesn't have to say much.

Her moves, and the high scores that usually accompany them, say plenty.

"Meah's got such a good head on her shoulders," Towersey said. "She's a real sweetheart and she doesn't talk a lot, but I wouldn't want to surf against her in a heat. She's pretty good at what she does, that's for sure."

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