by JIM BUCKLEY JR. photographs by MICHAEL HABER
Zooming across a choppy ocean strapped to a small board and yanked along by a soaring skin of nylon, a kiteboarder needs balance and guts to pull off amazing tricks—or even just make it back to the shore in one piece. Maika Monroe knows all about balance: The Santa Barbara native successfully balances a quartet of careers—and she’s only 19.
Monroe is not only among the top female kiteboarders in the United States, but she also plays a key role as Zac Efron’s girlfriend in this fall’s At Any Price (which costars Dennis Quaid). As the pictures here and on the cover show, she’s a pretty fine model too. And, in her rapidly diminishing spare time, she’s designing a line of clothing for Airbound Apparel set to debut next spring.
Kiteboarding was the first of Monroe’s talents. She started the sport with her dad, Jack (also an experienced kiteboarder), off Butterfly Beach. “We spent six months on the beach just flying the kite,” says Monroe, who grew up in Mission Canyon. “He wanted me to be comfortable so when I was in the water, I could control the kite without thinking about it. Then the first time on the water, I stood up for 30 seconds and I got the hugest rush—and fell in love with the sport.” To this day, her favorite local spots include Butterfly and Leadbetter beaches.
A rapid rise through the ranks followed, and since then, Monroe has steered her kiteboard around the world to competitions on both coasts as well as New Caledonia. She hopes to squeeze in a kiting trip to Europe in 2013.
Monroe actually loved the sport so much that she left Santa Barbara High School in January 2011 during her senior year (she finished her degree online) to live with her mom, Dixie, in the Dominican Republic town of Cabarete—home of perhaps the world’s greatest kiteboarding winds. Her experiences there came not just from the water. “It was definitely a third-world country feeling,” she says. “No cell phones, barely any Internet, no TV. It was a huge change, but it was so incredible. I didn’t even have a car. It really helped me focus on the sport.”
Monroe picked up the travel bug from her time at Santa Barbara Middle School, where independence and trips are a big part of the program. It was there that she also got serious about acting, becoming so busy with auditions and parts in commercials that school plays were quickly left behind.
The confidence she gained in those busy years served her well when she took on her greatest acting challenge yet—not fainting when she met Zac Efron. “I didn’t meet Zac or Dennis until shooting began [on the set near Chicago],” she says. “I was so nervous! I was worried Zac was going to be arrogant because half the world is obsessed with him. Then I got there and met everyone and they were so down-to-earth and nice. They really helped me out—took me under their wing and told me how it all went. It was an incredible first experience. The director, Ramin Bahrani, made it life changing for me.”
Next up is a leading part in the 2013 Sofia Coppola movie The Bling Ring. Then Monroe joins another all-star cast (Josh Brolin, Kate Winslet) to film Labor Day, a drama directed by Montecito’s own Jason Reitman. Monroe thinks her ability to juggle so many different parts of her life has been the key to her success. “In both acting and kiteboarding, I need to work hard, focus, and train. They both teach me so many things. I wouldn’t be in either place if I didn’t have the other.”
While she tries to sneak in trips to the beach with her kite and find time at the drawing board for her fashion work, Monroe says that acting is the focus for her right now. “But anytime my agent says I can have some time off, I’ll be on the road kiteboarding and competing,” she says. “I’m really excited about this upcoming year.”
Her only trouble might be finding time to sleep.
Check out Maika behind the scenes during our summer shoot: