For Joie Rucker, surfing started as a spectator sport. In 2001, the fashion designer--following stints at iconic denim brands Levi's and Guess--was overseeing a shoot for her namesake company on a California beach. Many of the models were surfers. After the shoot, they zipped into wetsuits, grabbed boards, turned toward the Pacific, and asked Rucker to join them.
"I was like, 'I don't know if I can do it,'" she says. "One of the girls gave me a lesson on the beach. We went out, I caught my first wave, and after that, I was addicted."
Rucker--who's sold two clothing companies she started, including Rich & Skinny, which had topped $26 million in revenue--started taking lessons near her home in Malibu, where she surfs three or four mornings a week. She spends the rest of her day in the downtown L.A. headquarters of Calvin Rucker, the fashion company she founded with fellow Levi's alum (and surfing fanatic) Caroline Calvin.
Rucker's dream surfing spot is Tavarua, an island in Fiji. She's carved up and down the coasts of Hawaii, Indonesia, and Mexico, most memorably at the Ranch, a break off Mexico's Pacific coast that has consistent surf and regularly produces waves more than eight feet high.
"You have to boat into it," Rucker says. "I couldn't really see how big it was, because we entered from behind the waves. It was exciting and terrifying at the same time." But Rucker savors such challenges. They parallel the waves she rides in the other part of her life, she says: "Using the forces that are given to you, being conservative when you need to be, and going for it when it's time to go for it."
Most mornings in Malibu, Rucker meets with "a family of friends" who come together in and out of the water. Along with Calvin, they recently did a "paddle out" to celebrate the life of a member of their beach community who had passed away.
"I've met movie producers in the water, an expert carpenter--there are just all kinds of people," Rucker says. "To find some kind of connection with those people even though they're so far away from my day-to-day experiences--it's one of the things I love most about surfing."