Internet phenomenon Anastasia Ashley still identifies as a pro surfer, and while she does drop in on world-class breaks, it’s hard to argue that the wave of popularity she’s currently dominating comes from her modeling career. Part of a new vanguard of celebrities who have learned to manipulate the fickle tides of social media to their favor, her more than 1.5 million online fans hungrily consume every bit they can get, and a staggering 7.3 million people have watched the YouTube video of her particular warm up style.
A sponsored big wave surfer since the age of seven, the 27-year-old has had quite a journey, from winning the prestigious Pipeline Pro surf contest in 2010 and being featured in Maxim and Esquire to modeling in Sports Illustrated’s legendary swimsuit issue in 2014. The Daily Beast caught up with her to discuss navigating the world of modeling and sports marketing, shooting with Terry Richardson, and why it’s hard to be a sex symbol and land a man.
How did you make the transition from pro surfer to modeling? Is it all that different? It seems like you took a circuitous route, rather than coming up through some agency. Also, what was it like being a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model?
[Sports Illustrated] is an amazing experience, and everyone there is the best team to work with. It’s funny, because I’ve modeled and been around some of the biggest supermodels, Chrissy Teigen, you name it, and I’ve been able to have fun with it. It was always just a hobby to me. It was just a part of (the job) because brands would use me in shoots. With the Internet you’re more visible to people who necessarily didn’t know you before—I wasn’t in fashion magazines. I just had fun with it and people liked that.
Now a lot of brands like to use girls who aren’t 5’10” and 100 pounds, and who have more of a normal, realistic body people can relate to. I’ve had a lot of girls write to me saying “it’s so rad you’re modeling and you’re not anorexic looking, you look like a healthy, fit girl.”
Would you say you lead a pretty healthy lifestyle?
[Laughs] I do, I do. For me being very active and working out—no matter if I’m surfing or travelling, I always try to work out—it’s my must-do. Otherwise I go crazy. I try to eat well. It gets really hard when I travel, you have to really know your limits. I try to eat less processed food, like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nothing over-processed. Not too many sweets, too.
Didn’t you tell me you don’t have a manager or agent?
I have a couple people who want to work with me, but the problem is everyone is so concerned with what I’m already doing. I haven’t met anyone who’s like, “I’m going to bring you lots of new work.”
I was talking to people who work for a pretty big company, and then they were arguing some stuff I was doing, and not listening to me. And I was like, “I don’t need someone to yell at me every day. I don’t need a parent.”
I had this thing happen recently where I did a shoot in Florida and all the footage got stolen and they were like, “you should have said no comment” to something that ran on TMZ. I was like, I know Harvey [Levin, TMZ founder] personally, I’m not going to tell him, “talk to my agent.”
“Any exposure is good exposure,” right?
That’s exactly what I think. Maybe I’m not happy with how certain things were worded, but whatever, TMZ ran me. It’s not a bad thing. They want to turn me into a boring person or something, and I’m not a boring person. You can’t be like, “oh no, I’m now some vegan healthy person who doesn’t do anything fun.” I’d rather go to music festivals and be partying, you know? I don’t really care.
Speaking of controversial, you shot with Terry Richardson. How was that, and what do you think of the accusations made against him?
Terry is awesome. He’s one of the most professional and nicest photographers I’ve ever worked with. There’s just a level of experience and knowledge that… It’s no wonder why he’s one of the most popular photographers in the world. He’s really good at making people feel comfortable, and really having fun, so that was a great experience.
I think it’s crazy. I feel like it’s unfortunate that a lot of people in the public eye can get people coming after them. I don’t know the situation’s ins and outs, so I can’t speak directly on that, but I know its hard being in any position in the public eye. There’s more scrutiny, and there’s more people looking for a reason to put you down.
So if you don’t have a manager or agent, how do you get all these gigs? Seems like you’re always working.
Being an athlete, I’ve worked with so many brands in the last twenty years that I have this personal relationship. Just being able to be in the loop when something is happening, it just works. And I’m lucky enough to know a lot of people who will, when something comes that’s a good fit, reach out.
Do you see yourself ever branching out to TV or anything? I could see you as a host.
A lot of people, when they meet me, wonder why I don’t do more videos? They’re like, “Oh, you talk? You actually talk!” Yeah, I do talk! I have a lot to say, I don’t shut up!
Maybe there’s a future in acting for you then.
No… I mean, if something comes along that’s fun that’s not too off of who I am or what I do, maybe. But I have no desire to go on casting calls or any of that stuff. I do good in certain situations, but I can’t do anything too scripted. I’ll flub my lines! But if it’s just me talking about myself or things in my life, I can do that.
You have a pretty sexy online persona, what with the constant bikinis. Do you think people have a preconceived notion of what you’re like because of that?
I think a lot of people don’t realize most of the stuff I post about online is somewhat work related. I’m always shooting stuff in my bathing suit, you know? There’s an emphasis of “you’re doing this for attention.” But I’m just in my work uniform. The sport of surfing is a very sexy sport, beautiful people on beautiful beaches in minimal clothing. Most of my Instagram stuff comes from when I’m on set, because I’ll have someone to shoot me and grab a behind the scenes shot.
Is it hard to meet someone? Sexy photo shoots must be intimidating to men sometimes.
It’s just hard no matter what you do, if you travel a lot, that’s a strain on any relationship. And there’s people who are insecure or something about my job or what I do… I do a lot of swimwear shit [laughs].
What’s your next move?
There’s a lot of stuff I want to do! Some rad surf videos, stuff that girls aren’t really doing right now. I can put things out directly on YouTube or social media, and get it seen by a lot of people. People don’t get too creative with surfing, it’s hard ‘cause you’re dealing with so many unpredictable elements, you know?
How about long term?
Working in something that is in a creative space, whether consulting or creative direction. No matter what I do it will be surf or ocean related. But I’m gonna keep doing what I’ve been doing as long as I can!
Last question: Who do you think is the sexiest SI swimsuit model of all time?
Definitely Elle MacPherson!