Mahina Garcia Says Her “Surfer Build” Didn’t Fit The Modeling Industry

Photographer Brooke Berry

Dedicated to the art of movement, this month is all about the journey to body awareness, and what it really means to devote energy to wellness, exercise, and self-love in 2019.


In Hawaii, time stops. I found myself on the island of Oahu looking around at the bluest ocean I’ve ever seen; extra-large palm trees and colorful flowers made the world look like it had the saturation turned up. At that moment, I completely forgot what year it was. Then Mahina Garcia walked up to me. The model, who was born, raised, and is still living in the island’s serene North Shore, is tall with effortless hair, pristine skin, and a smile that only someone who lives in paradise could have. She is the epitome of Hawaii in 2019: a mix of the “Aloha lifestyle” and modern influence with a giant Instagram following and excellent fashion sense.


At 24-years-old, Garcia has launched a career that not many have been able to. Despite being on a literal island and pledging to stay there forever, she’s grown her social media to “influencer” levels, starred in Target advertisements and so much more. Even the purpose of our meeting was because she is the ambassador flip-flop brand Havaianas, which is, arguably, one of the most popular brands on the island.

Mahina Garcia Says Her “Surfer Build” Didn’t Fit The Modeling Industry
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I was in high school; I think I was 14, and I was still really young looking at the time,” she remembers of her model beginnings. “I had a friend who was modeling, so I went to L.A. with her. That’s when I booked Target. Back then, I did a lot of commercial work. I was always just a stronger built girl. I was way smaller than I am now, but I was struggling to be in the one-size-fits-all modeling world that it was at the time.”


After taking a short break to travel and get her head straight from dealing with an often toxic career, Garcia came back to modeling better than before.  “I went into the sports side of modeling,” she explains. “I’m athletic, and I just love that everyone kind of lives a healthier lifestyle. Now, I do a little bit of commercials, sports modeling, and whatever little fashion things come through here and there.” 


Before we sat down to talk about her career, I had been hanging around with Garcia for a full day. I saw how she talked about her home, so thrilled to answer questions from people who had never been there before. Wild pigs? “They’re cute but not in the way you think.” Sharks? “People don’t understand them.” The food? “Authentic is the way to go.” Surfing? “It’s just a way of life here that anyone can do.”

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Like many other Hawaiians, movement is one of the tentpoles of Garcia’s life. With surfing, she doesn’t compete or even have a career in it (she liked soccer better in high school she tells me), but it’s something she is known for. Just scroll through her Instagram and you’ll find that the majority of her photos show her in the water, or wearing some sort of surf gear. 


“In Hawaii,” she explains, “if you’re surfing, you’re moving. If you’re dancing hula, you’re moving. If you’re beach walking, it’s a movement. I think swimming, diving, whatever, our life is moving.” She’s passionate when she speaks about movement and health. After having struggled as an “in between size” in the modeling world, she has a special way of looking at her body and how she uses it. “At the end of the day, our bodies are who we are. It’s our machine, it’s our everyday life. I want to be able to spread health and fitness around the world to girls. There’s nothing more empowering than being able to come together as women and men and just share a healthy lifestyle.” 


Currently, Garcia is in school to become a nutritionist. Though many of the foods in her hometown are natural and organic—Postmates doesn’t even exist there because “take-out culture just isn’t the same”—she wants to spread that message around. “I don’t want it to be a trend; health and fitness should be a lifelong journey,” she says. “Everyone’s different. People have to eat different foods and do different workouts. So once I do get my license, my goal is to talk to people and meet them where they are, not change them.” 

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Though it’s simple, Garcia’s attitude towards the body are something only growing up where she did can put in perspective. In Hawaii, the sun and the water and the positive attitudes are truly a way of life, not just a post on social media. And unlike most other influencers I’ve been around, her life and her Instagram highlight reel are reflective of one another. No bullshitjust nature and happiness.

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