The Sportkini creator used her water sports background to develop a swimsuit that looks good, fits well and holds up to the most intense activities.
By Sharon Stello
As a child in the small town of Billerica, north of Boston, Stephanie Havelka could usually be found in the water.
“I grew up competitive swimming and also swimming at indoor pools, lakes, ponds, backyard above-ground pools and a little ocean swimming,” she says. “Essentially, I spent my life in a swimsuit—still do.”
Havelka, now a Laguna Beach resident and creator of the Sportkini swimsuit line for active women, eventually started entering triathlons and went to Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, for the Ironman World Championship. Havelka loved it there so much, she ended up staying.
“I got into open-water swimming and outrigger canoe paddling, which mesmerized me,” she says. “Swimming and paddling along the Big Island’s coastline was majestic.”
To compete at the next level in outrigger canoe paddling and flatwater kayaking, she later moved to California, residing in Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa “before Laguna drew me in as the ultimate spot.” During her time in OC, she has also explored the sports of surfski and stand-up paddleboarding.
Now retired from competing, Havelka still coaches open-water swimmers. “I coach/train—adults only—who need to level up their skills so they can swim efficiently in the open water and also … be a safe, savvy, smart swimmer,” she says.
More than two decades ago, in 1999, Havelka’s experience in water sports spurred her to create better swimwear for women, leading her to become a self-described “swimsuit engineer.”
“Sportkini came from my love of bikinis—who doesn’t love a flattering, cute bikini?—and my love of water sports, where I could put my efforts to challenge myself athletically,” she says. “I wanted better swimwear than what the market offered. I wanted a swimsuit that could do it all: be flattering to my figure, be fun/bright, be durable and work right.”
Sportkinis, sold through her Kandu Sport company, are available online at sportkini.com and she offers fittings to OC women by appointment at her office.
“Kandu Sport … is about that internal knowing that you ‘can do’ what you set out to do, and if you don’t know, you are at least willing to give it a try,” she says. “I realized that when you had the right swimsuit on, you felt like you could totally do whatever you set your mind to do as the suit would not be a deterrent.”
Havelka says the Sportkini is different from other swimsuits because it’s designed by someone who wears one everyday doing various watersports.
“I understand what is needed for a suit to be secure, to fit correctly, be durable and look really good,” she says. “I personally have zero tolerance for ill-fitting, poorly made swimwear that doesn’t work.”
Havelka is proud that all of her products are made in the U.S. And, because she manufactures in OC and LA, she can make small batches, allowing for plenty of fresh designs including a few new top and bottom styles by midsummer. “Our plan to expand is exciting,” she says. “I can’t wait to bring my T-shirt dresses, cover-ups and other fun items to market, too.”
But her days aren’t all about swimwear design. When not walking her dog at Heisler Park, she can be found grabbing a morning latte at Laguna Coffee Co. or Succulent Coffee Roasters. And, Havelka still enjoys swimming off Laguna’s coast.
“I feel best when my ‘gills’ have been refreshed,” she says. “… Mother Ocean is powerful and has immense beauty. I am in awe of that. My respect runs so deep for water sports because, as a child, it was the very place that I could silence … the world and be alone in my thoughts, which is still true to me today.”
What do you like about living in Laguna?
Stephanie Havelka: What I really like about Laguna is that it doesn’t feel like a concrete jungle like other parts of inland Orange County. It has a little bit of small-town feel, and I prefer that. I like to go to the grocery store and know the clerks and say, “Hello.” I like bumping into my friends at local coffee shops and restaurants.
Do you have a favorite local restaurant?
SH: My favorite restaurant in town is 242 Cafe Fusion Sushi. I admire chef Miki Izumisawa for her boldness to take a traditional Japanese food and do it her way. … She is a pioneer. Oh, and let’s not forget that her food, its presentation and flavors—they are literally flavor bombs—is incredible. My menu favorite: Fireworks sashimi.
What’s the last book you read that had a big impact on you?
SH: “You Are A Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life” by Jen Sincero. I do love a good self-help book and I do love underdog documentaries and stories. I love the human spirit. This book in particular was enjoyable to me because I relate to her “speak,” how she positions things—that really lands for me as someone who is constantly pushing my own boundaries.
What kind of music do you enjoy listening to?
SH: I like all kinds—depends on my mood. However, I will say I do like a “go get it” song, one that just revs me up to move my body, like a good Euro techno song.
Anything else you want people to know?
SH: When you think you can, you can. It just takes one iota of faith to take the next step. You don’t have to have it all figured out, just take the next step. I don’t have a degree in business, I don’t have connections in this industry, I just know I was given this idea and am passionate about providing the best products for women who do water sports and activities. To the movers and shakers, I am doing this for us.