Meet the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Swim Search Finalists

Meet the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Swim Search Finalists
Amanda Kay

Occupation: Curve model

Hometown: This is a bit hard to say as I was born in Canada and by age 1 my family had moved to the Middle East. For the next 18 years I lived in Jordan, Egypt, England, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. I moved back to Toronto, Canada for college and remained for 8 years. So I guess I would say Toronto, Canada!

How many swimsuits do you own? A lot! Around 40

What does it mean to you to be a part of Swim Search? It is such an honor to be a part of such an iconic magazine. Never in a million years did I think I would be given the chance to appear in a publication that has featured such extraordinary women. I'm overjoyed that I can show women and men alike that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.

First SI memory: I first saw the magazine in high school. But I only really took notice when I saw Ashley Graham on the cover. It was so exciting to see a woman that looked like me on such an internationally known cover! It not only made me feel beautiful but also gave me a boost of confidence to know that "Yes! All sizes are indeed beautiful!"

Advice you'd tell your younger self: I would tell my younger self to never give weight to negative comments from others. If you stay true to yourself and love yourself you can achieve anything.

(Niki Cram Photography)
Lewis Freese

Occupation: Full-Time Student

Hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota

How many swimsuits do you own? Ironically, swimsuits take up the smallest amount of my wardrobe, I only own about 3 or 4. Living in a state that only has 3 months of swimsuit weather, I only need a few!

What does it mean to you to be apart of Swim Search? It means so many things, but overall it’s so much bigger than me or anyone else. I feel so grateful to have this powerhouse group of women embrace me and my message regarding the importance of gender and sexual fluidity and normalizing these ideas in society.

First SI memory: The first time I ever saw an SI Swimsuit issue was when Kate Upton was on the cover in the snow. From that point forward I became such a fan of hers and remember always wanting to do what she was doing. The moment I envisioned myself submitting for Swim Search was when Camille Kostek was named Rookie and from that point on I was hooked.

Advice you'd tell your younger self: I would tell my younger self to not allow him to focus on his flaws as much as he did. We all have imperfections, yet some are more socially unacceptable than others. I wish I would have known all of the growth and development that was to follow after being more open about my authentic self. You need to love yourself for the way that you were born and try to remember that the more you hide, the further you will be from true happiness.

(Lewis Freese)
Ally Courtnall

Occupation: Model

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

How many swimsuits do you own? Too many over 50 for sure.

What does it mean to you to be a part of Swim Search? It means everything to be a part of this incredible community and iconic brand. Swim search has not only made a lifelong dream of being in SI Swimsuit come true it has also brought some of the most incredible humans into my life. The family and support within this community is next level. I am very grateful for Swim Search, it has changed my life.

First SI memory: Being an athlete/former soccer player I always looked forward to seeing what professional athletes would grace the pages of SI Swimsuit. I remember being so excited to see Alex Morgan in the issue. It was refreshing to see someone with my body type and made me believe one day I could be in the issue too! One of my favorite covers to this day is 2014 with Nina, Lily, and Chrissy. Chrissy is my ultimate girl crush. I also love Hannah Jeter’s 2015 cover- both have always been on the vision boards I make for myself.

Advice you'd tell your younger self: You are more than good enough. The only one who gets to decide your worth is you. Show yourself more love and always make your mental health a priority.

(Ally Courtnall)
Ella Halikas

Occupation: Curve Model & Influencer

Hometown: Walnut Creek, CA.

How many swimsuits do you own? Too many to count! At least 200!

What does it mean to you to be a part of Swim Search? Being a part of Swim Search means that I can take what I've learned about myself and finally encourage others that being yourself is enough. You do not have to change for anyone, and that genuine self-confidence is beauty. Swim Search has taught me how to follow my dreams, not accept 'no' for an answer, and has shown me what true community looks like. Swim Search is filled with all unique women who support each other's successes, rather than competing with one another.

First SI memory: My first SI memory was seeing Kate Uptown grace the cover in 2012, I was around 14 years old at the time. It was the first time seeing someone on the cover of a magazine that I could actually relate to. But it wasn't until I saw Ashley Graham on the cover of SI Swimsuit in 2016, where I stopped and said, "Wow, I can do this too”. She had such a similar body type to mine, and we rarely get to see our bodies represented and praised upon in the media and modeling industry. Ashley Graham was a huge turning point for me, and lit a fire beneath me to tackle these dreams of mine of becoming a curve model.

Advice you'd tell your younger self: The advice I'd tell my younger self would be to realize how uniquely beautiful we all are. There's only one of you in this world, and that is your power. You never have to change for anybody because you are beautiful just the way you are. True self-confidence and beauty comes from within, so focus more on your internal beauty and watch it shine through.

(Ella Halikas)
Saje Nicole

Occupation: Model/ Actress

Hometown: Fort Lauderdale FL

How many swimsuits do you own? I'm from Miami so definitely over 30!

What does it mean to you to be apart of Swim Search? So much!!! Sports Illustrated has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. Being a part of this community is truly a dream come true. Swim Search is a community of beautiful and supportive women that I've had a chance to meet and become friends with. Everyone is inspiring and so unique. I think it's important to promote community over competition especially amongst women and SI Swim Search has definitely proven that firsthand.

First SI memory: Definitely Tyra Banks! I was too young to know it was SI but she was so beautiful and I would see her everywhere! The first issue I ever bought was Kate Upton 2012 and have been an extreme fan ever since.

Advice you'd tell your younger self: Your uniqueness is your superpower. Growing up, everything that is beautiful about me was made out to be ugly and unacceptable. My skin tone, my height, my build and even my ethnicity. Those things have turned out to be my super powers. So it doesn't matter if you have different textured hair, short, freckled or have different perspectives. You were made beautifully and perfectly. All of the things that I "should have '' hated about myself have made me as bold, audacious and SEXY as I am. I wouldn't have it any other way.

(Saje NIcole)
Natalie Gage

Occupation: Model

Hometown: Bromley, London, now I live in New York.

How many swimsuits do you own? 15

What does it mean to you to be apart of Swim Search? It’s been amazing so far, and it will only get better when we all go to the Hard Rock for the shoot. The Swim Search platform has been so inspiring and uplifting. I’m so excited to get to know everyone, meet the team and be part of the magazine that has been so instrumental in changing the landscape of the industry and how women think of themselves.

First SI memory: Growing up in England, I could never buy the magazine, but in 2009 I came across Ariel Meredith’s SI shoots in Mexico and became obsessed with the magazine. I loved everything about the magazine, I found the images strong and empowering and as someone just entering the industry in 2009, I had a great found respect for all the models because shooting for SI Swimsuit is the pinnacle of a model's career.

Advice you'd tell your younger self: Just go for it, be bold, be unapologetic, stand in your power and don’t forget to laugh.

(Natalie Gage)
Summer Wilson

Occupation: Medical Sales

Hometown: Greenville, NC (GO PIRATES!)

How many swimsuits do you own? 83

What does it mean to you to be a part of swim search? It’s a huge honor to have the opportunity to be a part of this brand that truly lets every woman be an individual and embody who they really are...unapologetically. Women with brains who are breaking down the walls of the alternative narrative. That at 30 (.5) years old, it’s not too late to chase after a childhood dream and actually accomplish it. I want this fully and wholly; to make people laugh, feel inspired and emotionally charged. To help find the BADASSERY that lies within us all. That you can be from a small town in North Carolina and take on the world. I'm absolutely fired up!

First SI memory: Tyra Banks, honey, TYRA BANKS! I adore her as a model and her advice helped me smize my way through all my cringey high school pics growing up, haha. She is just all encompassing, hilarious and a true role model for women (and men)!

Advice you’d tell your younger self: Do you ever wonder what you have the potential to be great at if you just tried it? Every person you idolize for being great at whatever they do, did their “greatness” for the first time ever once. You are literally limitless. A fortress of untapped potential. HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU WONT BE GREAT IF YOU DON'T GO FOR IT FIRST? If you’re looking for a sign this is it. GO FOR IT. Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, curiosity made the dream come alive.

(Summer Wilson)
Chelsea Heath

Occupation: Actor & Personal Chef

Hometown: Ascension Parish, LA

How many swimsuits do you own? Good question. I think I lost count at about 20. I have 3 drawers full!

What does it mean to you to be a part of Swim Search? The community is everything to me. I have built the most amazing friendships and relationships throughout the whole process. It’s a wonderful new family.

First SI memory: I remember cooking as a sous chef for Molly Sims’ kids birthday. I had flashes of when I was younger saying I wanted to go for that dream. I knew at that moment, it was time to go for it!

Advice to my younger self: “Hey kid, it’s going to be a tough road, but NEVER LET THE WORD NO KILL YOUR DRIVE”

(Chelsea Heath)
Alex Aust

Occupation: Professional Lacrosse Player and Fitness Instructor

Hometown: Sterling, VA

How many swimsuits do you own? WAY too many to count. I'm always either in swimsuits or sweats!

What does it mean to you to be a part of Swim Search? Swim search is the most liberating and empowering thing I've ever done. It's made me look inward and figure out my why and my purpose because the brand is so much more than just beautiful pictures in bikinis. It's taught me that vulnerability is strength and celebrates each of us as the individuals we are striving to be.

First SI memory: My role models have always been athletes so as a kid SI (especially sports illustrated for kids) was my absolute favorite magazine. SI SWIM was the first time I saw a magazine empowering women. I remember seeing Serena Williams, Lindsey Vonn, and Alex Morgan, athletes at the highest level of competition and thinking "wow, I want to be as confident as them when I am off the field". Seeing athletes in the magazine gave me the strength to be both- competitive, strong, fierce and still compassionate, feminine and beautiful.

Advice you'd tell your younger self: I would tell her that when you are confident, you are unstoppable. That you are the only you and that is your superpower. To keep dreaming big, working hard, and putting yourself out there because there are great things to come!!

(Alex Aust)
Katie Austin

Occupation: Fitness Personality, Entrepreneur, App Creator, Host of “Austin AF” on YouTube

Hometown: Alexandria, Virginia (Currently: Los Angeles, CA)

How many swimsuits do you own? Probably over 40! I sometimes share with my mama, Denise Austin too!

What does it mean to you to be a part of Swim Search? Humbling, life changing, everything!! I had a vision for my swim search submission video of wanting to show the sporty and athletic girls that strong is SEXY. Knowing I earned a spot in the Top 15 by inspiring others with my content online is so incredibly special to me. I am so excited to be in a community of women that now only empower each other, but women all over the world.

First SI memory: Alex Morgan in 2019 was one of my most favorite recent covers! I love seeing female athletes and women of different body types featured in the magazine! As an athlete my entire life, I looked up to them so much and still do today. SI Swimsuit represents body inclusivity and their vision has changed my outlook on how females can and should be portrayed in the media.

Advice you'd tell your younger self: Like most teenagers, I struggled with self-love. Today, I’d love to tell the younger Katie just how awesome she is and that I can do anything or be anything I want. Confidence comes from within! Do not try and fit into anyone else’s body standards. There is only one you and you should be proud of exactly who you are!

(Katie Austin)
Bethany Aucoin

Occupation: I’m a production assistant/community manager at WeXL Org and a waitress

Hometown: I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire

How many swimsuits do you own? Swimsuits are my favorite thing to buy, I have too many!

What does it mean to you to be apart of Swim Search? It means the absolute world to me and shows me that I really can achieve my dreams. Being a part of the Swim Search has been a huge part of my self love and acceptance journey, so getting to continue with a community so close to my heart is a gift. I’ve always wanted to model and being 5’2”, I loved that they didn’t have any specific requirements to enter the search. They always remind me to love myself just as I am. I’ve looked up to all of these women for so many years, so being here now doesn’t even feel real and my heart is completely full!

First SI memory: My first SI memory is seeing Camille Kostek’s submission video in 2018. I loved how truly happy, free and herself she was - and that those things were so valued by the SI Swimsuit team. A true testament to the magazine that I fell in love with and have been obsessed with ever since!

Advice you'd tell your younger self: You can achieve any dream you put your mind to, no matter how big. Be yourself and you’ll align with the right people and places. Try not to compare yourself to others, because everyone has a different path. Take a deep breath and follow your own! You may not believe this, but you’re going to work with SI Swimsuit in the future!

(Bethany Aucoin)
Allie Ayers Lindsey

Occupation: Founder and CEO of Bissy Swim, Model, Model Coach

Hometown: Snyder, Oklahoma

How many swimsuits do you own? Too many to count! Starting a swimwear company will do that to you! I love it.

What does it mean to you to be a part of Swim Search? Being a part of Swim Search means the world to me. This opportunity allows for more momentum in a movement of changing the industry that I feel has made great strides over the past few years. Inclusivity and representation are two pillars in the foundation that makes up my platform, which also champions dreamers from small towns and women of all sizes, who might not have felt represented before. I have grown and used my platform to help other women grow. Being a part of Swim Search allows me to grow with other women even more. It has always been about the collective, representing and including the collective, and working to make the community bigger and better.

First SI memory: SI Swimsuit feels like it's always been present in my life. I spent a lot of time researching Tyra when I thought I WAS America's Next Top Model as a middle schooler. Then I specifically remember putting sunscreen everywhere but across my nose so I just might get freckles like Marissa Miller. The biggest memory, though, was seeing Myla Dalbesio featured and realizing, at my size, I could model on a large scale, after years of being told I was too big to model.

Advice you'd tell your younger self: Success comes when you learn how to fully step into YOUR confidence, not when you fit an expected mold that others created.

(Allie Ayers)
Kristen Louelle Gaffney

Occupation: Model, mom, influencer, Chief Brand Officer & Partner of Zeno Gym

Hometown: San Diego, CA

How many swimsuits do you own? Definitely over 20

What does it mean to you to be apart of Swim Search? I am full of gratitude beyond words. I feel absolutely honored to have this opportunity & promise to make the most of it, bringing up all women alongside me in this incredible journey.

First SI memory: I remember sneaking with my childhood best friend to see her dad's SI magazine. We'd flip through the pages admiring how fearlessly sexy & confident the models were. At 10 years old I said "I'm going to be her (Rebecca Romijn) one day."

Advice you'd tell your younger self: Stop caring what people think, be fearless & go after everything. You can literally do ANYTHING, there are no limits on your dreams.

(Kristen Louelle Gaffney)
Taylor Sharpe

Occupation: Full Time Model

Hometown: I was born in Dallas, TX and moved to Charlotte, North Carolina when I was around 10 years old so I consider Charlotte my hometown. Go Panthers!!

How many swimsuits do you own? One for every mood LOL

What does it mean to you to be apart of Swim Search? To me, being a part of Sports Illustrated Swim Search means I was right never giving up on myself or my dreams. It means I will have a platform to share my story and help other people who felt like their life would never get better or that their dream was too big. It means being a part of much more than a magazine but a movement of empowerment.

First SI memory: When I saw Brooklyn Decker's cover in 2010 I was around 12 years old and just starting to fill out my body with curves, every other girl in my school didn’t have hips and I remember hating them, I wanted to be like the other girls because I never saw anyone like me! I saw her cover and remember thinking wow! I look like her! She looks beautiful.

Advice you’d tell your younger self: There is so much I would tell my younger self. Always be you- there is only one you. Embrace the hardship and circumstances you have experienced. Never give up on you. Through adversity you learn strength, compassion, humility and grace. Own your journey - use it to learn and grow.

(Taylor Sharpe)
Christen Harper

Occupation: Model

Hometown: Valencia, California

How many swimsuits do you own? Let's just say growing up in Southern California you could never have too many!

What does it mean to you to be a part of Swim Search? It truly has been such an incredible journey, I have never been a part of such a positive, uplifting community. I am so inspired by these women every single day and I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to connect with so many different people across the country.

First SI memory: I remember rushing to the newsstand after school to pick up the 2011 Issue with Irina Shayk on the cover. I was so blown away by Irina's beauty that I taped her cover to my school binder so I could look at it everyday!

Advice you'd tell your younger self: I would tell my younger self to spend less time worrying about what other people think and more time discovering your own passions, goals and dreams.

(Christen Harper)

This year, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit held its annual Model Search open casting call virtually amid the coronavirus pandemic. The iconic franchise asked applicants to submit a photo and a 60-second video of themselves, creating a unique opportunity for fresh faces and established models alike to prove why they would be a great addition to the highly-anticipated 2021 issue. Here, meet the diverse group of 15 finalists (six of whom will be selected to be in the magazine!)