Surfing is a unique sport in that you can enjoy it without competition. I'm no longer a competitive surfer, but I still surf all the time, so my connection with the sport is still incredibly strong. I don't miss competition and I don't miss the anxiety and weight of expectation that surrounds being at an event. Just being in the water and enjoying my surfing is enough.
The best way to learn is by making mistakes. Some of the World Tour athletes today might make a mistake in a heat, but they can always correct themselves and fight their way out of a bad situation. I love seeing that. I love seeing the battle.
The improvements in women's professional surfing have been dramatic. There's more prize money, recognition, acceptance and opportunities for women within the industry. It has been incredibly profound to see how much the WSL has invested in women's surfing. But there's always room for improvement and there are still some antiquated, deep-seated beliefs that sometimes hold women back in surfing. Also, prize money is getting towards parity but sponsorship is not. If the industry wants to be considered progressive, why aren't they paying the number one girl what they're paying the number one man?
Always be curious. In competitive surfing and in life, look at how others have done things, see what worked for them and what didn't, but also know that what worked for them may not work for you. As long as you maintain your curiosity, you can discover what the best version of you looks like, and what you need to get there. Being curious contributes to not just your success in surfing, but your overall satisfaction and happiness as a human being.
You're born with intuition, but you have to learn to listen to it. It takes time to realize that you can trust it and put your faith in yourself.
In surfing, a good coach will ask questions of you, but also be open to you asking questions of
them. Coaches play a vital role in offering a sense of perspective, maybe even giving you a dose of reality at times to keep you grounded. But they can only present you with options—you have to take ownership of the choices that you make.
How you deal with pressure can determine your success or failure. At the start of my career I used to crumble under pressure. I realized that was one of my fundamental weaknesses, so I decided to simulate pressure to get used to the feeling. Finding ways to put myself in that headspace at the gym or in the water made the feeling of pressure normal to the point where I actually started to thrive in it and I even started to seek it. I started to expect more from myself and set unrealistic goals because I felt that the best competitor came out of me when I was under the most pressure. It made me focus my attention and channel my energy and my effort.
There are different pressures put on female athletes than male athletes. Most of the time, guys are celebrated for their ability and it doesn't matter how they look while they're doing it. They don't have to have the perfect ass and the perfect abs and the hottest body and the prettiest face to be seen as deserving a good sponsorship. But it also comes down to the way the athlete wants to portray themselves. How do they want to be perceived? What story do they want to share with the world? Take some advice from Tyler Wright and know yourself. When you know who you are, external pressures, judgments and projected opinions don't seem to matter as much. It's much harder for anything to distract or derail you in the pursuit of your goals when you truly know yourself.
Big-wave surfing isn't for everybody. You've got to be fearless of death, but you've also got to be willing to work to lessen that risk. That means physical, mental and emotional training. You've got to put yourself into situations that defy logic and really stress you out, and then you've got to learn to relax in those situations. You can only get there through preparation and work. But once you gain the confidence in your ability to deal with a bad scenario, it becomes much easier to handle those scenarios when they occur.
Some degree of fear is good. It keeps you sane and keeps you out of trouble. But if it's a paralyzing fear, then it might not be worth exploring. In surfing, there have been times when I felt overwhelmed by fear, or consumed by it, but I was never paralyzed by it. I've seen a lot of athletes in my time, both male and female, who were paralyzed in big waves, and you can tell that it's not something that they're naturally attracted to. If that's the case, then what's the point in pursuing it? But if they have a natural desire to chase that feeling, and are willing to do the work to keep themselves safe and alive, then more power to them. I love seeing what Laura Enever, Johanne Defay and Felicity Palmateer are doing. They thrive on fear, and they're really taking women's big-wave surfing to a whole new realm.
Surfing only gets better. I fall more in love with surfing every day. That has a lot to do with the mindset I have and the freedom I feel when I enter the ocean. The ocean is my place of solace, where I can experience a connection with nature and feel calm and relaxed. It gives me a canvas and provides me with an environment where I can create and inspire and motivate myself and others. I'm very grateful that I can still find that every time I set foot in the water.
[This article originally appeared in SURFER magazine Volume 59, Issue 3. Click here to subscribe or download our digital edition.]