Sage Erickson, at home in Ventura. Photo: Maassen

Talk about doing a complete 180. Women's Elite Tour rookie Sage Erickson couldn't buy a heat win on the Women's Tour, wallowing at the bottom of the ratings throughout the year. But she kept her head above water, worked hard, had the backing of family and friends, and at the US Open of Surfing at Huntington Beach, she came away with her best result, a 5th. That wasn't nearly enough to re-qualify her for 2013, but the momentum was there. She jumped on the Women's 6-Star events and took back-to-back wins in Oceanside and Spain, catapulting her to the top spot in the ASP Women's World Ranking, which secured her 2013 Women’s World Tour requalification. Here's what Sage had to say after her big turnaround. –Chuck Graham

Up until the last third of 2012, it was a tough year for you, your first on the Women’s Elite Tour. Describe some of your early struggles.
This year was my rookie year on Tour and I definitely struggled with it. Being on the WCT has been one of my biggest competitive goals and I didn’t really know what to expect. I think that I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform in each heat, and ultimately I ended surfing a bit safe and just didn’t look comfortable. I learned a lot through the experience, coming up against such big names like Steph [Gilmore], Sally [Fitzgibbons], and Tyler [Wright]…all these girls that have an amazing competitive winning ratio. Personally, finding the balance of mental and physical strength is what this year has taught me. It's not an excuse though. There are other rookies who succeeded. They, and the other Top 17, inspired me daily to push myself a bit harder and be a bit better.

Outside a jersey, Sage surfs with a smooth confidence. In 2013, she'll just need to work on maintaining that poise in competition. Photo: Maassen

But you turned things around at the U.S. Open. From there you got on a roll. What did you do differently to get things going in your favor?
The U.S. Open was sort of my breakthrough performance. It was my only real result on the WCT this year. It came a bit late on that Tour, but it really fired me up to finish strong on the World Qualifying Series (WQS). I think a few things helped me there. Being in my home country, my home state, with so much support from friends and family really lifted my confidence. Losing doesn’t necessarily motivate you or have you feeling your best, so that lit a fire. My brother was heavily involved with me throughout the U.S. Open and the two victories following in Oceanside and Spain. He is such an amazing surfer himself with so much raw talent, and his refreshed outlook and knowledge were super beneficial to me. He’s my best friend, my wing man, and my coach, all in one. He just makes me feel calm in pressured situations while competing. I also have a really good batch of boards from Channel Islands. I have a magic board for both good waves and small waves. When you have that confidence it tends to follow you in a heat or on a wave. I just really got tired of losing. I wanted to win. I wanted to be on the 2013 CT. These things, plus the passion to succeed, just kinda paved the way these past couple of months.

Sage Erickson, carried up the beach by Nathaniel Curran and brother, Noah, after her win at the 6-star event in Oceanside in August.

All of a sudden you have back-to-back wins in the Star Events and find yourself No. 1 on the World Ranking. How does it feel to work so hard and find yourself at the top of the heap?
I can’t even begin to say how excited I am right now. In 2012 I competed in 16 events. That's more than one event a month. It's been a serious grind, but it's so rewarding to know that my goal this year was to be on Tour again and that's what I’ve done. Winning two events also was so surreal. It's the best feeling ever. For me the real special moments were not winning itself but coming in to the beach, to be welcomed by the girls on Tour, my friends. Without this amazing surfing lifestyle I would not have been able to meet these incredible people. It's such a humbling feeling. It's rewarding in the sense that I've put so much time and energy into my career. The level of women’s surfing is rising and you have to evolve with it.