To the general public, which is barely on a first-name basis with women's surfing, new ladies appear on the 'CT through divine creation. As if the clouds clap and lighting strikes and from the ground grows a 5'5" 120-pound firecracker that surfs exponentially better than last year's rookies. Poof! Dimity Stoyle. Presto! Bianca Buitendag. We forget that these girls fight tooth and broken-nail on the WQS to make it to the big stage. That there are highs and lows and confidence blows and for some, like 2015 qualifier Tatiana Weston-Webb, there is a payoff. Back home on Kauai after a do-or-die final in Brazil, we talked to the 18-year-old about her road to qualification and her expectations for the 'CT. It's our pleasure to introduce you to the 2015 rookie-of-the year, Tatiana Weston-Webb. Abracadabra! --Taylor Paul
SURFING: Tell us your qualification story.
Tatiana Weston-Webb: I really wanted to make a big impact at the first two events of the year in Australia, and then I only made two heats the whole time. That shook my confidence. So I went into the third event in New Zealand just focusing on relaxing. And it worked. I got a third there. I did bad in Mexico, got second in Oceanside, third in France and ninth in Spain. After Europe I realized how close it was between Alessa Quizon and me. I went into the Itacare event in Brazil and had a really hard draw, while Alessa had a pretty easy one. So I really had to focus on each heat and concentrate on improving the whole time. It was a lot of pressure. And then we both ended up in the final and if she had won, she would have solidified her spot on the 'CT. So to be able to come out on top in that situation was insane because there was so much leading up to that moment. My dream came true with that win. I'm still freaking out.
You had some opportunities to compete on the CT this year. Did that experience help you on the 'QS?
I think so. If nothing else it showed me that I belong there, that I have the ability to compete with every single one of those girls. It's just a matter of pulling it out at the right moment. In each event that I did [Brazil, Fiji, US Open] I made it to Round 4, so that definitely gave me some more confidence going into the Brazil 'QS leg.
What wave are you most looking forward to surfing on the 'CT?
Bells. It's such an iconic venue and I've won the Rip Curl International Gromsearch there twice in a row, so I know that I can surf that wave well. And my homebreak is a right so I'm really confident on my backhand.
Would you say your backhand is your biggest strength?
I'd say it's one of them. I also think that I have a really strong mind game. Not like I play mind games, but I'm really confident.
You're like the girl version of Nat Young.
[Laughs] Do you know Nick Hdez, from Santa Cruz? He always says that.
How did you develop a strong mind at such a young age?
I think it's just surrounding myself with really positive people. My family is my rock and when I do waver in my thoughts, I always tell them and they build me back up. And in my amateur career I've worked with amazing people like Rainos Hayes, Bert Ishimaru and Kahea Hart. They've helped me gather so much knowledge and confidence along the way.
What would you like to improve in your surfing?
I'd like to develop my repertoire of maneuvers. I want to be able to pull off airs in contests and maybe slide my tail with more control.
What is your goal for your first year on tour?
I'd really like to cause some upsets and make it as far as I can for each event, of course. But making a final is my main goal.
Do you have any fears or insecurities going into the 'CT?
Of course. I'm already thinking about how well I have to do to requalify either on tour or the 'QS. It's already one of the worries on my mind, even though I know that you can't think about that too much -- you just have to have fun first.