Never one to shy away from a bit of controversy, the refreshingly honest Brit surfer on why the ASP Tour’s a downer, the problem with UK surfing and winning her first Euro title
Interview by Sam Haddad, all photos credited to Protest
Hey Sarah, congrats on your big win at the Euro champs in Bundoran. What were the conditions like? We hear you got some sweet scores!
Thanks! There was a mixture of conditions in Bundoran but mainly lefts which suits me just fine. For a couple of days it was big and messy then we scored the peak three foot and glassy and the finals were a couple of feet and a wedgy. My best heat was at the peak where I scored 17 and was stoked to score a 9 and an 8 to make up that total. The surf was up there as one of the best waves I have had in a comp so it was great to surf it with only three others out.
Are you a fan of surfing in Ireland and if so what do you like about it?
Looooove surfing in Ireland and can’t wait to get back there. Next time I want to get a swell over there as there are so many good reefs and slabs. If you want to get barrelled and then finish your day off at a warm pub then Ireland is the place for you!
What makes you surf well? Do you have a pre-comp mindset or is it just luck with the conditions on the day? Hmmmmm, I feel when doing well in surfing competitions, you feel everything going to plan from the start to the finish of the event. Of course you have to surf well in your heats but winning is made up of so many elements; psychological, emotional, pre-event preperation, tactical and also luck. At the end of the day there is only one winner each competition and from there you are hungrier for your next and it just creates more expectations from yourself and from others; to me winning is a form of psychological egoism but one can’t deny that it is a great feeling. No one is deeply satisfied unless they have won, even 2nd which is an amazing result, many batter themselves thinking of how close they were to first and it never seems good enough; it is just like any sport and surfing is no exception but more on an individual level. My satisfaction comes from enjoying where I am in the moment, meeting new people and experiencing new things and different cultures; and if there are good waves and I can take a win from that journey then I am even more satisfied. Bundoran was one of those journeys.
We last met in Bali (ahhhhhhhh good times!) two years ago when you were storming the WQS and the UK Pro Tour. What have you been up to since then and are you still enjoying competing?
I’ve been really lucky the last year as I’ve been doing a few trips where I can enjoy the waves and the lifestyle of surfing. I have been scoring some really good waves and travelling loads. I still do some of the QS events and the UK ones too when I am in the country. Competing on the QS is not a priority anymore. The waves are always shitty and to be honest if you do make the WCT the waves are just as shit, or if they are at a quality location you are always getting the scraps of what the guys don’t want in their waiting period. There is no real incentive to be on tour especially for me when my surfing suits bigger and punchier waves. I started surfing at 16 and back then I saw Tahiti, Fiji and Hawaii and wanted to be a part of that. That dream has gone now because it doesn’t exist. There are a couple of the younger girls that are ripping on the WCT at the moment and I would prefer to be up against them in a quality wave than 2 foot slop where they have been coached and trained to do an air reverse over my head. If there are waves at events I can generally get the scores but I am geting so sick of spending £2000 to get to an event with a girls waiting period of 3 days, it to be one foot and onshore and then if you get knocked first heat it is an emotional downer. When the waves are bad I find myself being negative before the event has even started… I am not a negative person and don’t like seeing this side of me come out. Some people may think that I am being ungrateful, truth is I could be surfing a way better wave and get my sponsors publicity than chasing that event with only publicity for one winner.
Which event do you like best on the WCT?
The best event I have seen run this year on the WCT was the Roxy Pro in France, still not amazing waves at Biarritz but they made up for it by making it a great event. The French always put on a good event, like the WQS Swatch event at Hossegor. The girls lost a stand alone event in Maui for a joint men and women’s event in Rio which they ran the girls off the first few days in poor conditions (to get them out the way usually). Billabong’s justification for this was a small prize purse increase of something like 10K all up, wooooah Billabong thanks so much, the girls get to surf 1 foot onshore waves instead of 8 foot barrels and get a tad extra cash which can go towards the travel to get there. The guys now have prize purses of a million in NY for example and every single event is getting bigger prize purses. I know the girls can’t be compared to the guys as they are unbelievable and creating a phenomenon but the girls tour can be marketed in its own way… surely the girls can keep up a little bit. Even a win at a WQS after tax may just cover expenses. The trouble is ASP doesn’t know how to market the girls tour, they have no one focusing solely on getting the girls events or revamping the marketing of the women’s tour.
Which female surfers are impressing you most at the moment and why?
So many female surfers are impressing me, Carissa Moore, Lakey Peterson, Sally Fitzgibbons, Steph Gilmore the list could go on. I still think the older girls are losing a lot of credit; just like every generation I guess, but the difference is now your a veteran at 21 and the generation gaps are getting smaller. The younger girls have a lot of support now and are being coached in ways never explored, each generation we will see coaching techniques and expectations which will have the girls doing bigger moves. Equipment has changed so much and this has also seen more innovation. I still think if we had the old tour we would see the difference in barrel and big wave event experience. It would be really good if the tour saw a mixture of waves. Who wants to watch a day of surfing online if it is 2 foot… the girls can deliver if the waves are given to them and when that happens everyone is impressed. For example the semis and finals of the Snapper Roxy Pro when it was on free to air TV in Oz… the whole nation was talking about how they have never seen girls surf like this. Truth is, they are surfing like this every day!
Do the surfers on the tour party as much as they used to?
We see a lot less partying on tour now; surfing has become a professional sport with a big return on investment for the brands. Before it was the surfing lifestyle which was marketed and partying was a part of this; it worked at the time. Now it is a sport and the surfers are more and more being seen as athletes rather than surfers. No one used to really travel with their parents, for me I have always been very independent and enjoyed my time away with my friends. This made the tour more sociable.
Where are the best places you’ve surfed in the last couple of years?
I scored the Mentawais really good this year and just got back from a trip to the Maldives with my sponsor Protest. Bali always delivers and I got Puerto Rico fun. Hawaii has the waves but is a bit of a scene.
We hear you’re a bit of a TV star now! Talk us through how that came about and did you enjoy the experience?
Well I was in the Daily Star ha… no it was a programme on ITV1 at a prime time slot of 7.30pm which was pretty good publicity for my sponsors. It was called Pom’s in Paradise and captured the lives of English people moving to Australia and the contrast between living in England and Oz. For me I have moved back to the UK a couple of times growing up and have spent a lot of time back over in the England from the time I left school when I was 18 and especially the last five years as now represent Great Britain on the WQS. It showed a bit of this story. They didn’t really capture my personality or my social side which I was a bit disappointed with. I looked a bit boring to be honest… I was hoping they would show me breakdancing with a bottle of champagne!
What did you make of Steph Gilmore posing naked for ESPN’s body issue? Is it something you could imagine doing?
Steph is a very smart and talented woman so I am sure she had made her decision based on the consequentialist theory of utilitarianism. I am positive both she and Quiksilver would of weighed the positive and negative consequences and made her decision based on the results and which outcome would be best for everyone involved. The question revolves around ethics and the media and it’s a tough one but I know Steph would of done what she thought best and I guess I trust her on this. Women have always been sexualised in sport but I don’t find the photo to be offensive for females. I would consider posing nude but only at that time could I decide whether I would do it.
What kind of shape is women’s surfing in the UK in at the moment?
Surfing for both men and women in the UK is dysfunctional but the women are suffering the most. No one even knows when events are going on in the three organisations which seem to plan them separately. No one is united and I don’t even think the British (old BSA) have a govening body at the moment. It seems competitors are unmotivated and have lost faith which is a shame considering we have some really good British surfers coming through. I have been looking into getting a girls event up and running for next year with good prize money and prizesbut it is hard when I am travelling so much and don’t know my schedule; we will see.
And which surfers are impressing you the most?
I just finished watching the WCT in France and Portugal… like I said before the guys surfing is creating a phenomenon. They are amazing, the airs they are pulling off are seriously unelievable. Julian, Gabriel Medina, Wilko and of course Kelly! Every surfer on both the men’s and women’s tour should be mentioned.
Any other burning issues in surfing that you’d like to talk about?
Think I have covered what I wanted to have a whinge about…. oh no actually for the second year in a row, ASP have not added up the points correctly and congratulated the wrong surfer to qualify on the world tour. One person is devastated and one person and their family is the happiest they have ever been… they then have to apologise as they have made a mistake. The emotions are swapped. How can you get something so important so wrong… ASP CAN YOU PLEASE BUY A CALCULATOR!
What trips do you have planned for winter?
I have to get my ear drilled and go in for the operation in a few weeks, then will be in Oz for New Years. Not sure what’s on after that but will let you know!
Sarah is sponsored by Protest, The Board Barn and Voltz Energy. To read the feature we did with her in Bali click here