Pro Chat: Sarah Gerhardt

We tracked down another one of the rare species that is female big wave surfers, and asked her all about surfing Mavericks and surviving hold downs

Interview by Sam Haddad

You started surfing relatively late by today’s standards (well compared to the likes of Carissa Moore!). When did you catch your first wave and how did that feel?
I rode my first wave at 14 years old. I taught myself how to surf on a thin 6’2″, so it took me a while. I knew how to duck-dive before I rode a wave!  It was an exhilarating feeling to stand up and ride my first wave and it was only white water. I rode it all the way to the beach in the near dark, ran up the beach to my new apartment (we moved in that day) and excitedly told my Mom how amazing it was to surf!

How did you go from that to the massive leap of being the first woman to surf Mavericks!?
I surfed as much as possible, nearly every day for years, before I rode waves that were double overhead. I liked riding bigger and bigger waves, so I started looking for them and went to Hawaii to ride them. When I heard about Maverick’s I knew that I wanted to surf there. It captivated me and it took me five years from when I heard about Mavericks to when I surfed it. I spent a lot of time “training” and surfing before I surfed there.

Were you scared that first session or did the adrenaline carry you through?
I was nervous for my first session at Mavs. I had recently married Mike Gerhardt and started my PhD program in chemistry, needless to say, surfing wasn’t my main focus. So to have Mavs breaking and me out there was a big shift in focus. It’s a gnarly place!

What’s so special about that wave?
The wave is nearly perfect. It’s big, hollow, fast, and a long ride.

Is it true you once surfed there pregnant?
I caught my biggest and best waves at Mavericks when my son was 11 months old. I was one month pregnant with my daughter at the time. I found out a week later that I was pregnant and I was stressed that I might have hurt my baby since I had a few beatings that day. Thank God, she was OK! She’s a crazy charger now, though. I wonder…..

How regularly do you surf there now and how difficult is it to combine that with being a mother?
I only surf Mavs twice a season now. I surf at home in Santa Cruz every week from knee high waves to triple overhead, but it has to be sandwiched between full-time work as a chemistry instructor in Monterey and being a wife and Mom. I have to dawn-patrol most of the time (I like the dawn-patrol, so that works for me and for my family).

Do you find you’re more scared of your own mortality now you have kids?
I’m not scared of my mortality, kids or not. God knows the number of my days, and I have full faith in that. That said, I’m not going to jump off a cliff without a parachute! I make calculated risks and stay in shape for the big days.

How did One Winter Story come about and were you proud of the film?
A friend of mine from Hawaii, Sally Lundberg wanted to make a short film and I said, “Sure!”. I’m proud of what Sally and Liz Pepin did with what they had! I was so focused on my schooling that I didn’t participate in the creation as much as I wanted to due to time constraints. But, again, I’m proud of the way they portrayed my story. The film is a piece of art.

Do you have any tips for dealing with gnarly hold downs?
Be prepared and don’t panic.

What’s the worst injury you’ve had there?
After a wipeout, I was mowed down by a giant wave which basically twisted me while I kicked myself in the back of the head because of my leash, which was attached to my board, thrashing about in the wave. It took me months before my leg/knee/back/neck were working normally again.

Which female big wave surfers do you admire at the moment?
I admire Ashley Lloyd, Zeuf Hesson, Carissa Moore, Kassia Meador and Savannah Shaughnessy.

Do you follow the ASP Women’s Tour and do you think it should have more if not big then bigger wave stops?
I don’t follow any pro surfing – too busy! I feel that the big-wave tours are best for those committed to surfing big waves and I don’t know that those events would have that many female participants due to the lack of sponsorship of women chargers.

What are the pros of cold water as opposed to warm water surfing?
I’m not sure there are any pros to surfing in cold water! I wish it was warmer, it’s so cold it takes my breath away and I usually have to go out because my feet are numb.

Are there any other burning issues in surfing you’d like to raise?
Well, I hope this doesn’t come off wrong, but sometimes the most dangerous aspect of surfing is the people! I’m all for people learning to surf, but even more for people paying attention to their surroundings and not getting in over their head.

Thanks loads Sarah!
I’d love to say thanks to Bob Pearson of Pearson Arrow who has shaped my boards for the past 14 years.  He’s a great shaper and his boards have really made me stoked!  And I also want to say thanks to the teachers at Village Yoga, they do the Bikram method, which has helped me through injuries from surfing and through childbirth, and the daily grind. I stand up straighter because of them!


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