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Athletes & Explorers

Sep 07, 2018

An Introduction to Olympic Surfing, with New Zealand’s Paige Hareb

Learn about surfing's induction into the Olympics, and how New Zealand's top surfer, Paige Hareb, is preparing for the 2020 Games in Tokyo.

WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

The 2020 Olympics will host four new sports that have yet to be showcased on the Olympic stage. Surfing, climbing, karate, and skateboarding will each make their Olympic debut.

“more youthful, more urban, and include more women.”

The goal of adding these sports is to make the Olympics appeal to a younger audience. International Olympic Committee (IOC) president, Thomas Bach, told BBC Sport that the addition of these events will make the Games “more youthful, more urban, and include more women.”

Photo: World Surf League

the decision to include surfing in the 2020 Olympics was unanimous

Surf competitions, have for a long time, been considered controversial. Many surfers disagree about the appropriate surf conditions and technique, which can make judging surfing competitions somewhat subjective. However, with the International Surfing Association (ISA) leading the charge in competitive surfing events, the IOC has finally recognised surfing as a legitimate, organised, competitive sport, ready for its Olympic debut (in fact, out of the 90 IOC members voting, the decision to include surfing in the 2020 Olympics was unanimous).

The format of a surfing competition looks like this: There are usually 2-4 competitors in a heat, with the heat lasting between 20 and 30 minutes. Competitors are judged on the best two waves they catch during their heat. There are five judges who each give them a score out of 10, with the average of the five scores being taken. A perfect score would be 20/20 (perfect 10 for each of the two waves judged). Scoring is based on five things:

  1. Commitment and degree of difficulty
  2. Innovative and progressive maneuvers
  3. Combination of major maneuvers
  4. Variety of maneuvers
  5. Speed, power and flow.

Judging surfing is subjective, because different waves may vary in quality between heats, or even within a heat. One way that surf competitions have been able to minimize variation and secure an equal playing field is by holding competitions in artificial wave pools. There had been rumors that the Olympic surfing event might be held in one such artificial wave pool in Tokyo, in order to make it more of an objective spectator sport. However, the ISA has recently announced that the site of the surfing event in the 2020 Olympic Games will be in the ocean at Shidashita Beach, 40 miles outside of Tokyo. Surfing in the Tokyo Olympic Games will be held in a similar format as other ISA surf competitions, but it will have a 16 day waiting period in order to ensure good conditions for the event. Once the event starts, though, there will only be 2 days to finish it.

The Tokyo Olympics will host 20 male and 20 female surf athletes in a shortboard competition. There are five opportunities for athletes to qualify for the Olympics:

  • 10 men and 8 women will qualify through their sports on the 2019 World Surf League Championship Tour
  • 4 men and 4 women will qualify at the 2019 ISA World Surfing Games
  • One man and one woman will qualify at the 2019 Pan American Games
  • 4 men and 6 women will qualify at the 2020 ISA World Surfing Games
  • One man and one woman from the host nation of Japan will be guaranteed a slot in the Games.
Photo: World Surf League

We wanted to know a little more about surfing in the Olympics, and the process of qualifying for the event, so we got an insiders scoop! The following interview is with New Zealand’s top surfer, Paige Hareb. Paige is the first woman from New Zealand to qualify for the WSL Championship Tour, which means she has a good shot at qualifying for the Olympics.

TOJ: With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics being the first year that surfing will be held in the Olympics, what significance does this have for the sport? Do you think this will help grow the sport?
Paige: Surfing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for the first time ever is such a huge moment in history for the sport of surfing and I think it can only be a positive thing for the sport. I think it will help grow the sport of surfing, audience, sponsor and talent wise. All great things!

“I’ve already made it a goal for me to medal”

TOJ: Being New Zealand’s only surfer on the World Tour, and thus New Zealand’s only surfer with a chance at the Olympic Games, how important are the Olympic Games to you?
Paige: I think other New Zealanders can qualify through the ISA World Surfing Games in 2019 & 2020 so would amazing to see another kiwi go but yeah, I feel pretty proud to be the only New Zealander on the World Tour and knowing that I have a really good chance to represent New Zealand at the Olympics. I’ve always wanted to go to the Olympics since I was little, so they’re pretty important to me right now.

TOJ: In terms of preparing for the World Tour and the Olympic qualification events, how will you prepare?
Paige: I have some good people helping me out but I think for this year it might be my easiest and best way to try and qualify for the Olympics by trying to stay on the World tour for 2019, so that’s my biggest goal right now and with a couple of events left this year, I’m on the right track. Whether I go to the Olympics or not, I want to be the best I can be, so I’m always tying and training to be better!

TOJ: Where do you train?
Paige: Most of the year I travel from contest to contest and live out of my suitcase. I try to surf everyday if I’m not flying. At the start of the year I spend a bit of time at home and a lot of time on the Gold Coast, so I get a fitness trainer and coach over there. Then mid year I spend a bit of time in California and have great contacts there too.
It’s hard traveling, you kind of just have to try and make whatever work.

TOJ: Do you do any sport-specific strength training?
Paige: At the start of the season I do but then traveling so much it’s hard to find a gym and good trainers everywhere I go but if you can build a good foundation at the start of the year and then I honestly think that the best training for surfing is surfing!

TOJ: How do train your mind to be at ease under the pressure of high-profile competitions?
Paige: I really like to be in the moment, if I can get myself in the moment and be in the ‘zone’ then it will all just happen. Sometimes I feel myself getting or being nervous or overthinking so some self talk helps me get back to the job at hand and in the moment.

TOJ: If you do end up qualifying for a spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, what will be your goal there?
Paige: If I qualify, I’ve already made it a goal for me to medal, it could be my only chance and I’d love to win a medal for New Zealand! That’s a bit of a obvious answer isn’t it? Haha. I’ll really be trying not to just be another number there haha

“I can’t even imagine what some of the girls and guys will be doing in even a couple of years time!

TOJ: Event organizers have announced that surfing at the 2020 Olympics will be held on a beach just 40 minutes outside of Tokyo, rather than in an artificial wave pool. Do you think this is the best way to hold the competition and showcase the sport?
Paige: If the waves are fun it will be fine but I’ve been to japan several times now and never really had good waves. I also heard that surfing will get the first three days of the Olympics. I don’t think that’s enough time because it could be flat or just really bad conditions the whole time which would suck for us as surfers, for the fans and just for the sport of surfing in general. Especially when it’s our first time in the Olympics, I think we would love to show people how fun and amazing surfing really can be and I think the best, easiest way is to have it in an artificial wave. I really hope the event organizers change their mind.

Paige Hareb surfing the wave pool at the Founders Cup competition. Photo: @alschaben

TOJ: Have you surfed in an artificial wave pool? Do you think they will help progress the future of the sport?
Paige: Yes I have surfed in the WaveGarden in Spain and also been in Kelly Slaters surf ranch many times now. They are amazing and so fun! I think the best thing about them is you can try the same move over and over on the same section until you get it! In the ocean every wave is different so it makes it a lot harder to do that. To practice over and over like snowboarding over the same big jump on a mountain or hitting a tennis ball down the same part of the court everytime, that’s what’s going to make the future of surfing get better and better and I can’t even imagine what some of the girls and guys will be doing in even a couple of years time! It’s exciting!

TOJ: Who do you look up to in the sport of surfing?
Paige: I think I have to say Kelly Slater. He’s been around forever, I grew up looking up to him and he’s the G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time).

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Athletes & Explorers

Aug 06, 2019

In Defense of the Struggle.

Mountain bike racer Alicia Leggett reflects on how the obstacles she's faced have made her a better competitor and a stronger person.

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WRITTEN BY

Alicia Leggett

Like many ambitious people, I hate being bad at things.

Here’s my problem: It’s hard to become good at anything worthwhile without sucking for a while.

I’m a pro mountain bike racer, and last summer was my first season of world-level international racing. I raced in six countries as part of the Enduro World Series and traveled to races outside of North America for the first time. And although this was the season I’d been dreaming of for years, it was the hardest and most frustrating season of my life. More importantly, it took a lot of work to get there, and it will take much more work to keep progressing.

My 2018 season kicked off in March with races in Chile and Columbia, countries I’d never visited but had researched obsessively since I first looked at the season calendar. Living in Missoula, MT, I had spent most of the winter off the bike. I also received my bike for this year the week before I left for South America, so although I was beyond excited and itching to escape the snow, I wasn’t exactly prepared to compete with the world’s best.

“I remember crying in the shower”

I had done what I could. Moving to somewhere warm and dry wasn’t an option for me last winter, so I made the most of things and embraced the mental break from riding. I skied more days than I didn’t ski, I learned to enjoy running in the snow (and started borrowing my favorite dog, who became a great running buddy) and I started lifting heavier and more consistently than I ever have. Still, when I showed up to the start line at 11,000 feet in the Chilean Andes, I struggled.

The two-day race was brutal. I remember crying in the shower after the first day, dreading the morning when I’d have to wake up and do it again. But somehow, those two days are imprinted in my mind as two of the best days of my life. The Chilean sky is beautiful. The mountains are rugged. The terrain made me feel like I was riding on another planet. A week later, I raced in the Colombian jungle, in a mess of tire-sucking mud and suffocating humidity. I reveled in the misery.

“I’m not here to write about the times things went well”

All things considered, those two South American races went all right, and I collected a couple of race results I can be proud of, but I returned to the U.S. battered, exhausted and demoralized. But things improved from there. I put one foot in front of the other, took one pedal stroke at a time, and kept moving. I spent time riding my favorite trails, taking bike park laps and racing at the regional level for the next few months. I started running women’s clinics in my area, continued coaching teenagers and generally had a great time riding my bike. I won four regional races in a row, which was exciting proof of my growth as a rider. But I’m not here to write about the times’ things went well. This is a defence of the struggle.

After racing the Enduro World Series round in Whistler, I returned home and focused on preparing for the season’s final races in Spain and Italy.

The first day of racing in Spain was one of my best race days ever. I climbed about 6,000 feet and raced four tricky stages to land myself in 19th of 41 of the world’s best racers heading into the next day. I was so excited I could hardly sleep – I loved the course, and being in the top half of the EWS field felt great. I just needed to keep my riding smooth through the next day and I’d land myself in the top 20.

On the first stage of the next day, things fell apart. My dropper lever got stuck engaged and my seat kept popping up, which was not helpful in steep, rocky terrain. I crashed. Hard. I finished the stage, much slower than I wanted to, then admitted to myself that I might not finish the race. I looked like I had an extra elbow in the center of my chest and it hurt to breathe. I watched a volunteer wheel my bike away and felt my high hopes disappear.

I’d made it through the whole season without any serious crashes or mechanical problems. Why did the problems have to show up at one of the races I cared about the most?

At least I had one race left. After a round of chest x-rays (verdict: nothing broken) and a few days of rest, I was ready to ride again. I drove to Italy, fixed my bike and studied the course. Practice day arrived, and it was the first day I could move around without chest pain, so I considered that a good sign, until I caught my front wheel in a corner and body-slammed the ground. Once practice was over, I started to feel everything.

My chest still hurt and I had a massive bruise on my quad left from the previous crash. On top of that, I’d landed on a big rock just inside my hipbone and my bloody arm had started to swell.

“I crossed an ocean for this,” I kept thinking.

I showed up to the start line battered but determined to make the best of things. I just had four race stages left in my season. I would show up and ride my best.

I hadn’t quite learned the lesson the previous week: Sometimes, things just fall apart. We can’t control all of it. And if we could control it, where would the adventure be?

I controlled the variables I could, but in that final race, my luck had run out.

I bent my derailleur on a rock on the first stage. I also broke my chain guide on the first stage. My chain broke on the second stage as I tried to sprint up a hill with my limited gear range. I rode a clean but conservative third stage before lining up at the top of the fourth stage.

My entire season had built up to that moment. I left the U.S. riding better than ever before, and I’d made sure everything on my bike was dialed. I’d take all the steps I could to set myself up for success, and things still hadn’t gone my way. Regardless, I had to keep giving my all. The last stage that day was my favorite, and I went in for redemption.

I knew I shouldn’t set my hopes too high. After a few minutes of riding fast, skipping through technical rock sections and pedaling hard whenever I had the chance, I felt my chain drop off my chainring and all I could do was try to keep my momentum. So much for having a good stage. I dropped into one of the most iconic sections in all of enduro racing, a rocky corridor lined with thousands of cheering spectators that feels like it goes directly down the ridge to the Mediterranean. It was incredible. After a brutal day, when it felt like everything went wrong, I crossed the line ecstatic.

An article I read once explained that gamblers experience a bigger rush when they almost win than when they actually win. That’s part of what keeps them coming back. I think I’m the same way. For the entire trip, I had great race stages interrupted by the most frustrating moments of my season. I went from feeling on top of the world to feeling awful over and over, in just a few seconds each time. Those races showed me that I could be on-pace with where I wanted to be, racing with the best of them, but reminded me to never take a good result for granted.

“Learn to love struggling”

If I’d finished the season the way I wanted to, I would probably be content, and maybe I wouldn’t train as hard through the off-season. I can use my unfinished business with the EWS as motivation to come back stronger. I learned much more from the Europe races than I ever learned from races that went well, and I will focus on everything I can carry forward with me into future races. I learned about on-the-go bike fixes and gained practice staying calm when things felt disastrous, which, as it turns out, is important.

I’m now in the middle of my 2019 race season, and haven’t forgotten last year’s lessons. I’ve had a few explosive, unprecedented results so far this year, so I know I’ve internalized at least some of what I learned. Each setback has poured a bit more fuel on the fire, and I’m back, mentally and physically tougher than ever.

I’ve heard so many times that we can’t choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we react. I’m choosing to learn whenever I can.

Years of riding bikes has shown me the value in doing things that are difficult. The most fun trails are usually the ones I’m good at riding, so I make myself ride the ones I don’t enjoy. I look for technical climbs, off-camber corners and tight switchbacks, which I would love to avoid. And these days, I can think of a few trails I used to hate that I now find satisfying.

Riding bikes is hard. Crashing out of a race sucks. Mechanical problems also suck. Both at once… well, you get the idea, but that’s mountain biking sometimes, and life. We are all doing the best we can with what we know.

So, my advice to anyone reading: Learn to love struggling. Do the things that are hard, especially when you don’t want to. If a ride or race falls apart, find the lesson and keep moving. You’ll prove to yourself, over and over, that you can survive.

 

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