Austin Fit Magazine. Kids who measure up. Dec 2013

Austin’s wake surfing champ

By Emily Laskowski

When Raleigh Hager was 10 years old, she won her first world championship in wake surfing, and AFM sat down for a chat with the young pro athlete (“10-year-old Rules Wake Surfing World,” December 2012). Now, Hager, 12 years old and in middle school, won her second consecutive Pro Women’s World Wake Surfing Championship in October 2013 and we’re back for another visit.

Raleigh Hager may be a phenom in wake surfing but, at home, she’s just Raleigh, a typical kid.

With the support of her parents, Erin and JB, and many pets—including a dog, pig, and new litter of baby gerbils—Hager trains three to four times a week on the water and twice a week doing strength and conditioning. While she admits that she should be practicing more often, Hager also concedes that, now, in the sixth grade, she “has a lot going on.” Like many 12-year-olds, Hager is moving at a mile a minute. She goes from brushing her hair to checking her phone to playing with the dog to jumping on the trampoline to skateboarding inside the family home in a matter of seconds.

“She is a goofy, 12-year-old kid, in all the right ways a 12-year-old should be goofy,” her mom Erin said. And this admission makes Hager’s intense focus on wake surfing all the more interesting. “When she is on her board,” Erin added, “she is a whole other person, so it’s just so awesome to see her transform and be passionate about something at such a young age.”

In a quick recap, wake surfing—often confused with wakeboarding—is a water sport in which the athlete trails behind a boat, riding the wake without being directly attached to the boat. The wake from the boat mimics the look and feel of an actual ocean wave, hence the term “surfing.” After getting up on the wave by use of a towrope, wake surfers drop the rope and ride below the wave’s peak. Unlike wakeboarding, the surfer’s feet aren’t attached to the board.

A family trip to California first introduced Hager to the sport of surfing. Her parents fondly remember finding their ball-of-energy daughter exhausted from a one-hour surfing lesson. Impressed, they did some research into how Hager could surf when they returned home. Eventually, their daughter was wake surfing on Lake Austin.

In 2013, as the reigning World Champion, Hager wanted to show her competitors that her first year’s success was not a fluke. She competed in some eight competitions to again qualify for the World Championships. “She is very hard on herself,” Erin said, adding that Hager often chalks up her first championship to the other wake surfers simply having a bad day. This past year, Hager, inspired by the men’s professional circuit, introduced more tricks to her routine, and it paid off. She again bested the competition, all of whom were women about ten years her senior. There are no other pre-teen or even teenage girls competing at Hager’s level. “I think it plays to her favor sometimes to just be a kid,” Erin mused.

Where adults might be overthinking the pressure of the competition, Hager is still just out there having fun. True to form, she just goes for it. “Sometimes I ask my coach what I should do to land a trick, and he’s like, ‘Don’t think,’” Hager said.

With two world championships under her belt, Hager still describes herself simply as a “surfer, skater girl.” But the newfound fame does incite some interesting requests at school. Hager laughed as she explained that kids often come up and ask if she can do a backflip on the water, to which she simply responds, “That’s wakeboarding.”