Austin Woman Magazine. Young Women to Watch Issue

2012 Women’s Pro Wakesurf Champion Raleigh Hager is knocking out the competition.

By Tamsyn Stonebarger

“There’s nothing wrong with falling,” surfer Raleigh Hager says as she gets back on her hot-pink wakeboard, with Bob Marley playing on the boat. It seems like a typical thing for a world champion wakeboard surfer to say, but seeing as she’s 11 years old, it really leaves an impression. At the age of eight, when Hager was just beginning to learn how to drop the rope and ride the wake, her natural talent caught the eye of her now coach and board shaper, Billy Clark. Clark approached Hager and her family at a boat gas station asking if he could coach her, and he forecasted, “That girl is going to be the world champion someday.”

Little did he realize how soon someday would be. Clark created a custom pink board that became her trademark, and Hager rode all the way to the 2012 Women’s Pro World Championship. Clark does more than make pretty boards that win competitions though.

“Well, his wake is a lot different,” explains Hager, “more like a competition boat. And he tells me to do ridiculous tricks, and I try them with him and then come and try them on our boat.”

And after just a few months of coaching, Hager began competing—at the pro level. “I skipped amateur and outlaws,” she says. “I went straight to pro. It was weird with all the people looking at me. They were just like, ‘Are you in juniors?’ and I was like, ‘I’m riding pro.’”

A year before the world competition, Hager set the stakes high with her dad. “I asked for a pig,” she says, “and every day I’d ask for a pig and check the website to see what pigs they had.”

Hager’s dad, JB, didn’t think a thing about it. “I told her sure,” he says. “She hadn’t even done a pro competition yet.”

The world competition in Parker, Arizona, drew near, but Hager had been consistently placing third. Hager, her family and her coach were confident she would do well, but they had a backup plan to go into Phoenix on the third day of the three-day event. As it turned out, Phoenix would have to wait. Hager cut water and flipped through the first two days to compete alongside the best, including reigning two-time world champion Rebecca Ort, a Swiss native. (Ort, on her part, was very supportive of Hager, even telling Raleigh that she was amazed with her young talent and wanted her on her team.)

On the third day, Hager pulled through to win the Women’s World Wakesurfing Championship. “After I won, the first thing I said was, ‘I’m getting a pig!’”

After her incredible victory, she’s still the same spunky preteen with a passion and a talent everyone takes seriously. No matter her age or gender she can beat all the others, which has happened when she beat many boys at a local outlaw’s competition where she was the only female. By the time this young woman is 18, she might be able to pay her own way to college from the prize money she won. She hopes to go on to accomplish her dreams of winning more world championships, and to inspire people to get involved in the sport she loves. And how many people can say they’ve done all of that at the ripe old age of 11? The eyes of Texas and the world are on Raleigh Hager, and she is determined not to disappoint.

What is wake surfing?

In Raleigh’s words: “You get a boat—not a fishing boat—and a Fat Sac [ballast bag], and fill it up and put it on one side of the boat so it creates a wake. You put your feet on the board and hold on to the rope so the boat can pull you up. You drop the rope once you are on the wake. Then you pump and surf the wake. In simplest form, you get a small surfboard and you surf the wake behind a boat.”