Girl on a Board Interview. March 2013
Austin, Texas native Raleigh Hager's got it goin on - big time. At the ripe old age of only 11, she's the reigning Women's World Wakesurfing Champion and we had the pleasure of interviewing her recently about this burgeoning action sport. Besides the obvious super coolness of getting to interview the world champ, what's extra rad about this is the fact that we here at GOAB have never done anything related to wakesurfing at all! So this is a first all around!
Admittedly, we didn't know a whole heck of a lot about the sport of wakesurfing, so it was cool to hear what Raleigh had to tell us about how it's done and we're stoked to give it a go ourselves now!
GOAB: So first question is just to clear up what could be some confusion amongst our readers since most of our readers are traditional ocean surfers and/or skateboarders. What exactly is wakesurfing and how does it differ from wakeboarding? Are the 2 terms interchangeable?
RH: Wakeboarding is a hard board with boots and you ride with a long rope. It’s faster and the wake isn’t as big. You’re way back behind the board doing airs using the rope. With wakesurfing you put Fat Sacs more on one side of the boat to get it to tilt and make a giant wake on either the regular or goofy side, usually between 10-11 mph. It simulates an ocean wave. Then you get a shorter board, since you don’t need the length to paddle in. You don’t use boots. I ride wax like normal surfers and a kickpad. You can ride traction up front, but I ride wax. You start with a rope then you throw the rope in the boat once the wake forms and you surf the wave behind the boat. You can get airs, 360’s, 180’s, big carve, etc. FYI - Fat Sacs
GOAB: Would you say that one of the major differences though is that wakesurfing is very much about performing tricks as well as riding waves? Is the scoring based on the number of tricks that you perform or the difficulty of the tricks or the length of time that you can ride a wave? How does that all work?
RH: For 2012 they had half subjective scores from the judges in the boat and the other half was objective, a total of the tricks that you do. For me, I like the subjective, I’m not trying to brag, but I have a lot of style in my surfing. You have two buoys in the lake and it’s roughly 1 ½ min from one to the other. You do a run each way and try to score points for tricks, airs, grabs, style and you’re allowed typically 4 falls. The falls encourage riders to try bigger tricks. This year (2013) it’s moving to a more subjective system, more like ocean surfing. There are three judges in a boat, a driver, a caller of tricks and a scribe to write down everything the caller says. There is also usually a photographer and videographer in the boat and a boat along side your run taking pics and video. Everyone rides the same boat (the sponsor of that event), same amount of weight in the boat and start at the same speed, but you are allowed to tell them faster or slower. You do tell them if you ride regular or goofie, but you can also include switch and backside riding into your run.
GOAB: And you got your start on a traditional surfboard right? How old were you and when and why did you transition to wakesurfing?
RH: I started when I was 5. My parents took me to Legoland in Carlsbad. They got me a private surf lesson the next day. I told my parents this is what I wanted to do. When we got back my dad got a couple surfboards and we started going to the Texas coast whenever we could. It’s like 4 hours away by car. The next summer I did a week of surf camp at Surf Diva in La Jolla. I got hurt a lot. It was all day and when I got back to the hotel I had scratches and bruises all over me from the fins and a bunch of kooks throwing their boards at my face. I realized we couldn’t always be traveling to the ocean living in Austin. At first I didn’t know what wakesurfing was, but I heard about wakeboarding. I tried that for a little bit. I got some lessons but I was wanting something more like surf. We looked at some youtube videos about wakesurfing. At first I was worried I was going to run into the boat. We bought a cheap board and some used ones. It took me awhile to learn to stand up on it. Originally I was riding a skim (there are surf and skim divisions in wakesurfing). One day I rode and dropped the rope for like two seconds, then fell. I liked that because it felt more like surf, then I learned to carve.Then we met this guy named Billy Clark. He stopped us on the boat when we were getting gas and ice cream. He was like “dude, I’ve been wanting to say hi to you on the lake but you never fall”. Turns out he is a shaper (ASC Boards) and he showed me one of his boards. It's a surf style and looked so cool. I was confused why it was so thick and had such big fins. I tried riding it and it I couldn’t even stay on it. I got the hang of it after a week or so. I started pumping, doing airs, big bottom turns, then a year later it was bigger tricks like a 360, air 180’s, grabs, rev 360’s.
GOAB: You live in central Texas – so of course wakesurfing makes more sense now doesn’t it? Do you still like to surf when you’re near an actual ocean?
RH: I love it. Why wouldn’t you want to surf there, it’s the ocean? It’s awesome. I have to confess, I’m terrible at surfing in the ocean, but I always like to try. I really need lessons again now.
GOAB: And now – OMG – you turned 11 in November last year and you’re the Women’s Pro Wakesurf World Champion? Shut up. How is that even possible? Tell us about that event – when, where and how you felt when you got that title. Were you just like completely and totally over the moon?
RH: I was in Parker, Arizona. It was at a Casino on the Colorado with a bunch of old people who were trying to get drunk and gamble. They were all smoking so whenever you walked through the Casino you couldn’t breathe because there was smoke everywhere and old people partying. The Casino was right on the lake with a Cantina with a live feed from the boats. It was my first year doing Pro so that was kinda weird. Before the competition I was mad because all the other girls are so much better than me and older. I’m still in Elementary school. I was freaked out when they announced the titles. When they announced third place I was mad but excited I might get second. Then when they announced second I was really mad, my wakesurf friends were around me. I was looking constipated and like, Uhhhh. My face was prob turning red. When they said my name I was like “Holy Crap”. I ran up there, I was all shaky. I thought I was going to faint. When I got up there it felt really weird. I didn’t really know what to do because I’m used to third. It was actually hard getting up on the podium, because I’m used the small step. I got the big check and it was like, “whooooah”. I felt like I was going to explode or something.
GOAB: Incredible! And now…are you like a total superstar at school?
RH: No, I am not. I’m not really that popular at school. No one really knows about wakesurfing. The people in the wakesurfing industry are really cool though.
GOAB: So I imagine that your parents have to play a huge role in this sport. It’s not like surfing or skateboarding where your parents buy you a board and say “the beach is 2 blocks that way – go surf.”You have to have a boat for starters. And I imagine it has to be a pretty darn gnarly boat to be making the kind of waves you need to surf on. Am I right?
RH: Yeah, we got a new boat from Mastercraft that is a great wakesurf boat. It’s the X-10, it just came out. I actually got to be in the brochure pics and video for it for 2013. It has a lot of space for the Fat Sacs underneath the seating.
GOAB: Where is your fave place to wakesurf? Is there a dream wakesurfing destination like most traditional surfers have on their bucket list?
RH: I like Lake Austin, lots of wakesurfers, except on the weekends, lots of partiers. It’s not like surfing where you go to a certain place because of the waves. It’s more about the boat and the water conditions. This year we are going to competitions in Mexico, Switzerland, Canada and both the east and west coast. World will be in Las Vegas this year on Lake Las Vegas. I’m scared I’m going to lose all my money there… just kidding.
GOAB: How often do you practice? Is it hard to juggle school work and getting out there on the lake to wakesurf on a regular basis? Again – there’s either a parent or a coach that has to be involved.
RH: Now it’s winter so I practice a few times a week and with a trainer in the gym once a week. In the summer I practice at least 5 days a week but not on the weekends because of the partiers.
GOAB: And speaking of coaches – we read that you have one, right? So how does that work? Does he go out with you and your dad on your dad’s boat or do you go out alone with him on his boat? Just curious about the logistics of the whole thing for some reason! LOL. Has he helped you a lot?
RH: Yes, he’s helped me a lot. If he didn’t come up to me at that gas station I wouldn’t have found surf style wakesurfing and his boards. He’s originally from Santa Cruz and an ocean surfer and has that ocean style. Sometimes the lessons are on our boat but usually on his boat because his wave is huge. It helps me get ready for a competition.
GOAB: What’s a typical day like for you?
RH: In the summer, I don’t like waking up early. I get up around 10-11, have some Cheerios. I get my dad and we go out on the boat (5 min away). It’s on the water, we head out onto the lake, sac it out and start surfing. In the winter I can’t surf as long because it’s so cold, but in the summer I might go 4 hours.
GOAB: So…tell us what else like you to do? What other hobbies or interests do you have?
RH: I love skateboarding. I like to go in parking garages, but it’s very risky cause of security. I have a No-Comply board, which is a local shop. I like boards that are kinda carvy more like surfing. I have a Sector 9 longboard that used to be my dads but I took it. I have a Gold Coast board that’s smaller and smooth, but I love my Penny Board. It’s really nice, marble and feels like surfing. It helps my balance. I like trying to ride backside or goofy. It helps with my wakesurfing. I do like ocean surfing but I don’t get to do that all that much.
GOAB: And the future? What does that hold for you Raleigh? Do you see yourself continuing with wakesurfing as a pro and making a career out of it? (That’s a question that we often ask in an interview, but to be honest – most people we interview aren’t 11 years old, so we don’t expect you to be able to predict the future just yet!)
RH:Yeah, I think I would. I would like to try more ocean surfing when I’m older. I have an idea of moving to California and living right between and ocean and a lake so I can still wakesurf and learn to surf better. I would love to travel and do lessons and clinics around the world. It’s popular in Germany, Switzerland, France and Russia. Usually, for a competition the pros go early and do clinics.
GOAB: Looks like you have some awesome sponsors. Want to give some shout outs to them?
GOAB: Hey - one last thing. A little bird told us that you made a wager with your pop before you had even done a pro event that if you get on the podium at worlds he would have to buy you a pet pig. Was that true? And....how did that pan out for you?
RH: Oh yeah, it's true all right, and I named him Fergus!
GOAB: We end every interview the same way….name 3 foods you can’t live without….name 3 objects you can’t live without…and name 3 people you can’t live without.
RH: 3 Foods? I couldn’t live without Kind Bars, cutie oranges and sushi.
3 Objects? My board, my boat and my skateboard.
3 People? I couldn’t live without my coach, who’s also my shaper, my dad because he always makes time to drive the boat, and my mom motivates me and always gives me energy chews.