June 2013 Austin Am Stateman Interview "Making Waves"

World champion wake surfer and West Lake Hills resident Raleigh Hager has brought home victories from Mexico, Switzerland and Arizona this May and June, and she’s not planning on slowing down.

Eleven-year-old Raleigh, who has only been competing at the pro women’s level for a year and a half, sees world domination as her goal. She plans to win the World Championships of wake surfing in Las Vegas again this year, and as many years after that as she can, she said.

“I like the feeling of landing a big trick, like a reverse 360 or something,” Raleigh said. “[I feel] happy, proud I didn’t fall.”

West Lake Hills’ resident wake surf champion has been practicing five times a week for competition season this year. This season, Raleigh has five new tricks to show the judges.

“It’s always cool to see people’s reactions once they see her surf, especially if they’ve not seen her surf before,” said Raleigh’s mother, Erin Hager. “They say ‘what? Why is she not in junior’s?’ It’s just neat to see their expressions when they see her do her stuff because they’re like, ‘oh OK, wow.’ They had no idea she’s capable of doing the things she can do.”

Her parents are fully supportive of their daughter’s ambitions, even though it means busy weekends, costly travel plans and long practices.

“I feel like a lot of kids do a sport because their kids like it, if they excel at a young age,” said Raleigh’s father, JB Hager. “Me, I didn’t even want to buy a boat. I didn’t see myself doing all this, but we do it because she wants to do it.”

Raleigh learned to surf when she was 5, and picked up wake surfing when she was 8. Her parents rented a boat from a friend and took Raleigh out to wake surf on many a hot Texas day.

“It was something to do when it was 100 degrees out,” Hager said. “We’d take the boat out and just go all day, spending four hours on the water. Raleigh would just drop the rope and kind of cruise.”

Billy Clark of Austin Surf Company stopped the family one day after seeing what Raleigh could do on a board. He offered to coach her, predicting she’d make world champion.

“A lot of it’s a real natural talent on the board, and the rest of it is hard work,” JB Hager said. “She’s not afraid to try new stuff and fall, over and over.”

During competition, athletes get just a few minutes to do as many tricks as well as they can between two buoys. Athletes are judged on intensity, variety, execution and difficulty.

Raleigh is adept at learning new tricks quickly, her parents say, though Raleigh insists that a few more difficult tricks, such as the reverse 360, have taken her several months to master.

“Last competition, for some reason, I couldn’t see any of the buoys and I couldn’t see the water,” Raleigh recalled of her competition in Arizona where she placed first. “I could just see the boat and the wake, so I just kept on spinning and landing tricks. I even landed a few tricks after we passed the buoy.”

Raleigh has several sponsors, and JB Hager said he’s excited to see the interest in and popularity of wake surfing growing both locally and nationally.

“I think part of the fun of it is that she’s growing the sport,” he said. “Just the fact that Sticky Bumps is paying attention, as a surfing company, I think it would be really fun after her being an athlete, she’s making all these connections with boat companies and learning a lot about marketing at a young age – it could turn into a career.”

For now, though, Raleigh is just focused on landing her next trick.

“I just thought it was a cool sport,” she said.