Local wakesurf phenom Raleigh Hager acclimates to life at the top of the podium
Raleigh Hager has been wakesurfing Lake Austin – or as she hashtags it, #LATX – for the past four years. A two-time women's world champion with eight other first-place titles under her belt, Hager is kind of a big deal, not only in the sport but also as an emergent, bona fide, locally sourced Austin celebrity.
Did we mention she's 12?
Hager won her first championship at the age of 10 and has been winning ever since. With as many wins as she's accomplished, the Hill Country Middle School sixth-grader has also earned a number of wakesurf sponsors, including Day1 Wake (which developed a pro-model board – the "Phenom" – in her honor) and a boat sponsorship which comes with a place on Centurion Boats' professional team. It also should be noted that almost-teenager Raleigh makes really funny, focused faces when she's deep in her zone, high atop a wake, and that she has a serious appreciation for black nail polish.
Austin Chronicle: You're originally from Austin. Do you like it?
Raleigh Hager: Yeah!
AC: What's your favorite restaurant?
RH: Wahoo's. I like their fish tacos.
AC: I saw on your Facebook page that you have a stereo/turntable. Your dad is a DJ; do you have DJ aspirations?
RH: Oh, no. I just really like listening to music.
AC: What's your most-listened to record right now?
RH: Umm ... an MGMT one. It has "Time to Pretend" on it.
AC: I love that album. You don't have any siblings, correct?
RH: Nope; only child.
AC: Me too. Do you enjoy being an only child?
RH: Kinda. It can get lonely sometimes.
AC: You have pets, too, right? I heard about your pig? There's a good story behind that, I bet.
RH: Two years ago [before her first world-championship win], I bet my dad that if I podium'd at the championship, then I could get a pig. He agreed, because he didn't think I'd podium. That was at the beginning of the season [May through September]. I practiced all summer, got a lot better, and won.
AC: Your dad tells me you might go to college in Southern California?
RH: What?! I kinda want to go to UT.
AC: Where do you go to school?
RH: I go to Hill Country Middle. Middle school is so different, I don't really like it.
AC: No? Why not?
RH: Well, um ... I kinda get bullied. A lot.
AC: I'm so sorry. [Raleigh shrugs.] I was bullied in middle school, too. It's the worst.
RH: None of my friends go there. [Did you see] those boys on the dock? They're basically my friends. They go to a different school.
AC: I heard that you're teaching them how to wakesurf. How often do you get to come out on the lake?
RH: I've taught a lot of them how to drop the rope, but it's hard. We come out five times a week during the season. In the winter, we skate and hang out. We watch TV, or ... well, we play a lot of Truth or Dare.
Photo by John Leach
AC: Let me tell ya, you'll be playing Truth or Dare for the rest of your life. What do you tend to pick: truth or dare?
RH: Um. Well ... actually, um ... my boyfriend's usually there when we play, so it can ... [Mom interrupts with an unhappy look. Subject changed.]
AC: I noticed your black nail polish. Very nice. Is black your go-to color?
RH: Thanks! Yeah, it's kinda my favorite.
AC: What else do you enjoy doing when you're not surfing or listening to music?
RH: Mostly just skateboard or hang out with my friends.
AC: You skateboard! Longboard?
AC: Awesome. Are you good at it?
RH: Not really. I just like to ride around.
AC: Ever think you'll switch to a shortboard to do tricks?
RH: No, not really. I'd be scared that I'd somehow hurt myself and then wouldn't be able to practice surfing.
AC: When did you start surfing?
RH: When I was 5.
AC: Cool. Your dad said something about you switching board companies?
RH: I tried out a lot of boards. My new sponsor is Day1 Wake.
AC: What makes a good board?
RH: It has to be lightweight. I used to prefer blunt noses, but this one's rounded, actually.
AC: Silly question, but does color ever influence?
RH: [Shakes head no.] I don't care about color, but I don't like super flashy boards – kinda like my pro model [made by Day1 and named for her], bright yellow that fades into blue. I would be happy with plain white. I used to have a pink board [unhappy face].
AC: I read that pro surfer Kelly Slater used to be your idol. Is he still?
RH: I really like Bethany Hamilton [the surfer who was attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark in 2003 and lost an arm].
AC: So is this what you want to do when you "grow up"?
RH: Yeah! Except I also really want to surf in the ocean again. I haven't in years. I'm not even sure that I can get up [on the board, in the ocean] anymore.
AC: Yeah, but it would probably take all of two minutes to come back to you!
RH: [Smirks] Less than that, probably.