Hanging 10 with Sage Erickson
Featured Photo by WSL/ Roland. US Open of Surfing 2018 (7/28-8/5)
Splitting her childhood between Southern California and Hawaii, some might say that Sage Erickson was born to surf. But being a female in a once male dominated sport is no easy feat. Erickson has overcome her share of obstacles. In the process of her perseverance, Erickson has gone from falling off the World Championship surfing tour in 2014 to being one of the top ranked surfers in the world today.
In 2017, Erickson climbed her way back to the top, being crowned the 2017 US Open of Surfing Champion.
What first drew you into the sport of surfing?
At first, I just went to the beach while my brother and dad surfed and loved the ocean for what it was. I initially had no connection to a board. But then, I moved to Hawaii when I was 10 years old and playing soccer just wasn’t as appealing as being in the ocean. There was a really strong and special surfing culture there, and I knew I wanted to be a part of that.
When you started, how much gender diversity was there in the sport?
It was heavily male dominated. There were plenty of times where I would go out surfing and be the only girl out on the water. You would think that I would have been intimidated because it was so male dominated, but in some ways being the only female helped me. They (the males) helped me with getting into good waves and making sure I was ok if the swell was bigger. I would say being a female in a heavily dominated male sport wasn’t necessarily a bad thing all the time.
When did you transition from surfing as a hobby to surfing at a competitive level?
My career as a junior started later than most girls in Hawaii. I didn’t have sponsors or a lot of funding, so I wasn’t always able to compete full-time over there. But I started competing locally and my first competition was actually the Menehune Surfing Competition which is a super special local event they have every year.
When you started winning competitions and transitioning into a full-time spot on some of the junior circuits, how did you balance surfing with typical teenage responsibilities?
That’s probably the hardest part about being a young competitive athlete. Being a surfer, you spent a lot of time away from home and away from your friends and family. Like any sport, you have to be super focused if you want positive results. But I definitely made time to be friendly with people and to help them along the way. So I definitely put an emphasis on balancing my surfing results with having good character and balance away from the water.
Looking at your professional career, you had a great start but then fell off the main circuit in 2014, how did you rebound from that?
You had some other successful women on the tour like Sally Fitzgibbons and Coco Ho and I grew up with them and saw myself as just as good as them. With that in mind, it drove me to compete better and adjust to the highs and lows. For me, it was about comfort rather than abilities. So I had to make myself just as comfortable in competitions as I was free surfing away from the completions.
In your professional career, either free surfing or in competitions, did you ever have any close encounters with sharks?
I actually grew up with Bethany Hamilton before she had her accident. In Hawaii, we were all a pretty tight group, going to bible study and just bonding together. When she had her accident, I felt pretty close to that encounter. It was startling to see something so life threatening and real come from the ocean besides the waves.
In my own experiences, I’ve fortunately not witnessed anything like that. But, just last week, I was at home surfing and a guy showed me footage from a drone telling me there were three Great White Sharks nearby. I still paddled out because they’ve always been there and just because we know they’re there doesn’t really change anything.