Lakey Peterson competes at World Surf League Surf Ranch Pro on Sept. 7, 2018 in Lemoore, Calif.
Lakey Peterson first started in surfing when she was just 5 years old. Her parents, Sue and David, took the family on a trip around the world that included Australia, where Peterson got started in surfing on a boogie board near Sydney.
“I loved it and went every single day,” she said. “And that was sort of the beginning of me learning how to surf.”
Peterson was so good despite her extremely young age that the local Australians started calling her “Lakey Surf Legend.” And while she was more involved in other sports such as tennis as a young girl growing up in California, she truly has become a surfing legend since getting deep into the sport as a teenager. She is so good she won the U.S. Open surfing championship at just 17 years old. However, she didn’t win again for another six years before winning the Roxy Pro Gold Coast competition in Australia in March of this year.
“It was a really special win,” said the 24-year-old Peterson. “I hadn’t won an event in six years and there were a lot of challenges with the event and I was really proud of myself to overcome that and win it. And it just started a big trajectory for this year, and I was able to take that win and the confidence of that win to events the rest of the year.”
Currently ranked No. 2 in the world, Peterson came into the final event on the World Surf League Women’s Championship Tour, this week’s Beachwaver Maui Pro in Hawaii, in a battle with the top-ranked surfer, Australia’s Stephanie Gilmore, for the No. 1 ranking.
Although Peterson lost in the second round on Monday, and thus fell short of the tour championship, her goals extend far beyond just this season. Surfing also is becoming an Olympic sport for the first time at the 2020 Games in Tokyo, so Peterson definitely wants to compete there.
“It’s really exciting what surfing is today and being in the Olympics in Tokyo,” Peterson said ahead of the Maui Pro event. “It’s something I think the sport of surfing deserves, to be recognized as an Olympic sport. On the world tour, every person, men and women, take it really seriously. We all treat it as other pro athletes do. It’s definitely a goal of mine to make that team and qualify for it and give it everything I’ve got.
“It’s super exciting and really inspiring for me to push myself and stretch myself in terms of being able to compete in Tokyo.”
With its addition to the Olympics, surfing could get more attention that the athletes feel it most definitely deserves. As Peterson says, some people regard surfers as perhaps lazy folks who just sit on a beach all day in a shack. This is not the case. Peterson, for example, cross-trains five times a week and surfs at least four hours every day. And with the often large and difficult waves, it also can be dangerous, with several surfers having drowned at the Pipeline on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
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“In terms of professional surfing, it’s important for people to realize how much each person puts into it,” Peterson said. “Everyone has a trainer, everyone is on diet and has goals. It’s definitely, as a professional, taken very seriously and is a really exciting time in the sport.”
There also is a lot of time on the road. Peterson says she has spent eight months of this year away from home, competing everywhere from Australia to Brazil to France and Hawaii.
“It’s amazing that our sport takes us to all these incredible places and cultures and incredible people,” she said. “It’s really impressive to be able to live the life we do.”
In addition to planning to compete in surfing for many more years, Peterson says that her goal after she leaves the sport is to go into helping others.
“Maybe I’ll go into some sort of wellness or health thing to help others,” she said. “And help them be the best they can be.”
In the meantime, she will continue to surf and add to the Lakey legend.
“I think the coolest thing about surfing is how much it captivates me,” she said. “When you go surfing, it forces you to be competitive in your moment. You can’t be focused on other things. When you’re up on a wave, your purpose and focus is on that wave and how to ride it. It’s just so much fun.
“The lifestyle of surfing is incredible. To be able to be on the beach and travel the world and see these cultures and compete. I feel lucky to be in that position and it plays into why I love it so much.”
Jim Caple is a former longtime writer for ESPN and the St. Paul Pioneer Press based in Seattle. He has covered sports on six continents, including 12 Olympics and 20 World Series. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.