Paige Hareb, winning gold
It was the first week in May and the Founders Cup (the equivalent of the World Cup) of surfing was being held in a man-made wave pool in the middle of the California desert. This was a first-time event, both in the location and the format, pitting five nation-based teams against one another at the WSL Surf Ranch.
To make it even more interesting, Taranaki local, Paige Hareb was representing New Zealand in the World Team, up against teams from Australia, USA, Brazil and Europe. This was the best of the best, three men and two women in each team with the team captains able to pick the very best from their regions.
So, I woke early to check the update on the NZ Herald online page and despite searching through every page I was unable to find a mention of it. So, I tuned back into the online WSL site to see what was happening first hand. I tuned in just in time to see the World Team knock out one of the favourites, Team Australia, in a nail biting end to the first rounds, and against all odds, the World Team made it through to the final three. More impressive was the fact that Paige Hareb had been a star performer and the commentators did not let us forget it, constantly referring to her impressive performance. So, I went back to see what the NZ news had written about it, yet I could find nothing. Not a thing. Taking the time difference into account I waited and continued to check throughout the day to see what would be made of our local girl’s contribution to such an upset, yet no matter how many times I looked I could not find anything. The next day the finals emerged, The World Team up against the powerhouse Team USA and Brazil. Both teams boasting numerous World Titles between them, the World Team were definitely the underdogs. So, you can imagine the excitement when against all odds, the World Team went on to take out the event, knocking out 11 x World Champion, Kelly Slater and his team mates including 3 x World Champion, Carissa Moore and current World Champion, John John Florence, and our very own Kiwi local was one of the standouts.
Despite Paige’s impressive performance, coverage in New Zealand was poor to say the least. However, this is just one of the many challenges faced by athletes of “minor” sports and particularly female athletes of those minor sports.
Lucky for us we have known Paige since she was a wee grom so we thought we’d get the goss straight from the horse’s mouth while she was home recently between events.
What was the vibe like at the Founders Cup? It was the best event I’ve been to. Obviously, all the surfers were super happy to be surfing there but Kelly Slater has the whole surf ranch set up pretty well including huge buffet meals three times a day like you’re at a flash, healthy wedding. I think everyone was less serious and having a lot more fun than any other contest because it didn’t really count for anything. No real title or prize money, just there having fun.
Tell us how the wave worked and how did it differ from normal waves? Kelly and his team have worked out that it’s perfect to make a wave break every four minutes to let the water settle after each wave. You can ride a wave for about 50 seconds compared to a ’normal’ wave would be at least half that amount of time, so your legs can get pretty jelly like.
For someone who is not a surfer can you explain the challenges? It’s a pretty perfect set up for a surfer so I guess the main frustrations say are you want to try new things but if you fall off at the start, waiting 4 minutes feels like forever. There’s also a good barrel at the end of each wave so you almost would rather go straight the whole wave just to make sure you get to the barrel section to get tubed (inside the hollow part of the wave). Training there, surfing a wave for 50 seconds every four minutes can get super draining and your legs fatigue quickly, also being in the middle of nowhere in desert-like heat, you get dehydrated very quick without really noticing too.
Can you explain how the competition was organised and took place? WSL (World Surf League) hadn’t really done a contest like this before. The team format was new to everyone. Five teams consisting of five people, three men and two females. Every surfer gets one left hander and one right hander (a wave going each way). They were scored on this, the we all got two more goes to try and improve our score to go towards our final team score.
How was the environment and how did it different from other competitions? To start with you have to drive four hours inland to the middle of nowhere. As a surfer I’ve never ever done that before, so it was a surreal feeling. Because there’s only one wave every four minutes, you’re the only surfer in the pool so everyone is watching you. There’s nothing else going on so there’s a whole lot more pressure on you to perform or crack under pressure. Every day I was there I had a little giggle to myself and thought, “where the hell am I surfing right now?!” You’re literally in the middle of a dessert but Kelly has made the surf ranch feel like home.
Do you think because wave selection was made for you, you performed better? I think it definitely takes that skill and/or luck out of it with wave selection and just came down to pure talent on the wave. I really liked it because yes, I don’t have the best wave selection sometimes haha.
Could this be the platform for the Surfing Olympics? Yes, it could be but it’s still up in the air. I know WSL and a lot of surfers would like to see a wave pool used in the Olympics just because it is such a level playing field, but also exciting. We just really don’t want to rely on mother nature to compete for a gold medal because it could be 1ft and onshore and no one wants to watch that. 2020 is the first time we will see surfing in the Olympics, so we want to show the world how amazing the sport really is and to rely on mother nature, it seems a bit risky to me.
Were you aware of the lack of coverage back in New Zealand? I did hear from a few people claiming that the coverage of it was bad in NZ, which sucks because there’s so many people in NZ that surf and are interested in it. We only want it to get more popular too and more coverage
"I know WSL and a lot of surfers would like to see a wave p pool used in the Olympicsyp jjust because it is such a level pplaying y g fiElD, But Also exciting. "
will help that. I think some media did eventually catch onto after a few complaints but that’s not good enough, surfing deserves coverage.
Does the media presence or support effect your performance? To be honest I really don’t care whether I’m in the media or not but for the actual sport, it is nice to see it getting coverage and this was a surfing first, I was surprised the media weren’t onto it in NZ. It’s ironic because it was the first event that CBS (America’s largest TV network) wanted to talk to WSL and broadcast it because you could say, “we are starting on Saturday at 9am no matter what” because you don’t need to check the conditions, you know that its perfect waves and going to be running and you know what time. Just that in itself is a bit of a game changer for surfing’s future.
You have spent your adult life as a professional surfer, and have represented not just yourself but New Zealand as well – You have had some great successes would you see the winning of the inaugural Founders Cup the pinnacle or is there another moment that tops that? The surf ranch really did blow my mind and I guess the more I think about and look back on that moment, it definitely was a big and special moment I will never forget. I’d say it was definitely up there with one of my career highlights. I’m competitive though so I still want more haha! I think winning a world qualifying contest and qualifying for the first time will always be a fond memory, 3rd in my first ever World tour event just losing to Steph Gilmore and re-qualifying after being knocked off for three years is an unforgettable moment too. All special and close to my heart for different reasons.
ABOVE: Gold medals for Team World (l-r:Kanoa Igarashi (Japan), Paige Hareb (NZ), Jordy Smith (South Africa), Bianca Buitendag (South Africa), Michel Bourez (Tahiti)
ABOVE: Hard to believe this wave is miles from any ocean... Kelly Slater's wave pool provided the perfect platform for Paige Hareb to showcase her talents