Paige Hareb is New Zealand’s most successful surfer and her achievements, as the World Surf League (WSL) season for 2018 come to a close, stand testament to her competitive character and determination. The 2018 season was her seventh year competing on the WSL Championship Tour and she was thrown every kind of curve ball … and survived. She’s one of our favourite surf athletes and in 2019 will represent New Zealand once again on the Championship Tour, this time alongside Ricardo Christie.
Her 2018 season had it all – a brutal run in the Championship Tour (CT) events, bowing out in the first elimination round in the first five rounds and then sustaining an injury during a free-surf in Mexico. That forced here to miss the Jeffrey’s Bay contest with the injury and a Qualifying Series (QS) event. Paige returned to competition and then stumbled three more times at the first exit before breaking through for a fifth in big powerful waves at the Beachwaver Maui Pro in Hawaii. She finisheds the season in 18th on the CT – eight places adrift of re-qualification. It’s a dreadful run on paper, but during all of that she was building on the QS and tapped her true potential as part of the winning World Team at The Founders Cup held in Kelly Slater’s wave pool. She didn’t just make up numbers here. She was a standout. Then, a decade since her last QS event win, Paige won the White Buffalo Hyuga Pro in Japan in October. She ended the season with two third place finishes and three fifth places to climb to fourth on the QS rankings and secure her re-qualification.
“It has definitely been a crazy roller coaster of a season that you couldn’t write,” Paige smiles. “But even with the downs it has been such a fun, amazing year for me. I’ve really enjoyed it and so happy to finally make it out of that round two on the CT. That was one of my goals so to accomplish it was a very nice feeling.”
Paige said her whole season had felt like a big confidence boost to her.
“I started the year strong on the QS series and it kinda just flowed from there,” she offers. “I’ve worked with a few different coaches who I think have helped, but I think something just clicked with me mentally.”
“A big turning point was working with my long-time shaper, Wayne McKewen, and Mt Woodgee surfboards who made me some pretty magic boards this year,” Paige explains. “After trying everything and anything and working hard, the results are really the icing on the cake – the end result to the whole package and process of hard work paying off and of course that little extra boost of confidence.”
Her 2018 CT season seemed like a punishing one, but from the early exits Paige was able to draw positives and build upon each one.
“I think the CT is just a whole jump up a level,” she begins. “All the women surf amazing – that’s why they are on that top tour. I felt pretty good within myself and surfing at the start of the year. I think, at least the first three CT events, I was knocked out by Lakey Petersen who finished world number two this year. Then Tyler Wright who is 2x World Champion and Steph Gilmore – 7 x World Champ, so I guess you could say they are pretty tough competition.”
Paige laughs and shakes her head.
“With all those heats I was well within reach of beating them,” she explains. “Sometimes less than a point, which is nothing in surfing. It gave me confidence to keep pushing, but losing one after the other all the time can take a toll on your mental game. For me, it just fired me up to work harder and not give up so that fifth at the end of the year tasted extra sweet.”
Paige was in Mexico for a QS event when a hurricane started to bear down on them. She made the most of the swell, but paid a terrible price.
“We arrived in Mexico just as a big, scary hurricane arrived,” she recalls. “We got cabin fever for a couple of days so decided to test out the hurricane swell the day before the contest was meant to start. I caught a few waves, but me being competitive with myself I wanted to fit an extra turn in on the wave, which I did but had to jump off right before a rock. I popped up to see my surfboard up on the big rock. I was trying to get it off when another big wave came and I had no time to swim to the side of the rock, which was at least 2-3m wide. The wave picked me up and slammed me sideways into the rock. I tried protecting myself, so it was actually the rock that pushed my elbow into my 9th and 10th right ribs. I heard them instantly crack underwater. I could barely breathe or move. Somehow I drifted closer to the beach. I couldn’t scream or yell, so I tried waving to the only guy on the beach – a local Mexican surfer. He waved back at me. After a few more waving exchanges he finally realized that I wasn’t just being friendly and needed some serious help.”
“I lay on the beach, my lips going blue and the doctor was worried I had punctured my lung and/or liver, but still wouldn’t move me off the beach until I showed them my credit card,” she shares.
I lay on the beach, my lips going blue and the doctor was worried I had punctured my lung and/or liver, but still wouldn’t move me off the beach until I showed them my credit card.
“I almost punctured my right lung, which caused fluid on it and I wasn’t allowed to fly home until it cleared,” she explains. “Luckily, it was only four days, because I didn’t want to be stuck in Mexico by myself. I flew home, hopped off the plane and drove straight to the High Performance Sport NZ centre to see the doctor, physio and trainer. In my head I was getting back to surfing asap. Much to my disgust they told me to go home and lie on my back for another week before I could do anything. As an athlete that’s the hardest thing to do. In hindsight that was the best week of doing nothing ever. My mind ran wild with ‘what-ifs?’ and goals. It was a good reset button and I really enjoyed the rehab and the team helping me, it made me more focused and determined than maybe ever before in my career.”
Paige said The Founders Cup experience was amazing and she really liked the team dynamic.
“I hadn’t been in a team environment like that for a few years and the whole vibe of the comp seemed a lot more chill and fun, because we weren’t really competing against each other,” she reveals. “To be amongst all those top men and women was priceless. Jordy Smith was an awesome captain and kept it fun, but I still felt so much pressure. I guess I thrived on it, too. I didn’t want to let the team down. I also had a coach there who helped me mentally, but also to have fun.
“Practicing there a couple of days before with pretty much just myself there surfing back and forth and really trying to get my backhand barrel riding down helped my confidence heaps and maybe made the other girls’ heads turn a little bit,” she laughs. “I was shocked when Tyler Wright was asking me what board I was riding. I had to look behind me to make sure she wasn’t asking someone else.”
Her Founder’s Cup performance revealed what she was capable of and she proved it again with her fifth place in Hawaii. So, what does 2019 look like for her?
“I just finished the 2018 season a couple of weeks ago and I’m already thinking about next year – especially since there is a QS 6000 event in Florida starting January 14,” she smiles. “It’s a pretty quick turnaround. I’m going to give myself only a few more days off before I really get into it. This whole year has just made me more excited for next year and I really want to do the best I can. That’s going to require some training over the next month for the QS and next three months for the CT. I’m still playing around with my boards so hopefully I’ll nail the perfect dimensions for my boards with Mt Woodgee. I want to get fitter and stronger, so I’ll be working a lot on that. My mental game is feeling the best it has been in a long time, so I’ll just try and carry that through with me for 2019. One of my goals is to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.”
Some commentators have noted that Paige has a physiological muscle imbalance – that is her training is focused on her toe-side turns, which are so strong, but out of balance with her heel-side turns. Without that balance they claim the power she can put to the rail is affected. They also think it is an easy training win for her and that with her heel-side turns matching her toe-side turns, she’ll be lethal. I put that to Paige.
“I have never ever heard that before,” she laughs. “I love a good couch coach commentator. When have they seen me go left? The whole tour is rights. I feel like my backhand has been a strength, but that’s almost because it has had to be. My forehand I did work on a little bit this year, but it’s hard to know on the CT – we don’t have lefts, so I can’t see how the judges are judging it. I do feel like on the QS series in the last couple of years I have surprised myself with higher scores on my forehand compared to some previous years so, yeah, I guess it’s still a work in progress, but even my backhand is, too.”
“That’s one thing about Slater’s wave pool,” she continues. “You can definitely figure out peoples’ strengths and weaknesses. Of course, I was comparing my surfing and scores to the other girls there and I think overall I was in the top five for getting consistent mid-high scores on both lefts and rights, but if you look at World Champ, Tyler Wright, she was struggling to get over a six on her backhand on lefts every time.”
The WSL has put itself out there for 2019 and is making the women’s and men’s prize money equal. It’s an incredibly swift progression, many say not a season too soon, but it’s one of the few sports to take the step.
“It’s amazing that WSL have done that for the women,” offers Paige. “But at the same time it’s 2019 and we’re celebrating this? It should have happened years ago. But it has happened, so I’m still happy. It definitely shows progression not only in the sport, but hopefully in the world too.”
For 2018 Paige earned $24,750 for her 15,400 points on the QS and earned $94,475 for her 14,475 points on the CT. That’s an annual income of nearly $120K from prizemoney. Next year those results will net her about 5 percent more – in actual fact the WSL is already paying pretty close to even across genders, which might explain how easy it was for them to make that call. I ask Paige if she thinks that might mean she will have to paddle out to big and scary Teahupoo one day? Personally, that’s the sole, okay, one of the reasons I have never pursued a WCT career. Paige wastes no time in tearing me down.
“Why do you have to ask the question about Teahupoo including the words ‘big and scary’ to me?” she asserts. “I feel like you wouldn’t use those words when asking any of the men on tour about Teahupoo. Did you know they used to have a Women’s CT event there?”
Why do you have to ask the question about Teahupoo including the words ‘big and scary’ to me? I feel like you wouldn’t use those words when asking any of the men on tour about Teahupoo.
(I did know that and I had asked the men about the fear of big and scary Teahupoo before).
“The women charged it and got some of the best barrels,” she continues. “Ladies like Sofia Mulanovich, Chelsea Hedges, Megan Abubo and Rochelle Ballard and if events like that stayed on the Women’s Tour I have no doubt that some of those ladies could easily still be on tour. It’s funny since the equal pay, the most asked question I’ve had is about being able to surf ‘bigger, more scary’ waves, but my reply to that is ‘do the men want to surf in equal surf conditions to what the ladies get put out in?’. I honestly think a World Surfing Champion should be able to surf in any kind of condition whether they are male or female and of course they both deserve the same pay cheque.”
I like seeing a glimpse of her fire, even if I am the one getting burnt, but to be at the level she is, I imagine that fire is part of the reason.
She doesn’t get much of an off-season, but something tells me she’s hardly wanting it.
“I’ve literally had one week out of the water and that’s only because I got pretty cut up on the reef in Hawaii,” she explains. “So I have just been trying to heal them properly. I’m already thinking about next year and literally have less than a month until my first event of the year. So I’ll be home for Xmas in Taranaki and training hard.”
Paige said it was pretty special to have Ricardo Christie qualify for 2019, too.
“We started off doing all the comps together and have been doing it all as long as each other so have watched and supported each other for over a decade,” Paige smiles. “Ric is such a good surfer and a great guy, so I’m so happy and proud of him. Him qualifying has almost made me more motivated for hopefully both of us to do really well on the tour. It’s going to be good having a Kiwi to support at nearly every event so hopefully we can rise to the occasion and make our own little Kiwi storm against some of those bigger countries.”
I thank Paige for her time and for making the WSL so exciting for all of us Kiwis here at home.
“Thanks to everyone for their support, friends, family, fans, but most of all my sponsors,” she adds. “I nearly gave up and wouldn’t be where I am today without you all.”