Vans US Open of Surfing

Lakey Peterson's Season Debut at Vans US Open Will Add Drama

Anna Dimond

Lakey Peterson's 2016 season was derailed before it even started. After breaking her ankle in February, she was forced to sit out all five of the women's Championship Tour events so far. But next week she'll be back at the Vans US Open of Surfing, a place where she's won before and where her progressive mojo has room to roam free.

Peterson vs. Conlogue
The last we saw of Lakey, she was having a successful second half of her 2015 season. Her best result of the year was in Cascais, Portugal, where she finished runner-up to Courtney Conlogue.

In fact, freedom is exactly what Peterson has in mind: Since it's more likely that she'll score an injury wildcard for 2017 than a world title, there are none of the expectations that come with competing in the back-half of the year. "The goal is to really take advantage of the next five events," she said. "To take the time to learn as much as I can about strategy while I don't have that pressure on me."

Before she makes her 2016 debut, see what else she's planning for Huntington Beach, and beyond.

WSL: You're coming back for the Vans US Open, where you've won before. What are your goals for that contest and the rest of your year?
Lakey Peterson: The contest is at home, which is nice because my family can come. I want to take advantage of the opportunity to try some new things in heats that I normally wouldn't.

Lakey Peterson (USA) is looking strong coming into the final event of the year at the Target Maui Pro and is prepared for her Heat 2, Round 1 match up  against Malia Manuel (HAW) and Sage Erickson (USA). The Target Maui Pro last November was Lakey's last contest before breaking her ankle. - WSL / Poullenot/Aquashot

I can now, because I don't have that expectation of trying to win. I'm excited to be able to take some risks and not to have to surf in such a calculated way. For me, this is like my Snapper, [the first event of the year].

WSL: How did your recovery go?
LP: Looking back on it all now and being healthy, I think it happened for a reason. I learned a lot about patience and explored other areas of my life.

Looking back on my ankle break, I think it happened for a reason. But it's also been weird. The timing was the biggest bummer.

But it's also been weird. Obviously the timing of when I broke my ankle was bad, because it was two weeks before Snapper kicked off. It's not like I broke it in June, and only would have missed one event. So the timing was the biggest bummer.

My goal had always been to make the Fiji Pro, which was realistic at the time. I actually had tickets to go. I got the green light from Mark Kozuki, who I'm working with as a physio, but at the last second my back had a few issues. Everything didn't feel quite good enough, especially with Fiji being a heavier wave.

Lakey Peterson won her Round 4 heat, for her best result in a year. Missing the Fiji Women's Pro this year was painful for Peterson, who made it to the Semis there in 2015. - WSL / Kirstin

Mark said, ‘I think you shouldn't do it.' Deep down it was a hard to say no to, because it's the best event ever. But I'm healthy now. I'm trying to get my hours up in the water -- that Baja trip [with coach mike Parsons] was so awesome. We surfed for eight hours a day. Everything's feeling really good. And the rest of this year, I don't have any pressure, which is exciting. I can just enjoy myself and surf freely.

WSL: You mentioned you learned a lot during this process. What did you learn?
LP: I learned a lot about patience. I've never had a big injury like this. Little things here and there, but never something that took me completely out of the water for three or four months. So for me, I appreciate surfing more and never want to take it for granted. I realized how much I love it and how much joy it brings me. Competing for so long, you start to lose sight of that joy of it and love of it. Getting injured brought that perspective back.

Competing for so long, you start to lose sight of that joy of it. Getting injured brought that perspective back.

It gave me perspective and appreciation for my health. And some motivation; I don't know how long I'm going to be on the world tour, I hope I can be on for as long as possible. But it's given me a lot of motivation to take advantage of the next five, seven years that I'm on the tour. And makes me want to give it my all.

Lakey Peterson and Thomas Allan in Baja. Recovery hasn't been all doom and gloom: Peterson, her boyfriend (pictured) and coach Mike Parsons made a quick trip to Baja, Mexico, last month. - WSL / @thomas allan

I think I was losing that before. You get kind of stuck in the routine -- the time off rekindled that fire in me a bit. I learned about myself, and confidence.

WSL: What was your internal process like -- how did you get to that point?
LP: I was still checking the waves every day. My mind was still in surfing so much. I didn't want to accept the fact that I was going to be injured for so long and that I wasn't there -- I wasn't on the Gold Coast, I wasn't doing the first half of the year.

What I learned was how to shut off surfing for a little while. Like, 'OK, I can't surf for a while.' So I might as well invest my time in other things and take advantage of this time to steer away from surfing for a little bit. Because I don't know when I'll have time like that again, when I can do other things with my days and grow in other aspects of my life.

It took me a few weeks to accept my injury. But once I stopped fighting it, that's when I got my happiness back.

It took me a few weeks to accept it. But once I stopped fighting it, that's when I got my happiness back and was able to learn more. That's also when my ankle started improving.

WSL: What was a typical day like during your recovery?
LP: Once I started rehab it was a little bit different. Because when I had the cast on it, there's not a lot you can do. You're just sitting around. I tried to get into the pool a little bit, but even with a waterproof cast it's disgusting.

Lakey Peterson (USA) avoided elimination placing first in her Round 2 heat. Peterson feels at home at Huntington Beach, and will have friends and family cheering her on there. It's likely her time off will pay off when she returns to competition next week. - WSL / Sean Rowland

But once that came off, it got more intense. I worked with Mark. For 7 or 8 weeks straight, I'd wake up, and I'd do my exercises on this little disc he gave me. Then I'd go to Mark's for a few hours. Then I'd get the stim machine, and we'd so stuff to strengthen it.

Once it could move, I'd try to go for walks or something active. But for 8 weeks there, I was at Mark's five days a week, for three hours a day. And at home I was doing stuff in the morning and at night. But it worked, I know I did everything I could to get my ankle back to 100 percent. It makes it easier to sleep at night knowing you did everything you could to help it get better.

WSL: Rankings-wise, it's been an interesting year. What's your take on the state of the union?
LP: It's cool, there's new people doing well and things are changed. But for me, it's weird, because I know I'm pre-seeded and will face Tyler or Courtney or someone else in the top-tier, and I'll be coming straight in, from dead last basically. I'm excited to see what the vibe is like this year, I haven't been around it for a while. (Editor's note: She'll be facing three-time world champ Carissa Moore and Aussie Laura Enever in Round One.)

A screen grab from The Salty Coconut, Peterson's blog. Lakey's passion for fitness and food comes to life on her blog, The Salty Coconut. Blogging and competing full-time, however, proved to be a tall order. - WSL / The Salty Coconut

WSL: You also have a great blog. Are you continuing? Do you see yourself doing more of it?
LP: I have a big passion for health and fitness and lifestyle. I think it makes your life way better, and I want to pass that on to as many people as possible. At the moment, I'm not updating it much - I think I underestimated the need to update it so much. I was finding myself stressing a little bit too hard about it.

One day, I have a vision to continue that and grow it and maybe collaborate with different companies. I just want people to learn about health and fitness and have a good, fun life.

Catch Lakey back in action live daily at the Vans US Open of Surfing from July 25 - 31. Watch on the WSL website and app.