Sage Erickson is coming into her own. Not just because she's jumped to No. 9 on the Championship Tour (CT) rankings -- inside the qualification cutoff -- or sits comfortably at No. 4 on the Qualifying Series (QS). Instead, it's a confidence and a vision that seem to be propelling her forward, with a new rhythm in the water and out.
In early September, Erickson won the QS6,000 Pantin Classic Galicia Pro, which set her up for a qualification fallback with her QS rank. Immediately afterward, she jetted home to compete in the Swatch Women's Pro at Trestles, where she made her first CT Semifinal in a year. This week, she's back in Europe for the Cascais Women's Pro, where she's already made it to Round Four. After her strong opener here, she reflected in an email on where she's been, and where she's going.
WSL: It looks like you shifted into another competitive gear at the Swatch Trestles Pro. How do you feel about your success there?
Sage Erickson: Trestles was a really cool experience for me. The transition into competition was pretty crazy because I had one day in between there and winning Spain. After winning in Spain, I took on a 7-hour drive through the night to make my flight out of Lisbon at 9 a.m. I had one night at home in my own bed then straight into competition.
Tommy Whitaker gives me a lot of confidence in my decisions in and out of the water. He doesn't necessarily cater to my emotions, but builds up my confidence with a lot of honesty.
It felt good to keep my rhythm coming from Europe, but also was a challenge. I think I just went into overdrive mode at that point.
What was the secret to your success at Trestles -- have you been doing any new training -- mental, physical, or otherwise?
I've been working with Tommy Whitaker all year and he gives me a lot of confidence in my decisions in and out of the water. He doesn't necessarily cater to my emotions, but builds up my confidence with a lot of honesty. I respect his outlook on competing and as someone that has had so much success in his own career, rightfully so.
This year I feel like my hard work is starting to show a bit more. I've dealt with a few challenges the last couple of years. A lot of people don't know, but I spent a lot of my savings in 2014 in an effort to make it back on tour and stay on tour. I was without a major sponsor for a few years and, to be honest, professional surfing is probably one of the most expensive sports you can do. That incentive of prize money and the quality of the tour these days was also a huge incentive for me to get back on tour.
A lot of people don't know, but I spent a lot of my savings in 2014 in an effort to make it back on tour and stay on tour. The mentality that every hardship has a winning lesson has directed me to this point.
So that's a drive for me. And, too, the mentality that every hardship has a winning lesson has directed me to this point. The losses, the wins. God truly has shown me what it's like to work for goals and achieve them slowly but to not give up. With sacrifice there is reward as long as we do it truthfully, and with the most genuine motive for our best interests without compromising someone else in the meantime.
Does the prospect of the end of the year and qualification have any impact on your drive? Is that stressful, or no big deal at this point?
I think I've had a perspective shift this last year. I've always focused on the fact that if I'm on tour I'm reaching my full potential. But I don't want to just be on tour anymore. I want to perform and do really well on it.
I've had that success on the QS twice now, winning the overall ratings. It's really hard and tiring to do both tours. I feel sometimes it alters the focus too much from one to another. The only thing that keeps me doing both is knowing I have double the chance of being on the CT the following year. I'm not much a gambler, but statistics sometimes outweigh optimism. You have to be smart with choices on tour because they can easily cost you a result. I've always been a heavily faith-driven person, so I've been incorporating the fact that you have to act on your opportunities, and yes things come into our life for a reason, but it's our reaction to those that decide our future.
In addition to Tommy, do you work with anyone on a consistent basis -- whether it's freesurfing with Laura Enever, or something else?
It's so important to surround yourself with people that believe in you and respect your approach. Competing is a hard thing to balance. You want to tell yourself you're the best all the time because you need to be confident to win but you also don't want to be overly egotistical and arrogant. There's nothing more that turns me away from people than those things. People that make you happy change your performance.
Competing is a hard thing to balance. You want to tell yourself you're the best all the time because you need to be confident to win but you also don't want to be overly egotistical and arrogant.
I can probably guarantee you that every athlete thinks the same thing, unless they have no dependency on people's influence whatsoever, but then again we are such a culturally influenced generation. I love the girls on tour and am constantly inspired by their lives. I appreciate my family so much and the friends who text me throughout the night while I compete. Each person works with me a little, in some sort of way every event.
What is your number one goal for the rest of the season?
I want to get to number 7 at least! I think that's a reasonable goal. Top 5 being the ultimate at this point.
Along with competing, this year you've been working on a web series with Laura. What inspired the series, and what's your goal with it?
I'm so excited about this project. We want to involve more people in our lives outside of a heat. We have the best coverage from the WSL on competing, but there is so much more to our lives than just that. We do a lot of fun things that I think will make people laugh and get to experience the world's cultures more! Also, Laura is hilarious. She's been one of the most light-hearted friends to me and I want people to experience that.
On another note, you recently visited Kelly Slater's wave pool. What was that like?
Speechless. I got the best barrel of my life with one of my best friends. The night before going I had butterflies, when do I get butterflies anymore?! The entire system of the place is incredible. You get a sense of the future while surfing and what competitive surfing can be in 20 years. The precision, the guarantee. For me surfing has always been so spontaneous, ever-changing, and to ride something so predictable was mind-boggling. I'm still in disbelief of its beauty.
So, in surfing one of the best feelings -- if not the best -- is getting barreled. I thought that maybe that feeling would be different at Kelly's pool because it's a man-made barrel. But I felt that same feeling and stoke, as if it was out in the ocean. You can't fake feelings and with that said, bravo Kelly.