Success can be a tricky beast. One minute you're on top of the world, staging a comeback. The next, you're in a fight for your professional life, all your precious progress at risk.
But Pauline Ado is philosophical about that tricky high-wire act -- even in the face of potentially losing her spot on the Championship Tour after spending two years working to get back. "I have a few good results here and there, but I need to have a stronger second half of the year, more consistency," she said. "But also to enjoy, and to give my best in every heat. It's a hard thing to do, actually."
The French surfer returned to the big leagues this year after falling off Tour at the end of her 2014 season, and fought her way up the Qualifying Series to qualify yet again in 2017. But once she arrived she wasn't able to win a single heat, going home with five 13th-place finishes (out of 13) in a row. Her results on the QS, a tried-and-true backup option for CT surfers whose results falter, have been mixed as well. On those rankings she's currently No. 13 -- far from the qualification cutoff line there, at No. 6.
Which is why, when Ado made it to the Quarterfinals a few weeks ago at the Vans US Open of Surfing - Women's CT in Huntington Beach, it felt like a potential turning point in her year. That single achievement bumped her up four spots on the Jeep Leaderboard, to World No. 13. She's still three spots outside of re-qualification (where the cutoff is No. 10), but every step counts. That personal coup in Huntington Beach may also be paying off on the QS: Just a few weeks afterward, Ado, finished in the Semifinals at the Pro Anglet.
As she stares down the barrel of the back-half of the season -- starting with the Swatch Pro at Trestles next month -- Ado's task is far from lost on her. But how's she's managing the ups and downs of her career is instructive. Here's what she had to say, after her run at the US Open.
World Surf League: Your finish at the US Open was your best result of the year on the CT. Is there something you did differently to prepare, or something that shifted?
Pauline Ado: At this point, I thought, ‘Just try to surf your best, and stop thinking about the results.' I think I put less pressure on myself at this event, I think that's the thing. It's hard to find the right balance. Because we care so much-we dedicate our lives to this - so it's hard to find a balance between stepping back and telling yourself, ‘Hey, it's just a contest. There are more important things.' But also pushing yourself to your best.
How do you manage that?
I have a mental coach at home. We've been talking a lot, doing some exercises that help. And of course, having a family, your boyfriend, and friends around, and helping is the main thing. Being surrounded by the right people always helps.
Can you tell me a more about your coaching?
I work with a woman from home [named Stéphane Segaspe], she was actually a tennis player. So a different sport, but it works the same. It's a lot of talking, a lot of getting this distance, a lot of -- I don't know how to say in English, [visualization] -- some breathing techniques. I really like it, because it gives me a lot of perspective in life, too. I've been starting to read those kinds of books, it's super-cool.
With whom do you tend to travel on Tour?
I travel a lot with my mom. And sometimes my boyfriend, dad, or my sister come. They're taking turns, because it's hard to be away for that long, they have a life too. It's quality time with them. My boyfriend surfs -- he's a very good swimmer and competitor and bodysurfer, and also a water photographer, so it's very cool for me -- it works well!
It's tricky sometimes to get time off together at the right moment. I also like it when he comes on Tour with me because -- he's not a coach, but your family knows you so well. They know what to tell you. He has had this role -- it's harder for us, but he's getting good at it. We've been together for four years.
If there is one thing that you'd say makes the difference for you between a good performance or a tougher day, what would it be?
Where your mind is the difference. In everything. If you get your mind right, even in training, and everything you do -- I think it's the key. And people work on it really late in their career, usually, because first they think, obviously you want to surf so much when you're a kid. Then you're like, 'Well, physical training is important, too.' And a lot of times mental training comes later, and I think it puts everything together. I don't know if that's true for everyone, and their training [needs], but speaking for myself."