- WSL / Matt Dunbar

Sage Erickson doesn't mind admitting she was scared before her Elimination Round heat at the Boost Mobile Margaret River Pro presented by Corona.

Big waves scare everyone, even the specialists who hunt them across the globe. That whole game is about being scared and going anyway, which is exactly what she did. And then she won.

"I had come down the night before, to really get a grasp of how big the end of the day got for the Men's and it was huge," Erickson said.

Those waves were some of the largest seen in a Championship Tour event, twelve-to-fifteen foot no matter who's counting; Downplaying the size of waves has been a part of surfing since people began riding them, but by anyone's standards these were serious, coming out of the Southern Ocean at the bottom of the world, with nothing to slow them down until they detonated at Main Break.

MARGARET RIVER, AUS - MAY 2: Sage Erickson of the United States surfing in Heat 5 of Round 1 of the Boost Mobile Margaret River Pro presented by Corona on May 2, 2021 in Margaret River, WA, Australia.(Photo by Matt Dunbar/World Surf League via Getty Image Sage Erickson won her heat with Keely Andrew and Courtney Conlogue despite serious apprehensions about even paddling out. - WSL / Matt Dunbar

"When I showed up in the morning I actually drove away, because I was like ... there's probably no way we'll be on, it's twelve foot, it's huge, it's windy, and when I got the call on I just had a lot of nerves.

"There was a lot of wind, and I was watching a lot of guys go over the falls and not make it down the face of the wave ... and I actually didn't want to go out," Erickson said.

It's hard to believe Erickson was the only athlete feeling this way. A safer bet is that she's just the only one who admitted it. But big, heavy waves have never loomed so large for the women on the Championship Tour. The Maui Pro presented by ROXY was finished at PIpeline this year, Teahupoo is a Tour stop again and there's a new generation young women following in the footsteps of chargers such as Rochelle Ballard and Keala Kennelly.

In Classic California Clash, Erickson Upsets Conlogue In Elimination Round
The American powers past her rival with an emphatic win at Main Break to book a spot into the Round of 16, with Keely Andrew also advancing.

Perhaps in the past, the Women's event wouldn't have run in waves this big. Not anymore. Anyone who wants to be on the Championship Tour -- male or female -- is going to have to have a go at waves like Pipe, or The Box, just across the bay from Main Break. Sage knows that as well as anyone.

"I had texted Jessie [Miley-Dyer] and Renato [Hickel], the commissioners to ask if I could have a conversation, because when I'm really nervous I like to ask questions. And I constantly believe in growing and learning, that's why I love competing.

"The commissioners reinforced to me that we will get the best big waves out of the whole day, and the women need to be pushed; this is the generation to do it. There's a big part in that for me.

"I was a part of that transition from Maui to Pipe and that was a huge opportunity. The women can do it, and I think that is something that is hard about change is you don't know what will happen when you're in it, but if you take a step back and look at the big picture we're more than capable.

"The Tour's going to get really intimidating with [waves like] Teahupoo and Sunset and Pipe and this is step towards that so I had to physically take the step towards it."

What makes Sage's victory even more impressive is that it was against rival Courtney Conlogue, a fellow Californian who looks especially comfortable in solid waves. The smart money wasn't on Sage, but she went out and got the job done even though she was scared, and up against a tough opponent.

"I think that was the biggest surprise for me ... I sometimes need to be afraid so that I can surf outside of my skin and what I know already, and the elements made me do that."

Being scared but contemplating going all the same is surfing's fundamental conundrum. We start scared of whitewater and gentle shore breaks and work our way up in increments, always a little afraid and then especially happy once that little step is conquered.

If it wasn't a least a little bit thrilling, surfers wouldn't be so addicted; if it was always petrifying we'd never go out. Fear is a fundamental ingredient.

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