• • • Sarah Hauser, Windsurfing extraordinaire and environmental entrepreneur, chats with us about her documentary ‘Girl on Wave’, growing up in New Caledonia, and the importance of taking care of yourself both physically and mentally whilst in the ocean.

Hi Sarah!

I read that you were in the water from a very young age due to being raised in New Caledonia and your dad teaching you how to windsurf. What do you think it was that really attracted you to the ocean and revolving your life around it?

It was definitely growing up on an island as you’re surrounded by nature and the ocean all the time. I was also very lucky to have a father who was passionate about sailing, windsurfing and spearfishing. But things could’ve also gone the opposite way. I’ve seen it so many times where you will have this adventurous dad but the daughters don’t necessarily get to live the adventurous lifestyle like their fathers

I grew up with two younger brothers and a bunch of my cousins, who are all boys. I would always do the same things that they would do, and for that, I’m super grateful.

I think to not only have that water experience but to always have been invited to go spearfishing, to go on a crazy boat ride or on a surf session was amazing. Because so often I see younger girls just picking up seashells – and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m just aware that not everybody gets the chance that I did to really get invited to do the “boy” stuff.

So, the passion for the ocean came from my dad but the sports and the waves, that came a lot with interacting with boys. Later on, when I turned 15, I got to surf my first waves in New Caledonia and that flipped a switch in my brain. From that moment on I knew I had to give a special place in my life for surfing waves.

For those who do not know, you were the star of a documentary ‘Girl on Wave’. Can you tell me a bit more about how this went from an idea to conception?

It came from a lucky moment when I was trying to kickstart my career and things were not easy. I had to work on the side of competing and training, so, I was taking on different jobs and at one point I was programming part-time to pay bills (as I have a degree in Computer Science).

It ended up leading me to meet a video producer from Arizona and when he learnt more about me and what I was trying to accomplish, he said he had a dream to make a documentary about water sports.

Coming from Phoenix, for him shooting in Maui was the most exciting thing that he could do, and I thought it was a joke when he told me that he was going to make a film about me. However, six months later, he was in Maui with all his cameras and we were filming.

At first, I don’t know if I fully believed this was going to be a real thing, I was more excited to capture some footage, as in our sports, it is something that we rely heavily on upon. But we had great chemistry, and I particularly loved that he was from a place that had nothing to do with Maui.

Being from Arizona, he had a brand new eye on everything that I saw would be a great power, because windsurfing is a small industry that not many people know about and so I thought that there’s nothing better than someone who’s from a different world to introduce others to the windsurfing world.

The Ocean and It’s Big Challenges

Windsurfing has taken you all around the world to some amazing coastlines. Is there a memorable moment that really stands out in terms of your career and your personal achievement?

Oh wow! It’s hard to pick one. Well, I would definitely mention riding ‘Jaws’. Jaws is a very big wave break in Maui. It’s kind of – for any surfer or windsurfer – a big milestone for them as they are very famous waves and because they are so big and so perfect. They break very rarely and so for you to get a session out there, there are a lot of things that need to align, and a lot of preparation.

There are heavy consequences if things go wrong. You need to be able to hold your breath and be strong to handle very powerful wipeouts. I’ve always been attracted to those big challenges that require a tonne of preparation and time for some very special moments. In the end, it was my best day out there, I got 6 waves. I would do it all over again! It is the most insane sensation catching those giant waves and hearing it breaking behind you

When you try and look up at the top of the wave, you can’t even see the horizon. You just see the smooth and blue water stretching out. It is scary and beautiful at the same time. It just makes me feel at peace, as it was such a huge dream to go out there and a special moment.

Wow. You were talking about preparation and all the logistics that everything needs to align in terms of the condition. Did you do anything to prepare mentally?

Yes! The principle of free diving was very helpful to manage fear because it teaches you how to control the instinctive part of your brain to stay underwater for a little longer, whether that be 30 seconds or 1 minute.

It’s all about becoming aware of those muscle contractions and the sensation of being able to control and relax them. It’s those techniques that I rely on when I’m in situations of high stress or high anxiety, either for big waves or life in general.

Also, I’ve come to practice saying aloud, “I can do this!”, and the power in that – it might sound cheesy – when you are really unsure about something, having your voice saying those words can really change something in your chemistry.

Recently, I got to go to Fiji to ride another big wave called ‘CloudBreak’. It was a very stressful trip, not just because the wave is big and the rift is sharp, but also the trip to get there.

I booked a ticket an hour and a half before the plane took off, so it was a rush to pack and get to the airport on time, but the whole time I was saying aloud “I am going to catch the wave in Fiji” and then when we were there, I was very scared that I was going to get hurt, but I kept saying aloud “I am trained for this, I am prepared for this”.

That’s so interesting. You’re right, in everything in life, it is important to have those affirmations, regardless of what you’re facing – to believe in yourself.

Yes it is! Some people would say it is a very easy thing to do to just say something, but there’s a saying: “Things that are easy to do are also not easy to do”, but you’ve still got to do it.

There are many circumstances that I’m so glad I was brave or crazy enough to do...

A Social Mover and Shaker

So, we’ve briefly spoken about ‘Trashy Selfie before, which is a movement encouraging people to pick up trash they find along the beach and take a selfie while doing it. Can you tell me a little bit more about how this idea came about and your plans for it?

The idea came when I was with my friend, Paige Alms, who is also a professional surf athlete. We were at the beach together and when we would see trash, we would pick it up and put it in the bin.

At the same time, a lot of people were taking photos and selfies, as it was a very touristy beach, so we just said jokingly “what if, every time someone takes a selfie, somebody picks up some trash?”.

From there, we did some research and we found out that every day there are one million selfies that are being posted online and then putting together with the amount of trash that is dumped in the ocean every day, we came up with the idea of ‘TrashySelfie’.

We built a vision board and the more we were getting excited about the idea, the more we realised it’s potential.

There was a real need to continue the conversation around trash but in a more positive way.

Some of the content that was brutally honest featuring dead animals as a result of plastic in the ocean is too heavy for younger children. Selfies are such a big part of the younger generation’s life, so we thought if we would be able to connect with people in a positive way, we should be able to raise awareness about the problem and to share tips that help people reduce their waste in the first place. We want people to not feel guilty, but to feel empowered to make a difference.

I love the way you’ve put such a positive frame on it, which is so important with all of the awareness content that you see out there.

Yeah! You do need both, we don’t want to sugar coat things because we don’t want to hurt people’s feelings but there is research out there that states when you give negative messages to people, they withdraw and don’t act. So, there is a need for positive messaging around serious issues like this one.

In terms of your amazing career as a whole, what words of advice would you give to young women who are interested in doing what you are doing?

Something lately that I’ve been repeating in interviews, I think we need to trust the process a little more, to focus on the steps that we are working on.

It’s good to spend time figuring out what are our dreams, visions and goals but then we want to act on them and we need to break down this into steps.

There might be many steps between you and the goal but to figure out what steps you have to do now is key because we live in the now.

Sometimes we get so focused on the end goal, that it’s overwhelming and we wonder if we can even get there but if we try to be a little more present and focus on the task that we have now and show our best effort ‘in the moment’, that’s important. It’s good to dream but when it comes to action, you have to think of the present.

We hear so much about training and preparation, but it is also important to be bold enough to step into the arena and take the next step that you have to take.

There are so many circumstances that I’m glad I was brave or crazy enough to do something that by my means I didn’t think that I was prepared for.

Sometimes we just need to not take ourselves too seriously and be okay with a challenge. If we lose or fail, there’s so much we learn still!

Surf and The Future

What do you have upcoming for the rest of 2019 and beyond?

Well, for the rest of the year I have to continue competing on the International Windsurfing Tour. So, that will take me to Baja, Mexico, Peru and Maui. I will also work on a project I love dearly called ‘Women in Water’, that will take place in Peru straight after my competition. We started last year when we decided to help the locals to deal with their water sanitation issues.

We partnered with non-profits, the main two are ‘Beyond The Surface International’ and ‘Changing Tides Foundation’, we decided to buy water filters, an important action is that we involve the children of the surrounding villages to install them and empower the younger girls by taking them surfing to create a safe environment for them to try new things they normally wouldn’t try. We also do photo and video workshops where the kids can also tell us about their lives.

We are going back this year with new filters, check on the old ones and also try and expand more in educating about the connection between water and our health.

• • • Sarah’s perseverance and dedication to all things about the ocean excite us as we cannot wait to see what she continues to get up to in the future. A true talent in the world of Windsurfing, Sarah is creating ripples around her and paving a way for the next generation of female surfers all over the globe.

August 01, 2019 — Janaya Wilkins