No matter what, Sage Erickson always keeps her head above water. The 24-year-old professional surfer was barely into her teens when she turned pro in 2008, and she qualified for the World Surf League championship tour in 2012. A difficult 2013 season put her tour status in jeopardy, so Erickson rededicated herself—not to the water, but to the gym.
“I put my head down, and I trained the hardest I ever have,” she says. “And I noticed that athletic ability came with strengthening my body, and that overflowed into my confidence.”
Erickson, a California native, spent her childhood in Hawaii, where big waves and year-round beach access created the perfect breeding ground for surfers. While walking the North Shore at Oahu one day, a young Erickson stumbled upon an abandoned board. She took it into the water, stood up on her first try and was instantly hooked. Once she moved back to the mainland—she’s now based in Ventura, Calif.—there was no doubt that surfing was her future.
Oozing with natural talent, Erickson was a rising star in the surfing world but found herself discouraged with her results. “I was so excited to be amongst the best,” she says, “and with that I lost focus on what it takes to actually be the best: coming home from competitions, and going straight to the gym to train.”
Erickson says her mentality changed in 2014, and her confidence crested last summer when she paddled out into the waters off Oceanside, Calif., and returned to shore a champion. “It was my first event back in the U.S.,” says Erickson, “and my family and friends were around and I felt their support. I ended up winning and getting carried up the beach, and solidified my spot on the 2015 championship tour.”