Professional Surfer Lakey Peterson
Star Surfer, Lakey Peterson, Hits Waves To Shine In Water and On Film
Written by Lindsay Schwartz
At first glance you may think Lakey Peterson is your typical Santa Barbara surfer girl. And in many ways she is. She loves coconut chips and horseback riding and is actively involved in areas passionate to her, including installing clean water filters in Indonesia. But this 18-year-old blonde blows your average teenager accomplishments out of the water. Literally. As a professional surfer, she won the 2012 US Open of Surf, she is currently ranked in the top 10 on the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) Women’s World Ranking, and she recently starred in the documentary about her life called, Zero to 100. Inviting Risen to her hometown, this outgoing and warm-hearted star shared about everything from faith to family, schooling to surfing, and even her tie to the Egg McMuffin.
Interviewed Exclusively for Risen Magazine in Santa Barbara, California
Risen Magazine: When you were five years old, your parents decided to take you and your two older siblings on an extensive trip around the world, which is when you first learned to surf. Describe that experience.
Lakey Peterson: It was an awesome experience. My mom had always told my dad that she wanted to do a big trip around the world once they had kids. So when I was five, and my older brother [Parker] was 10, and my sister [Whitney] was 13, my parents pulled us out of school and we just traveled for seven and a half months. We went everywhere except Asia. We traveled to Switzerland, Paris, and it was when we were in Manly, Australia, that I learned to surf. It wasn’t my first experience with waves, but it was my first experience surfing them. I got to surf every day at a surf camp, so I got a lot of time in the ocean. I still remember my instructor, Tom, called me “Lakey Surf Legend,” and I loved it. That stuck. It’s very freeing being in the ocean, it’s just you and the wave. I loved that trip; I think that we became so much closer as a family because of it.
Risen Magazine: When was it that you decided you wanted to pursue surfing?
Lakey Peterson: After we came home from that trip, I started playing tennis a lot because my dad was a tennis player, as well as my sister, but you can’t really compete with tennis so I got over it. I wanted to compete so I played flag football with the boys up until I was 10, then played baseball and basketball too. But, I grew up right on a point break, this perfect wave, Rincon, that my neighbors would take me to and I just loved it, surfing was so natural.
Risen Magazine: When did you believe you were good enough to compete?
Lakey Peterson: I decided I wanted to compete when I was 11 years old. I felt I was ready. So with my family’s support I went for it. My dad was usually working so just about every weekend my mom would drive me to competitions within California. Once I was 14, I won the NSSA (National Scholastic Surfing Association) Open Women’s Title. I was the first female surfer to perform an aerial maneuver in competition. After that, I started traveling all over the globe.
Risen Magazine: As a teenager, what was life like for you as you were making huge strides in your career?
Lakey Peterson: I’ve been homeschooled since I was in seventh grade. I just graduated from high school this year, the same time I would have if I were in public school. Honestly, it’s been hard to build relationships because I’m just gone all the time. It’s not easy; it’s something that I struggle with.
Risen Magazine: Obviously your family has been a huge support to you during your endeavor in becoming a professional surfer, but you also have some creative genes in your family, particularly concerning a specific breakfast item. Your grandfather invented the Egg McMuffin?!
Lakey Peterson: Yes! My grandfather, Herb Peterson, was friends with the founder of McDonald’s, Ray Kroc. So my grandfather managed the McDonald’s Santa Barbara accounts and noticed that there were lots of quick grab-n-go meals, but nothing was available for breakfast! He wanted to invent something hand held for those on the go and headed to work in the mornings. His favorite thing was eggs benedict so he wanted to make that into a sandwich. Now my dad manages the six McDonald’s stores in Santa Barbara. I used to take all my friends there when I was little. At age ten I was saying, “Breakfast is on me!”
I have decided to take it upon myself to really dig deeper into my faith because if I’m going to believe in something, I am going to believe in it wholeheartedly.
Risen Magazine: It seems like you have a great foundation and you’ve always been forward with your faith. Did you grow up in a Christian home, and what does Christianity look like to you?
Lakey Peterson: I did. My family surrounded us with Christian friends and great people, teaching us that you become like the people you hang out with. I’ve always known God, and believed in God. I grew up going to church here at Calvary Chapel Santa Barbara and Reality Church in Carpinteria. Lately, I have decided to take it upon myself to really dig deeper into my faith because if I’m going to believe in something, I am going to believe in it wholeheartedly. That’s just who I am. I want to be all in, or all out, so that’s what I’ve been focused on. I grew up on the Gospels and I know that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, but the last few years I have really grown in my faith, finding comfort in the fact that no matter where I am, I can open my Bible and talk to Him and He’ll talk back. Prayer has been my comfort, especially being on tour away from family and friends so often. I just find peace in prayer.
Risen Magazine: How does a relationship with God affect your career as a professional surfer?
Lakey Peterson: My faith has affected my career in a lot of different ways. The surf industry is not a God-related industry, at all. Most people don’t believe [in God] and in a way, I feel that’s exactly why I’ve been placed there – to be a light in a dark place. I want to show people my faith through actions and when opportunities arise, I take them. I tweet Bible verses and do public speaking. It’s been difficult at times, being in the position I am, but my faith has given me the strength to persevere. I have a lot of people telling me what to do with my life, a lot of opinions and input, but I’m not living for the world, I’m living for Him.
Risen Magazine: You have had a great amount of success at such a young age, what has been the most challenging aspect and what is the most enjoyable part for you?
Lakey Peterson: I have been forced to grow up quickly. Here I am, a professional athlete at age 18, I was just talking with stockbrokers this morning about investing. I’m doing things that most do when they are 25, or 35, but I’m 18 and I’m learning everything now. It’s happening so fast. It’s overwhelming at times, but I really have been praying about it, “Lord give me a clear head and tell me what I should do here.” You can’t plan out your life; you have to learn to give it to God.
Risen Magazine: Now in your rookie year as a part of the official ASP Women’s World Tour, what is the dynamic between all the girls on tour?
Lakey Peterson: It’s definitely a unique position to be in. There are only 17 of us on tour. But that’s seventeen different personalities and opinions and the tour is half the year so we see each other all the time. We stay at the same hotels, eat at the same restaurants, we go out to dinner together at night and then compete against each other the next morning. It gets weird sometimes, but we realize that it’s our job so there are no hard feelings. I’m really neutral about it and at the end of the day we all get along. We’re playing hardball in the water, but out of the water we’re all just friends having fun together, laughing.
Risen Magazine: Okay, I have to ask. Where are some favorite spots that you surf? Do you ever get nervous in the water?
Lakey Peterson: Of course! Well, I just love Rincon, it’s home. I know everyone out there in the water and I know everyone who is yelling for me when I catch a wave; it’s pumping and it’s beautiful. I also love lower Trestles down in San Clemente because it’s just great for high performance surfing. It’s a great wave to work on turns or aerials, so it’s awesome. I also love this Indonesian wave called Cold Springs, it’s a hollow reef break and obviously it’s not crowded at all. And yes, I get scared. When I know I’m in shark-infested waters, I’m on alert. Luckily, I’ve never surfed in South Africa, but still there are certain spots that you know you have to be watching more than others. I would never think of a shark in San Diego, but in Australia, if I see something large and dark moving through the water, I’m paddling in.
Risen Magazine: You are a role model to many because of your unique position; do you see this as a responsibility?
Lakey Peterson: Apparently it’s the “cool thing” if you’re a pro surfer, so I love that I have the chance to influence people in a positive way. I know a lot of young girls look up to me and it’s neat showing that hard work will eventually pay off. I love speaking in public schools and I usually talk about how everyone in life has unique struggles and weaknesses, everyone, but that you also have strength to accept that weakness and overcome it. I’ve overcome dyslexia. I hated reading and writing, but now I use that to my advantage and I’m talking about it and I’m confident in what I do. I’ve used it for greater good.
Risen Magazine: You are active in philanthropy and involved in various organizations. Has that always been important to you?
Lakey Peterson: I just find philanthropy really fun. I’ve grown up knowing that it’s the right thing to do and there really is no better feeling then helping someone. I love the Student Conservation Association (SCA). They are nationwide and they take high school and college aged kids and they clean up national parks and communities. That’s important to me because surfing is nature and we’ve got to keep it clean. Also a dear friend of mine, Daisy Merrick, recently passed away from cancer. She was eight years old. She has really given me a heart for other children with cancer. I donate a portion of my proceeds from my film, Zero to 100, to the Daisy Merrick Trust whose money goes to children’s cancer. I also work with Hands 4 Others (H4O), which provides villages access to clean drinking water. We’ve installed water systems to villages that didn’t even have access to water before. Right now we are doing a Surf for Water campaign where we are installing wells in Indonesia. There have been multiple typhoid outbreaks in the region, so we need to get them safe and clean drinking water. Our goal is to never have that happen again.
I have a lot of people telling me what to do with my life, a lot of opinions and input, but I’m not living for the world, I’m living for Him.
Risen Magazine: So many exciting things are going on in your world right now, including your first feature movie Zero to 100. What message do you hope to deliver with the film?
Lakey Peterson: The first movie I was in was a Nike women’s surf film called, Leave a Message, which was just performance surfing with background music. But then I was talking to Aaron Lieber one day, the person who produced that film, and we thought, “There are no female surf movies, but there are tons of surf films featuring guys.” So we decided to film my first year on tour (which was 2012), and it turned into Zero to 100 – because that’s what my life has been ever since I was 14. My career just took off and it’s been non-stop ever since. The footage from the film really involves every part of me; I’m crying one day, then winning the US Open the next. It’s weird that it’s so much of me, and I am really letting people in which feels strange. But it’s really a Cinderella story, because last year I kept losing every heat in the second round, then finally, in the last event of the season, I won. That changed everything for me.
Risen Magazine: So what are you doing when you aren’t surfing and making movies?
Lakey Peterson: [Laughs] I really am normal and try to be as normal as possible. I love barbeques with friends, hikes, getting my nails done, shopping, movies, talking about guys. My friend just got me into horseback riding, so now I’m in love with that; I just went yesterday.
Risen Magazine: Do you see this as your lifetime career or have you got your sights set on other opportunities in the future?
Lakey Peterson: My main goal right now is to win the world title and be the best in the world, just like every girl on tour right now. I want to be improving constantly and really gain respect for women surfers in general, because we don’t get a lot of that. I want to retire young though, so the next years, I want to give it my all and just win. I really want to be a mom someday and enjoy my kids and not worry [financially] so I’m working hard for that now. I also would love to continue public speaking in front of even larger audiences. I feel I’ve been given that opportunity for a reason and it’s really fulfilling. I also love golf and I want to get more into that. Maybe there are some tournaments I can get into when I can find some time.
Risen Magazine: You are obviously motivated in pursuing your dreams. For the up and coming generation in pursuit of their dreams, what words of encouragement would you give them?
Lakey Peterson: Whatever your dream is in life, whether surfing professionally or becoming a scientist, there are times when you will get so beat down, but remember that everyone goes through those times and that you are not alone in that. When that time comes, put your head down [stay focused] and stick with it and just work harder than anyone else. That will separate you from the rest. Don’t settle for good, be great.
Exclusive interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Fall 2013