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Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead

The following article was posted on February 13th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 49 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 13, Issue 49


From small town to the big screen, Lakey Peterson has the surf world at her feet


Lakey Peterson is every inch a child of the waves. Tall, athletic, and kissed by the sun, she’s poised to see her life growing up in Montecito about to get a lot bigger.

Zero to hero:
Aside from being a fierce competitor in female surfing, Peterson also spends her time giving back to communities all over the world.

It’s easy to see that Peterson, fresh out of high school, is more than the stereotype of waves, “dudes,” and Sex Wax. The young athlete is determined, gifted with a sense of responsibility and inclination toward philanthropy. With a wide smile and bubbling enthusiasm for life, Peterson is more than a girl with a surfboard.

Sitting in the comfort of her family’s home, Peterson took some time off from the waves to discuss with the Sun her rise in the surf world and the excitement of her upcoming movie premiere.

She doesn’t remember ever being afraid of the water; in fact, she said she’s always felt a connection with the fathomless blue depths. Her journey began when she stepped onto a surfboard for the first time at age 5 during a family vacation to Australia.

Looking back on it now, she said she never anticipated that her love for surfing would so heavily inspire the course of her life. Growing up, she was more a tomboy known for her athleticism, speed, and fearlessness, even at a young age. Before the water, Peterson was actively involved in soccer, baseball, football, basketball, tennis, and golf.

But when she started competing in surf contests at age 11, the sport captured her heart. At age 12, she knew she wanted to take her talent to the professional level.

“When you’re riding a wave, there’s such a rush of energy,” Peterson said, trying to put her intense connection to the ocean into words. “There’s no better feeling than being on a wave.”

Peterson, with her athletic force and brazen maneuvers, quickly demanded the surfing world’s attention. At age 14—not even a blip on anyone’s radar—she won the title at the NSSA Open Women’s competition. She remembers this event in particular: She was the first-ever female to perform an aerial (catching air while riding a wave) during competition. She felt something, she said, she will never forget.

“I was an underdog at the competition. No one knew me,” she explained. “I came up out of the water and surprised myself.”

Peterson said the move wasn’t planned, but she loves to try new tricks and does so with an absence of fear. That event was a turning point in her career; shortly thereafter, she picked up Nike as a sponsor.

Her career continued to accelerate when she gained a wild card entry into the 2011 U.S. Open of Surfing—one of the top surfing events in the world—where she finished as a runner up. She finished that season winning every event for the North American Junior Pro series.

Now, Peterson surfs with the big girls on the ASP Women’s World Tour. In her “rookie season,” she took the title at the U.S. Open of Surfing in August 2012; she’s currently ranked seventh in the world. She said that within the last year and a half, things have changed a lot for her.

“I have a lot of followers and people watching me now—you have to be so careful,” Peterson said.

Lakey Peterson is known for her powerful surfing and ability to “shred” waves harder than most guys on the pro circuit.

Continuing on the wave of success, Peterson’s days have been filled with interviews, training, and preparing for the debut of her film Zero to 100. Directed by Aaron Lieber, the film documents Peterson’s quick rise in the surfing world.

The movie, which premiered at the Lobero Theater in Santa Barbara on Feb. 10, took viewers on Peterson’s first journey into professional surfing. With a three-person production crew, cinematography that captured picturesque locations, and Peterson’s athleticism, the movie goes deeper than most surf films—detailing life on the road, the ups and downs of Peterson’s climb to the top.

Personable and all smiles, Peterson stood before a large crowd at the theater; the movie debut marked a culmination of years of hard work, tenacity, generosity, and a wild competitive streak that took her life—as the title suggests—from zero to 100.

Peterson said the project was hectic, and having a full-blown documentary filmed about her was a little weird. Lieber traveled with Peterson to numerous locations to get footage for the film.

“There were times I didn’t want to deal with it,” Peterson said. “But you get used to the camera, and it’s been so much fun filming it.”

Peterson’s travel has picked up in the last two years; she’s ventured to Indonesia, Bali, France, New Zealand, and Australia—just to name a few. While she loves the surfing lifestyle and traveling, life can get a little crazy and lonely for the 18-year-old.

“It’s hard to build relationships when you’re on the road,” Peterson said.

She spends five months of the year surfing away from home. She shared that, at times, it’s difficult because her work depends on the swells and she can get called away to compete or shoot footage at any moment.

“Sometimes I don’t like not knowing what’s going to happen,” Peterson said. “It’s tiring and hard to overcome, but I try to count my blessings.”

When she isn’t competing, Peterson is training five days a week with trainer Peter Parks. She focuses on strength and preventative injury workouts, adding that she can see a difference in the quality of her surfing.

“I surf every day of the week—a lot in Ventura,” Peterson said. “I try to take at least one day a week off.”

She added that Parks is very knowledgeable and has taught her the value of patience in a heat.

Above all, Peterson knows she couldn’t do what she does without the support of her family.

“My mom goes with me everywhere; my brother and sister keep me in check,” Peterson said. “I know I will always have them.”

She’s accomplished a lot in her short years, with surfing titles and a movie under her belt. But what sets her apart from the rest is a heart the size of the ocean she spends so much time in. While some 18-year-old athletes would be more inclined to keep the money they make for themselves, Peterson has been gifted with a deeply philanthropic nature.

Inspired by a life of growing up in an environment of giving back, she loves to help people in need. Finding time for philanthropy despite her surfing career, she’s involved with a few nonprofits.

Peterson works with the Student Conservation Association, a nationwide organization of college-age kids. Peterson said they help clean up national parks and raise awareness about the environment for a younger generation.

She also volunteers with Hands 4 Others, which travels to Third World countries to install clean water systems.

“I love being able to help others,” she said. “There is no better feeling than giving back.”

Peterson’s inherent generosity and determination to overcome challenges are even more apparent when she shares her own obstacles she’s had to move past. She struggled with school at an early age, eventually being diagnosed with dyslexia. While she admits it was very frustrating at first, she worked through her “weakness” and used it for good instead.

“I speak publicly about dyslexia,” she said. “I never thought I’d use it for something positive.”

Peterson clearly wants to use her position in the spotlight for the benefit of others.

“When you are in the public eye, you have the opportunity—and, I believe, the responsibility—to set a good example,” Peterson said. “We need to realize how much we have. We get caught up in the negative.”

Peterson, who realizes she’s in a position to help others, is hoping her philanthropic message will come through in her film to inspire others.

“There are so many young people today who struggle with their identity, who don’t feel valued or like they could make a difference in life,” she explained. “I hope this film will inspire them to go after their dreams to make a positive impact in this world.”

Peterson will continue to impact the world with her positive role modeling, community service, and, of course, surfing. For the 2013 season, she wants to win more events and, in keeping with her fearless spontaneity, learn more surf moves.

“I’m always trying to improve,” she said. “If you work hard enough at anything, you can do it.”

While Peterson is still younger than most of the surfers on the circuit, she did offer some sage advice for those aspiring to the sport: “It’s an amazing lifestyle, but there is a lot more to it than going to the beach and surfing. Work hard. Stay happy and true to yourself.”

Staff Writer Kristina Sewell shreds on the air guitar. Contact her at

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