Published on September 24th, 2017 | by adventuremag0
Behind the Scenes of a Kiwi Paige Hareb
Not many people get to see what it really takes to succeed at the top of your sport.
So often the World Championships or Olympic Games are watched from the comfort of our homes and the expectation from the majority of the New Zealand population is that our Kiwis will succeed to a very high level. When they don’t, we get stuck into them.
Succeeding at sport at the world’s highest level is challenging to say the least. Adding to that; coming from a small country, geographically removed from much of your competition AND in a minority sport and you’ve got yourself a decent sized mountain to climb.
We get to see the highlights, the big wins, but what is it really like? How close does the athlete get to giving up? What helps them when the going gets really tough? We caught up with our number one ranked surfer, Paige Hareb to find out exactly that, and more.
Hareb started surfing at the age of 6 and for the past 20 years hasn’t stopped.
“I still remember Dad pushing me into my first wave, I loved the feeling and started doing age group competitions from 10 years old.”
Like many of our top sportspeople though, Hareb’s early years weren’t spent excelling in just one sport.
“I did a lot of different sports all to a pretty high level; basketball, tennis, rugby, skiing and was also in the New Zealand Soccer Academy.”
Clearly a very talented and driven sportsperson, Hareb grew up thinking she would represent her country in skiing or soccer. She saw surfing as a fun pastime, until a surprise phone call changed the direction her life would take.
“I was down at the Wanaka Ski Academy when I got a phone call from a company saying they wanted to sponsor me for surfing. Being 14, all I cared about was that I would get cool free stickers to put on my surfboard! Surfing was also the only sport I started getting free product for and I guess it made me start thinking that maybe I could eventually make a living out of this sport.”
After winning most of the U10, U12, U14 and then U16 competitions in New Zealand, the next natural progression was to head for Australia and see how she stacked up against the best girls in the sport there.
“I took part in the U20 series when I was 16years old and I managed to pick up a couple of wins, then headed to the U20 World Juniors and finished second.”
This gave Hareb the confidence she needed to keep training and competing and in 2009 she made her debut onto the World Championship Tour which includes only the top 17 surfers in the world.
What a life ah!? Surfing your way around the world, what could be better? And yes, partly that is true, especially during the excitement of the first year or two, and then there are parts that start to take their toll, as Hareb explains.
“The parts that people don’t see is the huge amount of time in random hotels often by yourself, on planes, in airports and always conscious of costs especially as you stand waiting to hear what the next airline is going to charge you for your surfboards to go with you.”
Throw the global financial crisis into the mix and the resulting reduction in sponsorship money and things just got a whole lot harder. Suddenly there is the added pressure of relying solely on prize money. If you don’t perform there is no prize money and no way of getting to the next competition – game over.
The pressures that training and travelling put on your health means eating ‘cheap and cheerful’ isn’t an option. Fuelling your body with the best nutrition possible is a massive priority. If you are sick you can’t compete, something Hareb is acutely aware of after suffering an almost career ending illness that started in her teenage years.
“When I was 17 I started getting a sore lower right back and at times sore stomach muscles as well. It stuck with me for six straight years! I tried everything; physios, chiros, doctors, anyone to try and get an answer! It got so bad that on some flights it would make me spew up. I remember one day I flew back from somewhere then had to drive from Auckland to Taranaki by myself, my back got so sore even the drugs weren’t helping. I arrived home late bawling my eyes out to my Mum and yelling at her saying “I’m over it, I’m desperate, I need to find someone to fix it, I can’t live like this anymore let alone compete and travel like this”.
In desperation for an answer, Hareb and her Mum drove back up to Auckland, met with Dr John Meyhew and finally got their answer. Hareb had a twist in her right kidney and it was slowly dying and needed operating on as soon as possible. Even with the surgery, her kidney now only works at 30%, so keeping healthy is a big priority for Hareb.
“It’s always on my mind to stay as healthy as possible otherwise it will affect my job to compete well, traveling through different countries and cultures with different food can make it all harder, so you have to be onto it but you learn tricks and lessons along the way.
“I’ve only been majorly sick twice on tour, once I was sitting on the beach spewing between heats, that was a massive low point for me. It was hot and really exhausting and was also when the Swine flu outbreak was happening, I had to get taken to hospital in Portugal during the competition.”
It is these sorts of incidents that the general public never hear about from our minority sports people, it’s what shapes their career and definitely makes them stronger and prepares for them for when the going gets even tougher, and that time was just around the corner for Hareb.
After six consecutive years of being included on the top surfing circuit in the world, and then at the end of 2014, she didn’t make the final hurdle to stay there – she was relegated to the next level down.
“It was really hard mentally. Six years on the top tour then all of a sudden – off. There was definitely tears, disappointment and doubt. All of a sudden the prize money drops dramatically, you almost need better sponsorship on the World Qualifying Series (the second tier competition) to get back to the top tour so it was a major worry for me, but I also knew in myself that I definitely wasn’t ready to throw in the towel.”
And so, with the support of her family and wider community (including a crowd funding campaign that a community member started) Hareb hit the following year with renewed determination, and like so many of our top sports people do, she started working harder and longer. Up to 6 hours a day in the water, 2 hours a day doing dryland workouts, and increased her running fitness.
She spent a year chasing the circuit, competing every few weeks in a different country, determined to get back into the top circuit once again. And she didn’t.
“The very next year I missed put on re-qualifying by only two spots. It was heart breaking! But after the initial devastation, I used the fact that I was so close as motivation to get back up.”
And get back up she did; training even harder, running more than she ever had and getting herself into the shape of her life, but again like the year before, she fell short by a few spots, leaving her devastated once again.
She travelled back home to New Plymouth to reset and as tempting as it would have been to stop, that Kiwi attitude pulled her through to give it another crack, and this time it wasn’t the training that changed so much as the mental side.
“This year somehow my mind-set has changed, I’m still as determined as the last two years but I feel like I haven’t put as much pressure on myself. I started 2016 with a good result, a second place and I’m now sitting at 5th place on the World qualifying series. You have to finish in the top 6 to qualify for the World Championship Tour. I still need a few good results this year to stay in that top 6 but I’m excited and think this could be my year!
The goal is to be back on the World Championship Tour next year and to then stay on it for as long as I can. The other big goal is to represent New Zealand for surfing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics!”
And with the sort of determination that has got her this far, we have no doubt she will achieve this. So in July 2020, as you sit and watch Hareb and our other sportspeople compete for our country keep in mind; the years of pain and illnesses, the vomiting on the beach, the hospital visits, the thousands of hours pounding their bodies and the sick feeling in their tummies when they aren’t sure if they can pay the excess luggage fee at the airport. That’s the sort of stuff that got them there and that’s why we should be immensely proud of our minority sportspeople achieving such amazing things on the world scene.
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Quick Fact Box:
Full name: Paige Frances Hareb
What would you be doing if you weren’t surfing professionally?
Hopefully a different sport otherwise I’m not sure I think when I was at high school I was thinking about being a Physio but now I really like Architecture, design and Real Estate.
Who is your biggest supporter?
My parents, always have and pretty they always will be.
Who do you look up to in life or sport?
I don’t really have a main person, I like to get positives off everyone I meet, take what I like and learn from their negatives.
What do most like to do in your down time?
Make little movies, skate, golf, do any other sport and coffee with my friends.
Top tip for staying in shape and healthy?
It’s easier to keep consistent with your fitness and health rather than getting behind. When traveling especially I like to have double back up with my USANA supplements and love the probiotic product too.
So you have any special rest and recovery tips?
In terms of rest, go hard but don’t overdo it. Definitely make sure you have your rest and down time. On recovery, find things that make it easy for you and you enjoy, I love how easy the USANA bars are to travel with and have them before or after a surf, run or workout. I also love traveling with my MOBOT. It’s a water bottle and a foam roller in one.
What would you tell a teenager looking at getting into a minority sport as a profession? If you love it then keep doing it. Even if you love it there will be hard times but stick at it and it will be worth it.