MARK OF A CHAMPION: SARAH HAUSER
Sarah Hauser is a 3 x IWT champion and Guinness world record holder for the largest wave windsurfed by a woman; she imparts some of her winning formula.
WORDS – SARAH HAUSER // PHOTOS – FISH BOWL DIARIES
I don’t know that I care about being the best as much as I care about progressing. Getting better at something over time is fulfilling. It’s also an exploration into the unknown: you don’t know what you’re going to find out about your limits. Are they close or are they still far? I guess nurturing this optimistic idea that I can keep on getting better is the key to staying excited and curious about the quest towards improvement. That may lead to becoming “the best” for a moment, but that’s a bonus perk, not an end goal.
Meeting Pierre Yves Leroux when I was 15. He was the former coach of Colin Sifferlen and one of the very few people who used to go wave sailing on the outer reefs in New Caledonia. Not only did he take me to ride my first waves, but he also instilled a powerful mindset in me. It was an interesting mix of being bold and rebellious, ambitious but also humble, disciplined and hardworking.
So many… the French pro surfer Johanne Defay; Maui’s own big wave surfing champion Paige Alms; former Olympic skiing champion Julia Mancuso, who is now a mum of 2 awesome boys and still rips at everything; former pro longboard surfer and founder of international non-profit Emi Koch; marathon swimmer Diana Nyad; and professional climber Nina Caprez.
Best and worst decisions
Best decision: making space for love. When I embarked on my journey into becoming a professional athlete there was this cute guy named Casey Hauser who wanted to hang out with me. As we got to know each other, part of me was thinking, “I didn’t come to Maui to find a boyfriend, I’m on a mission to follow my dreams”, but the other part of me thought, “this guy is pretty special, I’ll never meet anyone like him.” Fast forward 10 years later and we’ve been married for 9 years and Casey has done nothing but push me to believe in my dreams even more than I would have on my own.
Worst decision: trying to work with an agent. It never went anywhere.
Highs and lows
Highs: Going out to Jaws 2 days in a row in January 2020 and catching lots of great waves. That felt like the pinnacle of my “big wave career”. I have never done anything more physically and mentally demanding except maybe for my strike mission to Fiji in 2019. These two adventures were huge highs and the culmination of years of commitment to the journey of being a professional athlete. I had to use every physical and mental resource I had in me that I had learned along the way.
Lows: I went through two episodes of OTS (over training syndrome), a medical condition that occurs when an athlete’s stress load becomes excessive. The first one was in 2017: I had been training really hard in the gym and at Ho’okipa while also teaching fitness classes in Wailea, swimming classes to children in Spreckelsville, filming Girl on Wave and traveling to compete. I barely had time to eat and wasn’t getting enough sleep. It threw my body out of whack for months. In 2021 I did it again: a few too many side gigs coupled with an intense off season training program in the gym, except there is no off season in Maui. Even when we don’t get waves in the summer, there is still plenty to do in the ocean, especially now with foiling (wing and prone). OTS is not talked about very much, but it is somewhat common amongst athletes. For me the symptoms were decreased athletic performance, drastic changes in my fertility cycle, lethargy, depressed mood and skin rashes. It sucked. It felt like I was in a broken body and at the same time there was no apparent injury. The only way out was through rest for several months. Being forced to do less can be a real challenge. I’ve always known self-care was important, but these experiences really taught me that it is in my nature to go overboard and I should accept that I am this way. It makes me capable of doing great things, but I have to come up with safeguards in my life to make sure I take some time to rest.
“It doesn’t matter what has happened to you, what matters is what you’re going to do about it.” – Dr. Linda Olson, who is Casey’s aunt, triple amputee, and author of ‘GONE’.
“There is no dream too big for you” – Me.
“In fear we expect. With love, we accept” – Kenny Werner.
It depends, sometimes I am motivated to work and progress at my craft, sometimes I want to be out in nature and disconnect, sometimes I want to be wowed by the power of the ocean, sometimes I want to share a fun moment with my husband or my friends… and sometimes it can be all those things at once.
Preparation and rehearsal help with stress management. I learnt this at a young age through playing classical piano at the New Caledonia Conservatory of Music and Dance. It can be so stressful to work for thousands of hours and then have to perform once for an exam or a concert. The same goes with windsurfing. But if you’ve worked enough, then the performance can be this moment of letting go and seeing what happens. Mental preparation tools can also help reframe the physical and emotional reaction to stress and use it to perform better. It’s good to feel something; a little bit of stress usually helps transcend oneself.
I tend to thrive under pressure. Give me a little bit of chaos and I’ll get frustrated trying to fix things. Give me a gnarly shit storm with high stakes and low chances of success and I’m right there, ready to put up my best fight. I like life to be exciting, full of unexpected turns, requiring me to use what I’ve learned and also to go on instincts as if I had some kind of superpower that I don’t fully understand. I guess my inner child playing an adventurous pirate at sea is still very alive in me.
I love the community that I became a part of when competing. The pro athletes, the photographers, videographers, the event organizers, the athletic trainers… The people I have met on this journey are so passionate, talented, welcoming, easy going and fun! We make each other better whether it’s at our craft or at being good humans.
I also love being able to entertain and inspire people who watch the competitions and videos of trips. Windsurfing is a sport and when everything clicks it can even be an art form. It’s fun to share that with others.
I don’t keep my distance from other competitors at events. I think it’s a form of sportsmanship to be able to be friendly at the beach and switch to “fierce competitive beast mode” once the heat starts and not have harsh feelings about it. What I want from a competitor is to push me to be better, so I want them to give the best that they have, but that has nothing to do with how friendly we feel about each other. Outside of competition, I do my best to treat people the way I want to be treated: with respect and kindness.
Sarah-Quita and Jessica Crisp are great examples of competitors who I really enjoy hanging out with, but who I know will do everything to win. I love that. They take the game seriously but can also lighten up and be fun.
Determined, bold, analytical.
I’m impressed at how Sarah-Quita has been so competitive in all 3 disciplines. I also like that Lina Erpenstein and Justyna Sniady are pushing the envelope and challenging the Morenos. As for the men, I have the honor to be Marcilio Browne’s fitness trainer, which gives me a little insight into his life. The guy works so darn hard all the time, and spends so many hours training in conditions that will beat your body up a lot. He’s a machine. I’ve also always admired Camille Juban’s surfing style of wave sailing.
My escape from being a pro windsurfer is teaching fitness classes and creating online fitness programs. I also pet my cat and enjoy making sourdough bread (thanks Dawn for teaching me!) Recently Casey and I became tiny home owners, so we do house and garden projects also. I designed our solar panels and battery system, hooked up our plumbing, and re-did our shower floor.
Winning or money
If you’re asking me what I would pick between “being unknown but rich and being able to be on the water as much as I want” and “being the world champion every year but being poor and unable to do anything else”? I’d pick the first one, anyone would, right?
It really depends how the day goes. But typically I have a sourdough butter and jam tartine for breakfast, then either an egg sandwich with lettuce and tomatoes, or I’ll make quinoa and mix that with an egg, lettuce and tomatoes, plus whatever other veggie leftovers I may have. Snacks can be a banana, an apple with peanut butter, a hard-boiled egg or a granola bar. Dinners are usually a form of carb, protein and some veggies. I don’t make complicated meals, but I do try to eat home cooked colourful meals as much as possible. If you have lots of different colours in your plate, chances are you’re getting a variety of healthy nutrients.
Natural talent or hard work?
I don’t know… 50/50 I would say.
If the conditions are firing all week, I would probably sail around 10-12 hours that week and do 3 hours of yoga. If it’s a crappy week but still sailable or ‘foilable’, I would probably do 3 hours on the water, 3 hours of yoga, 3 hours in the gym plus maybe 1 hour of open ocean swimming or a hike.
When I graduated from engineering school at 22 years old and came home to New Caledonia after being in France for almost 3 years, I was disappointed at what life as a programming engineer looked like, and my relationship with my boyfriend had not survived the long distance. I was heartbroken, out of shape, demotivated and kinda lost. The only thing I was sure about was that windsurfing in waves felt better than anything else. So I stumbled towards that. I flew to Maui by myself in 2012, entered the Aloha Classic, did ok enough to get the attention of Simmer Style, and went out on a huge day at Ho’okipa with 10 other guys. It felt like the universe was yelling at me to follow my dream to be a pro windsurfer, so I did. I went home, took a 3 month job that paid well, found a couple of sponsors and went on to my first season on the AWT and the SUP racing tour. That’s how my journey started.
Big wave love
I like the high stakes of big waves, the bold act of taking risks in a situation where there is no room for mistakes. It makes me feel so alive in the purest way. I feel like my mind gets clear. I connect with my instincts, I feel so small and so brave all at once. I love it.