Lakey Peterson drops her phone. A lot. It’s no exaggeration.
Whether she’s on the bike headed towards pumping Lowers, in the car park at chilly Bells Beach, feeling Pipeline’s waves shake the golden sand, or getting on a boat to head to the channel at Teahupoo — BAM! Her phone is often on the ground. In her own words, "it happens every two seconds".
From the mountains to the sea and everything in between, the 29-year-old Santa Barbara native is constantly in rugged terrain. Keeping up with whether or not her phone is broken is overshadowed by what’s in front of her: the glory and struggle that is the World Surf League's Championship Tour.
Lakey is quick to say that her 7th place finish on the CT in 2023 wasn't her best performance since joining the Tour in 2012. After an impressive 3rd place finish at Pipeline to begin the year, she found herself “in a rut” and was “surfing hesitantly ... surfing not to lose”.
In July, as she was freesurfing in preparation for the Corona Open J-Bay, she realized this mindset, and made a change: instead of feeling pressure, she decided to apply it. Heat after heat, she surfed on the attack — putting on a forehand carve clinic — and hoisted the first-place trophy with a snow-white smile from ear to ear. After stepping off the awards podium, Lakey took home a ton of points, a nice check, and a new lesson on how she wanted to surf from that point forward.
With the 2023 season a wrap, we sat down with Lakey to talk about her 2023 campaign, her new strategy of “surfing to win, not surfing not to lose”, and how Urban Armor Gear's insanely durable products keep her devices in tact despite dropping them on every continent she visits. — Cash Lambert
Because Lakey is constantly in rugged terrain, she only trusts the most durable equipment for her phone, watch, and other personal technology — and that's UAG. Photo: UAG
ASM: Let’s start with an overview of your 2023 campaign. Now that you’ve had time to catch your breath and analyze it, how would you describe it?
Lakey Peterson: It wasn’t the best competitive year I’ve put together; I wasn’t very consistent with the season. I started off really strong at Pipe, and I was really proud of how I competed there.
Lakey kicked off 2023 with a bang: a third place finish at the Billabong Pro Pipeline, a wave that she admits she's still trying to get dialed in. Photo: WSL / Brent Bielmann
Then I felt like the wheels fell off from Sunset to J-Bay. I had great moments, but overall I fell into this rut that I couldn’t get out of. For a few events, I didn’t compete well, and at other events, I felt I was competing well but things still didn’t roll my way.
"It was too inconsistent of a year to be super happy with it, but it’s weird because J-Bay was probably the most special win of my career. It’s weird that I had that career high in a season that overall didn’t feel like the greatest for me."
Talk to us about your win at the Corona Open J-Bay. Since you can take lessons from both a win and a loss, what was your takeaway from that career-high win?
We had two weeks between Brazil and J-Bay, so a lot of people [on Tour] went home. My husband and I love Africa so much, so we actually went straight there. There was a good swell when we arrived, too. I got to try all my boards super thoroughly, and had time to focus and really dial in. I felt confident freesurfing, and thought that as long as I could get waves, I could deliver big scores.
Lakey's powerful forehand was on display heat after heat at J-Bay. Photo: WSL/ Alan Van Gysen
CT athletes connect with certain places on Tour better than others. I grew up on Rincon's right point, so J-Bay has always felt like a strength to me, being the best right point in the world.
At this point in the year, I was out of the Final 5 picture, so there wasn’t that pressure — and I let go of surfing hesitantly. What got me in the rut throughout the middle of the year … I was so afraid of losing … I kept thinking I have to make the Final 5, I have to make the Final 5 … but I kept doing worse and worse, because I was surfing so hesitantly.
"What clicked at J-Bay — and what helped me ultimately win — was letting go of the fear of losing. I had the mentality 'I’m just going to surf aggressively and attack.' I let it all go, went on the attack, and it definitely worked."
Pressure: apply it, don't feel it. Lakey took this to heart, and it resulted with her hoisting the first place trophy at the Corona Open J-Bay. Photo: WSL/ Beatriz Ryder
This year and that event taught me a lot about how I want to compete — and how I don’t want to compete. When I look back throughout my career, I see patterns. I know that when I’m able to surf free — I think this is for anyone — and without too many nerves and pressure, I surf better.
Rather than trying to remove that pressure, J-Bay taught me embrace it and surf to win, not surf not to lose. If I’m going to lose an event, I’d rather lose 100% surfing on the attack rather than surfing hesitantly. I knew this all deep down, but J-Bay really brought it to life.
When the WSL released the 2024 schedule, the first thing I noticed was that J-Bay wasn't on it. What are your thoughts about the schedule?
It sucks to see J-Bay go. The WSL’s reasoning was that the 2024 Paris Olympics are in July, around the same time J-Bay runs, and everyone will be in Tahiti during that time. I still think we could have squeezed it before or after the Olympics. I hope to see it back in 2025 because it's such a staple event for the Tour. I might be biased, but I think many would agree.
I didn’t mind seeing the Surf Ranch go. In my personal opinion, it's a specialty venue rather than a WCT venue.
I’m happy to see Fiji back. We had that event on the calendar early on in my career, and it was the most fun event ever — everyone on Tavarua surfing the best waves of their life! Obviously next year it’s after the mid year cut, so you have to make the cut to go.
Overall, I do think we need more and more lefts on Tour. I like that Fiji allows you to get barreled. Plus, it can also be higher performance out at Cloudbreak, allowing you to do turns. I think that’s really important for regular foots and goofy foots who don’t get to showcase that.
I’m all for Fiji! Hopefully, they bring J-Bay back and we can have it all.
Lakey's two cents: bring back J-Bay. We wholeheartedly agree. Photo: WSL/ Alan van Gysen
What locations on Tour do you have dialed in, and what locations are tricky?
I feel dialed in at Bells because I've spent so much time there — it’s where my husband is from. I know the wave and area so well.
I love El Salvador, it’s a fun right point. I’ve always enjoyed my time there and I feel pretty comfortable there.
As far as the spots that are tricky, it’s Teahupoo and Pipeline. They’re really scary and really tricky — especially Pipe. When I’m in a heat there, I feel like I’m just learning on the fly to be totally honest. A lot of girls feel that way in my opinion. A month before the contest, we’re all freesurfing out there trying to get waves, and it's hard to actually get waves and figure it out. You have to spend a lot of time there to get it dialed. In a heat, I’m thinking ‘Where am I, what am I doing, am I going right or am I going left? Where’s the shallow part?’ Pipe is the wave I’m still trying to figure out.
Is there anything in your surfing that you’re currently refining?
A lot of things! We have a nice long offseason that allows you to actually work on your surfing. The big thing is having more variety in my surfing for next year.
"Obviously, everyone has seen my forehand carve. That’s my go-to maneuver and strong point. But I feel that I need to pair that with some powerful snaps and some form of layback, whether it's off the end of the wave or mid-wave."
If I can tie it in to show the judges, I think it will do well with scoring. And of course, more barrels, both backhand and forehand. I plan on chasing those waves that scare me a bit during the off season.
As far as coaching is concerned, you've worked with Mike Parsons for quite some time. How has Mike continued to help you improve in recent years?
Mike has helped me so much over the years. When I was first on Tour, having grown up in California, I didn’t have experience in waves of consequence, and he was the perfect guy to help me get comfortable in heavy water.
In terms of competing, he’s calm and encouraging. Having someone be a sounding board and reassure me that my idea is the right way to go is big, because I can be pretty hard on myself. He’ll shoot me straight, but he’s also positive.
I’m such good friends with him, his wife and son that they feel like family.
"Of course, any coach wants the best for the athlete. I do feel like Mike wants the best competitively for me, but also personally. Having someone who can understand both those things is huge."
For example, when competing isn’t going so well, he’s always good about showing me the big picture at the end of the day. He and I both love to win, that’s what we’re there for, but you lose more than you win, and he isn’t just about results. Learning from him has been invaluable.
Let's talk about the Built to Go Further Campaign with Urban Armor Gear. How did it come to be?
It’s super organic, because I used UAG products well before we partnered. I drop my phone every two seconds and I need the most durable case. UAG’s cases looked like the most durable ones I could find, so I bought one. Then, when they reached out about a year ago, I realized it would be a perfect fit.
UAG's phone cases suit my lifestyle. I’m in rugged terrain all the time — beaches, mountains and airports all over the world. Plus, I like when you work with people where it’s a natural thing. I already used and tested the product, so working with them felt perfect.
There are a ton of phone cases out there — what makes UAG's product line different?
"UAG's durability makes their products different."
My phone, as much as I drop it everywhere in the sand, concrete, has never broken — knock on wood. Their product is built to endure droppage and, most importantly, last.
It's no exaggeration that Lakey drops her phone often. UAG's phone cases keep her from visiting the Apple store on every continent she visits for repairs. Photo courtesy UAG
I think they do it better than anyone else, too — and without being super bulky. Sometimes to make a case more durable, it gets bigger, but UAG’s are slim and strong.
What UAG products do you like the most?
My go to product is the blue PathFinder Pro Case. I like it because it’s durable and has great coverage for my phone. Plus, it allows you to do the charging port if you lay it down. Sometimes with a thicker case, you lose that ability to use a charging port.
From the mountains to the sea and everything in between, UAG is built for rugged terrain. Photo courtesy UAG
UAG is also big on watch bands and iPad cases. What's been your experience with them?
Their watch bands are epic — just as durable as the phone cases and pretty too. When you’re surfing, you don’t want to lose your watch, and I’ve never had it happen with UAG. They never fall off. Plus, they have a ton of different straps — thick and thin— to choose from.
With UAG, you're going to get the most durable product on the market. They’re great.
Lakey's favorite UAG gear — the definition of durable and dependable — and worth every penny. Photo courtesy UAG
Since you're now in the offseason, run us through how you're staying fit for surf.
I’ve evolved a lot. I’ve learned to focus more on recovery and longevity rather than killing yourself in the gym. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of pilates, which is new. It’s amazing for surfing, because you’re putting yourself in positions with the reformers where you are lengthening and strengthening at the same time. That’s a lot of what surfing is. It may sound weird, but you want to be like a ballerina — with strength. That’s what looks great on a wave.
How would you describe the state of American surfers currently when compared to other countries?
There's so much talent between California, Florida, and Hawaii.
"We have past World Champions and future World Champions on both the men’s and women’s side."
Speaking on the female side of things, there are so many young girls ripping, which is really cool to see. They all surf together and inspire one another. I never had that in my generation, so I feel like the future is super bright.
On the men’s side, Griffin [Colapinto] has had a breakthrough. John [Florence] is still ripping, and there’s a ton of younger kids, like Luke Swanson and Crosby Colapinto, who are going to be gnarly. I think a lot of them will get on Tour and stay there for a long time.
"America is doing great with talent at the moment."
Let's talk surf goals for 2024. Even though you're on the front end of the offseason, what are you thinking about for next year?
Right off the bat, a big goal is creating consistently in heats. If I can become a stronger heat surfer and increase my heat IQ … for example, knowing which waves to go on, how to surf a wave that’s a 5 up to a 6 … if I can do that, along with being consistent, it will really reflect in my results.
While Lakey admits 2023 wasn't her best year on Tour, she came away with the best win of her career — and a new mindset to take into 2024. Photo: WSL / Tony Heff
Like I was saying earlier, so much of competitive surfing is mental, especially when there are so many variables out of your control. I’ve done this for so long, so I know how to train for a season, how to get your boards dialed, etc. I can tick all of those boxes.
"Going into next season, I'm really focused on continuing that mindset of surfing to win, not surfing not to lose."
If I’m right on the mid-year cut again next year, my goal is to be in a space where I can still surf free and powerful and let go of all those expectations.
What’s your advice for the next generation of surfers?
I would say a few things. First, if you’re really serious about competing, surround yourself with a coach or parent who’s going to make sure it stays fun and keeps you focused on the big picture — someone who is result-based and life-based. The combination of these two is important for your happiness and longevity in a career.
Second, try tons of different boards. Try all the shapers you can — if you’re able to.
And third, travel. It’s expensive, I know, but try your best to get to Hawaii, or waves of heavy water that are going to make you a better surfer.
If you are pursuing a competitive surfing path, Lakey recommends starting with the opportunity right in front of you. Photo: WSL/ Brent Bielmann
"If you aren’t able to do any of this, then I recommend doing what you can with what’s in front of you. For example, if you don’t have the resources to try a ton of boards, take the boards you have to the beach, run heats with friends, and keep it fun. I truly believe you have an opportunity where you live. See what that opportunity is, chase it, and seize it."