Interview & Words: Elisa Routa
“People thought that this injury would scare me off. Although I was injured, all I could think about was go back, try again, and make a wave.”
“Laura is a funny Aussie that’s doing things most have nightmares about” said Elley Norman from Patti. “She’s really a genuine person with no ego and a heart as big as the waves she surfs.” I could have stopped the interview right there. Everything was said. These two sentences were able to sum up a life. A more powerful introduction than I could write, despite years of journalism studies that taught me how to build a powerful introduction. However, I decided to jump on the phone in order to learn more about Laura Enever from her own words.
In Biarritz, France, January usually comes with an outbreak of gastroenteritis and a freezing 14°C water temperature. The first one possesses the skill of keeping old people inside while the second pushes most of the chilly surfers out of the country. I had both symptoms so when a selection of images from sunny Narrabeen, NSW showed up on my screen, I was very close to booking a flight ticket. “Growing up in Narrabeen is where everything started”, says Laura Enever whose enthusiasm instantly erased my soporific new decade. “My mum was a gymnastic champ so I actually did gymnastics until I was 8 years old. When I was 9 years old, I realized how much the beach felt so much better. I stopped gymnastics when I was 12 and became obsessed with surfing.” Laura turned from that girl doing gymnastics and dancing to a total tomboy surfing everyday before and after school with her older brother, her dad and all these guys she grew up with and who pushed her to learn.
At 12 years-old, Laura got her first sponsors. At age 18, she started the World Tour. “Within 6 years, I’ve done everything I could dream of. It’s crazy to go back on now. I really did enjoy it but I’ve always love big wave surfing,” she explains. “My dad always got mad during competitions because I’d loose just because I sat too far out when I was surfing in these comps, waiting for the big sets and big waves to come while the small waves would be better. I’ve always loved big waves surfing but I never saw a future.” Often described as the crazy little kid full of energy, Laura started realizing that competition couldn’t replace her love for big surfing anymore. “On tour, sometimes you score good waves but some others it just became so repetitive. I was like I can’t do this anymore,” she said. “Everybody thinks it’s the dream job and the money’s good, you get to travel and surf. But it was just inside me, I wasn’t feeling completely fulfilled. I thought I needed a break so I started surfing big waves and felt This is what I want to be doing. I still remember the one trip that changed a lot for me. I went to P-Pass. The waves were huge, ten foot. I grabbed the best wave in my life and the biggest wave I’ve paddled at that point.” P-Pass. 5 letters for a life change. Whereas my life change was based on the word Pizza.
“Once there, I didn’t really know what I was doing at all. But I did it.”
Shortly after that, Laura came home and won the first contest she won in 5 years. “After all this time having doubts when I was on tour, getting those waves was actually a better feeling than winning.” After that, she got invited to the first women’s Jaws event. That was in 2016. “I really wanted to give it a shot. I felt like I would have regretted it, I would have felt worse sitting here, giving out my spot. Once there, I didn’t really know what I was doing at all. But I did it.” That day in Hawaii, for her second try, Laura left on a 20-feet wave, she tore her knee and got injured. “I pretended I wasn’t hurt so I made it to the finals but I couldn’t surf. I learned the hard way.”
On her 7th year on the tour, after being injured, Laura decided to quit the tour and chase big swells. A decision she probably wouldn’t have decided herself. “Serendipity made its mind for me,” she likes to say. “I’ve been thinking to leave the tour a couple of years but it wasn’t until I got injured surfing at Jaws that I was forced to leave. A lot of people thought that this injury would scare me off. They thought I would get back to competition to be safe but it was the opposite. Although I was injured, all I could think about was go back, try again, and make a wave.” That’s when the transition started. Still injured, feeling a bit unsure of her decisions, she knew what she wanted to do. “I put my head down, did so many trips in Australia, met so many good people, and surfed so many waves I didn’t think I would ever surfed… I definitely made the right choice.”
“Paddling into a wave, you have to be so committed. You can’t have any second of doubt. Fear keeps you on your toes.”
Shit. The Horoscope was right. It takes compromises, courage and confidence to follow our dreams. “There were moments when I totally doubted. You know it’s not much money in big wave surfing, it’s only one event a year. I feel lucky that Billabong has supported me so I’m trying to make it work for as long as I can.” To close the loop, Laura finally got back to Jaws this year after 3 years since she got injured. “It’s been really cool. I think Jaws is still the biggest wave I’ve ever ridden. It’s the heaviest and the scariest one.” As a big wave surfer, still learning, fear is a component to take into account. Some athletes define fear as a healthy feeling able to keep you focused. For Laura, “fear keeps you on your toes.” That’s why it can interfere in her physical and mental preparation. “Sometimes, the fear element is so there. Before I go on a big wave surfing, the worst case scenario keeps me awake at night. Sometimes, I’ve been watching the other boys all day and got to know the wave. I feel more confident. This is a calculate approach.”
Known as a daredevil, Laura learned from her excitement, considering her injury as an experience to remember. “Throwing myself at Jaws and getting injured straight away, I realized I just can’t be doing that. If I go to a big wave surf spot and I feel I’m not ready, there isn’t any shame in that. I don’t want to do something silly and get hurt anymore. Paddling into a wave, you have to be so committed. You can’t have any second of doubt. Progression is key. My biggest learning is that there’s no rush.”
Learning. That’s what her upcoming film is all about. The feature-documentary entitled ‘Undone’ and set to be launched in March, is about sharing the process, as well as the introspection and the challenges taken up along the road. “For me, it’s all about the journey, getting hurt at Jaws, the transition, and how I navigated my way through this whole new experience.” It’s also about showing all the ups and downs of changing paths and how scary it can be. For everyone, not only surfers. “Since I left the tour, I met so many people who moved jobs and had cool life paths, people who felt not completely fulfilled in what they were doing. I actually love hearing stories like that. I hope the film can show more than just surfing,” she explains. “When you go away and do something else, it comes so much with it, like ups and downs. Nothing is easy. Then, things finally work out and you get a wave. That’s when you really know it was worth it.”
“ It’s been incredible to see how many girls embrace the big wave world, totally male-dominated before.”
Usually, every single year in the last 10 years, you would have found Laura surfing the best spots of Europe, America or any other warm places. For her Undone project, she decided to undertake an expedition across her own country, traveling from one spot to another, trying to cope with her obsessive fear of cold. “When I was on the tour, I travelled to tropical destinations and went surfing in bikini. I thought that would be something I would do this year but we really settled in this cold winter, chasing the swells in super secluded places in the middle of nowhere. We crossed the country, drove 50 hours from the East coast to the West coast of Australia and went surfing over there. We did a lot of cold water stuff.” And since the scary, gnarly and intimidating wave of Shipsterns was on their map, they had to stop. “At the back of your head, you know all the consequences but the cool thing with big wave surfing is that it set me new internal goals.”
Today, the Narrabeen-born crazy kid full of energy became a committed surfer, passionate about her new adventure. Laura now belongs to a community of women who rip hard, push the boundaries of surfing, while forging a path for future female surfers. “It’s been incredible to see how many girls embrace the big wave world, totally male-dominated before,” she said. “At the start of last year, I was so intimated and insecure but it was so great to see how I’ve been accepted by the boys. Everyone has been so encouraging. I didn’t expect that,’ she says. “Big wave surfing is such a different world. Everyone does it for the same reasons, for the hub and the feeling. A lot of the guys are without sponsors and work normal jobs. Big wave surfing is honestly something you do because you love it.”
The Google page of the sunny Narrabeen images had vanished, replaced by the monster wave of Shipstern Bluff. That’s when I emptied the bucket of my flight tickets and decided to go out surfing and enjoy the – not so cold – winter of Biarritz. Like a chorus running in my headphones, I repeated these words to myself: “Laura is really a genuine person with no ego and heart as big as the waves she surfs.” Elley was right. Mission accomplished.