'I've Surfed Across the Globe, We Need to Protect Our Precious Oceans'

I have always thought that the ocean is a special place for everyone. It seems to me that no matter if you live on the beach or in a land-locked state, the moment your toes hit the ocean, that water brings a sense of joy.

I grew up in California's right-point rich playground of Santa Barbara and first learned to surf at the age of five during a year-long trip around the world with my family. I then qualified for the Women's Championship Tour at 16-years-old in 2011, and made my rookie debut in 2012.

I'm 25-years-old now and have been competing the last 8 years professionally—I finished second in the world in 2018 and third in 2019.

The moment I realised I wanted to be a professional surfer, and really loved it, was when I was 14-years-old. At that time I was doing junior events within California and already competing at a junior level. The National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) National Championships were held at the end of each year, and I think winning the NSSA Open Women's Title in 2009 was the moment where I thought, "this is what i want to do," and had the belief I could do it.

But I have learned this year that too often I take that joyful feeling for granted, never thinking about how quickly our beaches and oceans could get taken away from us. COVID-19 has has been a great example for a lot of people these past few months. I'm living in Victoria, Australia at the moment, but many people all over the world have shared similar experiences of lockdown and restrictions.

Suddenly, this year that unique privilege was taken away. The ocean, where millions of us go for fun, work, enjoyment, vitamin D, community and stress relief, suddenly became unavailable.

However, I believe that not having access to the beaches, as hard as that time was for a lot of people, might be a good thing in the long run. I suspect many of us are realizing how much we need the ocean in our lives and not to take it for granted.

Because the ocean and access to beaches was unavailable for many of us for a short period, I think everyone, and surfers like me in particular, realized how much we missed it and love it. I certainly can appreciate it so much more.

When I'm surfing, it's one of those times where I'm just focused on that exact moment and whatever I'm going to be doing on that wave.

And it doesn't matter if you're a beginner and it's the first wave you've ever stood up on, or you're a professional surfer and you're extremely advanced. Just standing up on the wave brings you right into the moment. That's a really special thing that surfing does for you. It's very grounding. And anything else you're thinking about just goes away; all you're focused on is that wave. You have no option but to be really present.

Surf, surfer, Lakey Peterson, World Ocean's Day
Lakey Peterson of the United States competes during the 2019 Freshwater Pro-WSL on September 21, 2019 in Lemoore, California. Peterson finished in first place. SEAN N. HAFFEY/Getty

If we don't protect it, our ocean might not always be there for us to go back to in the same way. Sometimes, I think the ocean feels so massive that it's hard to feel that I alone can make a difference. Then I realize almost every other person probably feels that way and if we all changed our mindset, that's a lot of people making a big impact.

I have learned that educating myself on climate change and what our oceans need is the best first step to take. Without knowing the problems we are facing are then how can we fix them? Learning things like having reefs safe sunscreen— which is sunscreen that doesn't contain oxybenzone and octinoxate—to help prevent coral bleaching and using less plastic so that it doesn't end up in our beautiful oceans. Scientists are aiming to protect 30 percent of our oceans globally by 2030—so becoming more aware has been the best thing I could have done, and has helped me in my aim to do my part.

Being a professional surfer has been incredible for so many reasons. The World Surf League World Tour takes us all over the globe throughout the year, so we get to surf in so many different places—I've had so many incredible sessions.

The Atlantic Ocean has some of the most powerful surf I have experienced. The Pacific Ocean has so much to offer with the many islands littered across it, and the Indian Ocean brings, in my opinion, some of the best surf in the world.

My favourite wave in the world, and definitely my favourite event on tour, is definitely Jeffreys Bay in South Africa. It's just a beautiful wave, a very long right-hand point break. And you're in South Africa so the culture is incredibly rich and beautiful, but the oceans are so rugged and raw. I've always felt a really strong connection to South Africa and to that wave. And I love going back there.

I was talking to my husband about where I'd go to surf right now. It's winter in Australia at the moment, so I'd choose somewhere in the Pacific, like Fiji or Hawaii, somewhere warm with beautiful waves.

Surfing in so many places and feeling the unique presence of each one only motivates me more to protect and preserve this earth. I hope that in the week that included World Oceans Day on June 8, people are able to go out and enjoy the ocean as well as become inspired to be a part of the solutions to keeping it beautiful. Together we can make a big difference.

Lastly, but by no means least, I want to address the incredible paddle outs happening across the world to honor the life of George Floyd. It is amazing to see communities come together during this time and create unity in standing up for the Black Lives Matter movement. I feel strongly that all of our voices are starting to be heard and together we are on the way to creating positive change.

Lakey Peterson is a professional surfer currently living in Victoria, Australia. She ranked third in the world in 2019. Lakey has always had a heart for the environment, working for clean beaches alongside her local Santa Barbara Channelkeeper as well as being part of the World Surf League Pure ambassador program.