Kōrero with pro surfer Paige Hareb
Given her impressive surfing career, it’s no surprise that Paige Hareb first tried out a surfboard at a pretty young age. “I first started surfing when I was about 6 years old. I have fond memories of Dad pushing me into the waves, he’s the one that surfed in our family and got me into it. After that, I was hooked and went to the beach every day after school with my best friend.”
After winning her first ever surfing competition (the Oakura Board Riders comp in the U10 girls category), Paige has gone on to amass a number of accomplishments to her name – she has competed in a numerous professional surf comps around the world, she was the first New Zealand woman to qualify for the ASP World Tour and she was named the 2009 Taranaki Sports Person of the Year. When considering her achievements, Paige also speaks about the second time she had to re-qualify for the World Tour as “not many people do that so it was a pretty special moment.” On top of that, Paige reflects that “getting to surf at Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch in California and surfing for the ‘World’ team, and winning against all the other countries, was a pretty awesome and surreal feeling.’”
Of course, success at this level couldn’t come without a number of disappointments. Having developed a thick skin, as well as strong perseverance and determination, Paige says, “you almost get used to losing in surfing.” After a number of disappointing competitions during her 2018 season, Paige was knocked off the World Tour – and yet, by the end of the season, Paige had re-qualified. “It sucked,” Paige admits, “so to re-qualify and get back on, it was a dream come true! I proved to myself that I can still do it with a lot of stubbornness and never giving up.”
Whilst Paige does enjoy cross-training with other sports, she’s clear that there’s no other real way to get paddle-fit than just excessive amounts of surfing. In the lead up to competitions, Paige aims to allow at least a week at the surf break pre-comp to get to know the tides and conditions and surfs 2-3 times per day to get used to the location – and breaks that up with lots of sleeping and eating!
Spending so much time in the water from a young age, Paige had no choice but to get used to surfing whilst menstruating – especially since her first period came on the morning of a competition. “I was in Australia on the Gold Coast competing,” Paige explains. “I got it the morning I had to compete and freaked out because I knew I had to be in the water that day! My Mum was there and helped me calm down and told me all the right things and that I would be fine.”
“My menstrual cycle doesn’t know when I need to compete,” Paige continues, “so it’s definitely had some unfortunate timing over the years! Mine used to be super heavy when I was younger so it did play on my mind a bit being in the water, and I wouldn’t be able to stay out in the water as long as I wanted to. Sometimes with it, I would feel a bit more uncoordinated or unbalanced which obviously isn’t good for surfing and staying on my board in a competition especially. But the bonus is I do weirdly get more energy whilst having it. So no, it’s never really been a problem for me and I’ve surfed with it for so many years now, that it doesn’t bother me at all and feels natural and normal - because it is!”
Likely due to hormones changing during cycles, some people who menstruate experience low energy levels whilst others, like Paige, experience higher surges of energy (Paige admits to even sometimes adding in an extra run or workout due to the surge in energy she experiences). What’s more, researchers have not found any significant differences in a person’s ability to exercise during their menstrual cycle, even if many of us – including Paige – crave “chocolate and alone time” during our time of the month.
With single-use products being the only real option available when Paige was growing up, she got used to using them whilst surfing, although they didn’t come without worries. “I know among the surfers, when we surf in a bikini or togs we would always worry about the tampon string hanging out,” Paige says, “so I know a few girls that would cut the string shorter so there’s less chance of that happening.” With products such as the AWWA swimsuit now available, Paige has been trying that out with good results: “I love surfing in it and feel extra secure while surfing on my period.”
Whilst Paige remembers “growing up and feeling like I almost had to secretly whisper into someone's ear to see if they had a tampon or pad I could borrow, I felt like a villain asking or even talking about it” and sometimes thinking that “it wasn’t fair that boys didn’t get it too”, she’s now changed her mind-set and feels privileged to get a period. “It’s so good to see times are changing,” Paige reflects, “and now I’m proud that I can be so open and talk about it.”
For anyone struggling with negative thoughts or feelings around menstruation, Paige advises: “To anyone who has periods, don’t get shy, down or awkward about it. “It’s natural and embrace it as much as you can. We’re strong women and we can do anything we put our minds to, whether we have a period or not!” And for those looking to get into surfing? “Persistence is key to getting better,” Paige says. “Never give up but also make sure you’re having fun and you’re doing it for you!