5 July, 2016 5 July, 2016

Smile And Wave, Baum Is Back

Sarah Baum. It’s a name that has been off the lip of the South African surf scene for a while. Until last week that is, when the KZN surfer arrived back to warm waters for a visit from a long stint in Australia. Not even a week into her trip and Sarah dominated almost all of her heats, right up until the final, of the 2016 Womens Ballito Pro. Known for her signature backhand, strong airs and progressive style, once again – Baum proved to be a standout competitor.

Sarah was big in the surf contest scene back in the early 2000’s, ranking #5 in the Billabong ASP World Junior Surfing Champs and winning countless contest heats throughout her teens. Competing alongside Bianca Buitendag, Sarah was also amongst the world’s top 17 ranked female surfers on the ASP Women’s WCT in 2013. Since then, she has found a new approach to surfing – and it’s all about travelling and having fun. No pressure. Zigzag caught up with the Athlone-Park local in Ballito to talk competing again in home seas, surfing in Oz, the women’s surf scene in SA, her latest surf film, surf trips and going up against Australian partner Skye Burgess in the 2016 Ballito Pro Women’s final…

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Zigzag: A lot of Durbanites have strong memories of you shredding between the piers when you were a grom. What was growing up surfing in KZN like?

Sarah Baum: I grew up on the South Coast, in Amanzimtoti. And yeah, I used to surf New Pier a lot and grew up with a lot of the surfers there. I was just your typical grommet – wanted to surf before school, after school, on the weekends, all the time. It was a pretty good lifestyle. My Dad’s quite a frother as well, so he got me into surfing when I was young and we still surf together whenever we can.

You’ve been off home ground for a while now and haven’t really been on the competitive scene here at all. Where have you been and why are you back in SA? (we’re stoked that you are!)

Well with the visa that I applied for in Australia I couldn’t leave the country until it got accepted or declined. That took a year and a half and that’s why I couldn’t leave the country. I got permanent residency now in Australia so now I can come and go as I please. So that’s why the first place I came back to was South Africa, to see everyone. And I’m also planning a trip to south or north Sumatra in a few months so hopefully I get to go surf and enjoy it.

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A year and a half is a pretty long time to be away from home. What was the reason for you going to Australia initially?

My partner lives in Australia so I moved over there with her. We stay south of Sydney, in Wollongong.

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You must be getting to know the surf spots in Oz quite well by now. How would you compare surfing in Australia to surfing in South Africa?

It’s a lot different. I’m so used to surfing here [KZN]. I have a lot more understanding of the waves of course having grown up surfing here. It’s a lot warmer here but we get really good waves there as well. But yeah, it is a bit colder [laughs].

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How would you compare women’s surfing in Australia to women’s surfing in South Africa? Is there quite a big difference between the treatment of women in the line-up?

There’s just a lot more people in the water in Australia. Pretty much every second person surfs. There are a lot of girls that surf as well, a lot of younger girls who compete who are ridiculous. There are a lot more contests over there and a lot more people pushing each other. The quality of surfing is just really, really high. I tried to get into a 1000 contest in Oz and there were like a 100 girls trying to get in! So for girls and women, the scene definitely is just bigger.

Would you say the Ozzy surf culture has pushed you quite a bit coming back then?

Ja, for sure. I kind of just want to show the younger girls here that they can do it you know. Just give them a couple pointers and motivate them and hopefully be a role model for them.

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What’s it been like coming back to SA and competing in the Billabong Pro again? What has your preparation been like this time round?

I didn’t have a strategy really [laughs]. I just enjoyed surfing in front of my home crowd again and just having fun. The waves were really fun and I was just enjoying myself really!

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So you dominated pretty much all of your heats in the Ballito Pro, to be knocked into 2nd place by Skye Burgess in the final, what was that experience like for you?

We were surfing at Bathers and there were some crazy good lefts. I’m a goofy footer so I was going crazy over those lefts and really just enjoying myself. I enjoy surfing in front of a crowd and that was really pushing me. I was pretty much just having a free surf and that’s when I surf the best!

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It was you and Skye competing in the final heat. It’s extremely unique to have a couple competing in a final isn’t it? We’re pretty sure this is a Ballito Pro first…

[Laughs] It was kinda crazy. I was speaking to one of the guys before the heat and he was saying ‘wow, I think this is like the first couple’s heat / final ever!” It was actually more funny. We just went and out and had fun as if we were surfing on any other day. We were just pushing each other and I am so stoked that she won and she would have been just as happy if I had won.

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You were big on the competitive scene, here in SA, especially in your teens. Has your surf style, approach or goals shifted quite strongly since you’ve been away?

Before I left I was really still into the competitive scene and I realized, after I lost my sponsors, I had to find a job if I wanted to keep competing in the tour. It was so hard because I had to work like six or seven days a week and would have no time to surf or train or do anything! I was working my butt off just so I could pay to go somewhere to compete, and just to live. Then you know, I’d have a bummer heat or something, and that kept putting me down. Now, I’ve kind of grown up from that and now – I just want to surf. I just want to travel and just love what I do.

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Where are you working at the moment? And how much time do you get in the water a week?

I’m work in a café in Oz. Making food and coffee’s and that. Now I’m working five days a week so I get two days off to surf. Myself and Skye, we work in the same café and we both get the same days off as well. Wednesday’s and Thursday’s are our days – so Tuesday afternoon you can bet we’re booking out either north or south on a surf trip!

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Speaking of surf trips, rumour has it part of your visit to South Africa is including a surf trip for a film you’re making? Could you tell us a bit about the film and how it came about?

One of the girls that surfs with Skye was taking photos of us and had an idea to make a movie. The idea kind of got bigger and bigger and the sponsors came a long. We’ve actually just been invited to premier the film next year in New York at the Women’s Surf Film Festival in August. The film is still in the making and it’s called ‘Smile and Wave.’ It’s a women’s surf / travel film I guess. We just want to show everybody that any girl can be a surfer. It’s all about going out and doing it – not worrying about too many things. Just to enjoy what you do. But at the same time, it’s not really for other people as well – it was something we wanted to do. To surf, travel and explore.

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We’ll definitely be looking out for it! So living, working, travelling, making films (and now recently competing) together you and Skye must surf together all the time. What have you learnt from her as a surfer and vice verca? How do you effect one another in the water, if at all?

It’s kind of like if I were surfing with any other surfer – if she does a good turn I want to get on the next wave and do an ever better turn. It’s just a healthy, fun competitiveness. We just push each other with really big surf and with really good surf. We kind of just help each other out with specific things as well. Like she’s really good at doing out the face turns and carves and I’m a little bit more in the air or whatever and we kind of just help each other out with the things we’re not as strong at.

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So what are you focusing on or honing in on at the moment in your surfing? And in terms of competitive surfing do you have any clear goals moving forward?

I really like smooth surfing. I want to kind of make everything flow really nicely and not look like I’m pushing or trying too hard. I guess, to incorporate more of a graceful, smoothness into my surfing. I’m not too sure yet of my goals in competitive surfing. I might do one or two events next year if they’re in Oz or somewhere cool in the world… just to have an excuse to go there. If I have enough money I’ll head over, but otherwise not really looking too far ahead. Now that I got my visa I pretty much just want to go travel and go surf.

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What are your plans for the rest of your time here in SA? Hanging with family or packing the boards and following the swell?

We’re going to be carrying on filming the movie. There’s some really big swell predicted this weekend so we might head up to Ponto. We just want to surf and go check out a few game reserves, head to Cape Town and yeah, just go wherever the waves are I guess.

Do you consider yourself Australian or South African now that you have your Oz Visa?

[Laughs] No way I’m proudly South African all the way!

Any kind words for the aspiring groms out there – girls, boys, Saffa’s, Ozzy’s, all creeds?

Have fun and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Love what you do and don’t let anyone tell you different. If it feels right – do it.

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*Images: Most of these images were taken on the south coast of NSW, including Sarah’s new home break, Port Kembla and Bendalong. Photo Credit © Geo Matts.

**Ballito Pro 2016 Images © WSL / Kelly Cestari

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