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"I think I just want to empower women and girls to just be proud of their bodies and who they are and feel beautiful and strong." Sarah Lee for ESPN

Surfer Lakey Peterson has always felt a connection with the ocean

ESPN The Magazine did this profile of Lakey Peterson for their Body Issue.

Surfer Lakey Peterson seems destined for her fate -- a Santa Barbara native whose mother spent her pregnancy swimming in the ocean and who spent a year of her childhood on a sailboard around the world (plus that name!). Now, after almost a decade as a pro (yes, at just 24 years old), and after a big year in which Peterson got married, filmed a TV show for Facebook and finished second in the WSL season, it was the perfect time to pose in her hometown for ESPN's Body Issue, always a bucket list item. "I've always felt like I want to represent myself and young females in a really positive, healthy way," she says. "The Body Issue shows that you can be confident and enjoy that and celebrate that in a really healthy and gorgeous way."

We've been told you have a little bit of familiarity with this location?
I do! Yeah, I got married right here, at this location a couple months back, pretty much. So, it's really fun to be back and kind of weird. It's quite the location for me -- maybe it means something. I need to get the coordinates and figure out what it's telling me.

You're a Santa Barbara native. Were you just destined to learn to surf?
Growing up in a town that's very focused around the beach, I grew up boogie boarding and body surfing. But no one in my family really surfed a whole lot. At around age 11, my neighbor across the street and his dad would go surfing every day, so I just started going with them down the street. I wouldn't say it was love at first surf, but one thing led to another and I was like, wow, this is so much fun. I signed up for a few contests and went pro at 16.

But at 5, you guys left to sail the world. What was that trip like?
It was incredible. That was the first time I actually surfed, in Manly Beach, Australia. We stayed there for about a month of that trip, and I did a summer camp with my brother and my sister. That's when I learned to surf, on the soft tops. That trip in general, getting to see the world at such a young age, set me up for what I do now. I go all over the world all year long, and I found myself going back to a lot of places we went on that trip. It's kind of weird; it's almost like my parents knew that I was going to be doing this.

At just 14, you were the first woman to complete an aerial maneuver in a competition. How did you get the confidence to try that?
I was so young I didn't have any idea that girls weren't doing that, or that hadn't been done. I saw all of these boys doing it, and I always hung out with boys and surfed with boys from a young age. I was just really innocent and not hindered by the fact of, like, oh, girls don't do this. No, this is what you do as a surfer.

Do you now hear from young girls who are like, "Well, Lakey did it, now I can do it"?
Yeah. I'm a little scared those young girls are going to be better than me in a few years. The people I've always admired have been the people that are progressive and leading that charge of being different and trying new things and pushing themselves. I've always wanted to be like that. I always say, if I'm not falling in practice, I'm not progressing.

What does a training day look like for you?
I'm up around 5:30, or 6. I do some morning routine type of stuff and then I go surf with my coach. Depending on how good the waves are, I'll surf for probably two hours, two and a half hours. Then we watch some video review and go to the gym for an hour and a half. Then a little break and surfing for another two hours. I try to average four hours surfing a day, and I probably train five days a week. If the waves are really good one day, I won't train, I'll just surf for six hours. For me, my fitness is great in the gym, and that will always be there, but more time in the water and more time surfing is where I'm able to progress and catch up a lot more because I started late.

Your rookie year was amazing -- you won rookie of the year. Then last year, seven seasons in, you were runner-up for the world title. What's next?
Winning a world title is the goal, and last year I came so close. It was really an amazing experience to be in a title race and to put together a year like I did. I was really proud of that. I'm just trying to take everything I learned from last year and apply those to this year. And we have the Olympics for the first time ever in Tokyo, 2020, so obviously qualifying for that is a huge goal.

What are the specific lessons you learned last year that you're going to apply this year?
Last year was just a huge year for me in a lot of areas: I was going for a world title, I got married, I bought my first home. I filmed a full TV show. By the end of the year, when it was really critical for me to focus on that world title, I was just overrun. I didn't pace myself. And as you start to win and do really well, that comes with more pressure, and that comes with more people and more obligations. I don't feel like I managed that very well. I think this year it's about reminding myself the year's really long. I want to be consistent through the year and maintain a really nice focus.

How do you describe the feeling of riding a wave?
When you stand up on the board, everything else just goes away. You stand up, and anything that you're worried about or stressed about, happy about, sad about; it just kind of goes away and all you focus on is exactly that moment. It just brings you so into the present. It's this emotionless, beautiful thing. And you're going so fast and feeling the speed, it just makes you feel really alive.

Click here for the ESPN Body Issue article.