A little more than a month ago, a 17-year old named Sarah Mason, a sandy-haired goofy footer from Gisborne, New Zealand -- a small city on the island nation's northeastern coast -- received an email from Silviana Lima of Brazil, the 14th ranked rider on the ASP Women's World Championship Tour.
Lima was injured and would not be able to compete for the rest of the season, which meant Mason -- who barely missed making the tour prior to the 2011 season and had already surfed the first four events of the year as the tour alternate -- was now guaranteed an opportunity to finish the year on tour.
This sort of thing happens all of the time, but what's different in Mason's case is that she was 16 when she started the season and that makes her the youngest-ever surfer to qualify for the tour. Younger than Kelly Slater was in 1990 or Mark Occhilupo in 1984 or Bruce or Mick or Parko or Steph Gilmore or Sally Fitz.
For fans of the women's qualifying circuit, Mason's ascension is no surprise. She has been tearing though ASP Prime events for years. And when she's gotten the opportunity, she has taken down some of her sports biggest stars -- including Coco Ho and Stephanie Gilmore -- and scored a handful of solid results, a smattering of fifths and thirds.
In the water, Mason is all power: big backside hacks, clean carves, and endless floaters. She has -- to quote the great surf writer, Derek Hynd -- "the great bastard desire to win." You can see that desire in her surfing and her self-assurance in post-heat interviews.
But the reality is that in her short career Mason is still on the outside looking in. In order to stay on tour over the next year she'll need finish in the top 10. After five events she's ranked 13th.
"The world tour is definitely a step up, so I have been training a lot and working on my surfing heaps for the last two events," she says. "I am in need of some good results to stay on tour."
Talent alone isn't enough. Mason knows that and she has been putting in the work. She has relocated to the Gold Coast of Australia -- where the water temperature is higher than in New Zealand -- and trains at Snapper Rocks with a coach. She keeps her travel and training schedule flexible by homeschooling. She's working non-stop on her fitness and her diet.
"I really want to just make the most out of my surfing and be the best I can be," she says. "I really want to stay on tour and just work on getting some good results in the future."
She's taking her lumps, too. A recent photo on her Facebook page showed her on a hospital stretcher, in a neck brace, after smacking her face on the reef during a Sydney practice session.
One track mind. Desire. She wants it so badly that we can't help wanting it for her, too.
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