Big week for Willow Hardy as Pro conditions heat up

Willow Hardy at Surfers Point with dad Gene; The talented young surfer was mobbed by fans and friends who gathered at the point to witness her compete against some of the world's finest surfers. Photos: Thea McDonald-Lee
Willow Hardy at Surfers Point with dad Gene; The talented young surfer was mobbed by fans and friends who gathered at the point to witness her compete against some of the world's finest surfers. Photos: Thea McDonald-Lee

"When I was coming down from that turn I was just like oh my god please land it please, I was just thinking, look at the beach, look at the beach, look at the crowd, I just have to land it!"

It's the best year she's ever had competitively, winning the last five surf contests she's entered.

This week, things got a whole lot bigger for 14 year old Willow Hardy competing in 6ft swell against some of the world's best surfers.

Hardy did not disappoint the adoring crowd who gathered to watch her on the opening day of the Boost Mobile Margaret River Pro with a wave on the buzzer that had everyone holding their breath. She placed third in her heat against Hawaiian Carissa Moore and Australian Nikki Van Dijk with a heat total of 6.43 (out of a possible 20). She then faced 7x World Champion Stephanie Gilmore and Hawaii's Malia Manuel in Elimination Round 2, where despite a valiant effort from Hardy, the senior surfers advanced.

Thea McDonald-Lee caught up with Willow post-heat to find out more about her success.

What does it mean to have the community turn up to support you?

"It means so much. Just knowing that even if I don't get a wave everyone will still be so proud of me. I've had so many nice messages over instagram and socials, and everyone turning up at the contest just wanting to give me hugs. It's just amazing because normally I'm on the other side of it, even surfing with Carissa out there, I'm just looking at her like oh my god it's the world champ, can I get a photo, autograph?"

Gene Hardy watches his 14 year old daughter Willow as she is interviewed post-heat. Photos: Thea McDonald-Lee

Gene Hardy watches his 14 year old daughter Willow as she is interviewed post-heat. Photos: Thea McDonald-Lee

Who were all the groms asking for your signature?

"Lots of them were my little sisters friends, and my school friends, and people I surf with and a couple of people that I didn't know; everyone was just so supportive."

What did you feel when you were walking back up?

"I was still in shock. At the start I was a little disappointed I hadn't done as well as I would have liked; I don't really mind about the result, I just wanted to get two good ones. But then I thought, I just have to see the bigger picture and the fact I got one good one and all the support behind me. I think I was just so shaky but they really made me feel so positive and put a smile on my face. That's all you can ask for."

Willow Hardy is greeted by fans and supporters at Surfers Point. Photos: Thea McDonald-Lee

Willow Hardy is greeted by fans and supporters at Surfers Point. Photos: Thea McDonald-Lee

What were the conditions like out there?

"It was pretty crazy, there were bubbles everywhere, and you didn't really know where to sit. When you were paddling for a wave it was so hard to know, should you go or let it go, left or right? As soon as I get to my feet and I get to the open wall I relax, but as I'm paddling I'm thinking should I go or should I not go? And that's definitely the most pressure moment, making the call on what wave to catch."

How do you make those calls when you're in a heat?

"I just try and look for clean ones. Often when I'm nervous I do make mistakes, and I made a couple of mistakes at the start. As I was paddling I was thinking, why am I even going, but I may as well stand up. In a free surf I probably wouldn't have chosen those waves, it's just all in the moment and guessing. In my next heat I'm gonna try and be a bit more relaxed and a bit more assertive with what I'm paddling for and ground and centre myself a bit more. It's quite an overwhelming feeling but I have just loved this experience."

Your Dad was telling us you've won the last 5 contests you've entered in a row?

"This year's actually been a really good year for me. I normally have a couple of wins in a year, lots of seconds, lots of final placings, but this year every comp I've gone in I've managed to come out with the win. I've definitely had some luck on my side, and it's so good to be on this roll and to have this CT experience as well."

What's the difference between local contests and surfing on the Championship Tour level?

Willow Hardy said she was thrilled to have such a vocal local crowd behind her. Photos: Thea McDonald-Lee

Willow Hardy said she was thrilled to have such a vocal local crowd behind her. Photos: Thea McDonald-Lee

"It definitely feels like a lot more pressure and I think it's probably mainly me putting pressure on myself. I've never been on TV for my surfing. I have my grandparents from England watching and when I was paddling and I fell off, I thought, I really want to get a good one for Granny and Grandpa so they can see me surfing. I'm a shy person but through this comp I've tried to open myself up and put myself out there a bit more, but I do get a lot of stage fright thinking, oh my gosh the cameras are filming me."

Did coming from a surfing family get you into the sport?

"I definitely think coming from a family of surfers it's just natural for me to get out in the water, but I really felt no pressure to be a surfer, it was something I was just doing for fun - I still am doing for fun. Getting to surf in the WSL has always been a dream and getting older and going through high school I was learning how hard it would be to make my dream a reality. But having a taste of this definitely makes me want to work harder so hopefully one day this can be my future and my career."

How do you balance school with surfing?

"I go to school full time, but they've provided this amazing program where I don't have to go for every lesson. I do my core subjects and I can leave early to go surfing, or come in later, school's been really good. I've been given opportunities to do homeschool, but I just love my friends so much. I feel like school is so important and the social side is so important to have those connections. I do miss my friends when I'm away and they motivate me, it's amazing."

How are your boards going?

"Pretty good. I have three boards so I'm just hoping that I don't snap one. I've seen so many broken boards this morning, every day there's been some, but I guess my boards were made for Margaret River so they're probably a lot stronger than the boards the pros were riding on the Goldy. I'm loving my equipment at the moment so hopefully it all goes good."

What does growing up in WA mean to you?

"I think WA is probably one of the best places on earth. It's just so diverse. You get good waves every day, and waves that push and challenge you. I love it. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else."

This story Big week for Willow Hardy as Pro conditions heat up first appeared on Augusta-Margaret River Mail.