Women's Sports: Exclusive interview with Lucy Campbell, a six-time British Surfing Champion

Britain isn’t exactly a nation known for its surfing. Our seas are cold, and waves are unpredictable at best, but with the introduction of the sport at Tokyo 2020, the UK’s surfers are gearing up for the sport’s entrance in the mainstream.

Lucy Campbell, a six-time British Surfing Champion, is no exception and has her sights firmly set on Olympic qualification. There are multiple ways you can qualify for Tokyo, but, she explains because it’s a guest sport, there are only 20 spots up for grabs. 

The first way to qualify was through competing in this year’s World Surfing Games, which had four places up for grabs and took place this week. Only two surfers from each nation can qualify, so qualification will only be confirmed once all qualifying events have taken place. However, surfers Bianca Buitendag, Shino Matsuda, Ella Williams and Anat Lelior have all provisionally qualified.

You can also qualify if you are one of the top eight ranking women in the World Surf League Championship Tour. For Campbell who failed to qualify for the 2019 World Surfing Games, all her hopes are pinned on next year’s World Surfing Games with six spots available.

So how has the prospect of the Olympics changed things? Campbell says: “It’s definitely a different focus, the last few years have been making sure that I’m at the right qualifying events to make sure I get my place on the (GB) team and then get to the World Games to hopefully qualify.”

Surfing as a sport has a relatively new infrastructure in the UK in comparison with other countries – there wasn’t a governing body until after the sport was announced as a Tokyo 2020 addition. Campbell is entirely self-taught, having grown up on the Devonshire coast, playing and experimenting in the sea with her brother and dad from the age of ten. Everything changed when she won her first British Surfing Championship aged 19.

“Things went from there, really. A couple of years later, I got offered a contract that meant I could surf full time and so I decided that I’d use that money to help do the World Qualifying Series events.” 

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Competing in these events means Campbell can obtain a world ranking – she is currently 113th. On an international level, the competition is fierce: “It’s tough competition, and especially with the nature of surfing there’s so much that’s out of your control – the wind and weather – you never know what’s going to happen. I love to go to those events and watch the other girls surfing and see where I am against them. They push me and inspire me to do and to try new things.”

One element Campbell might introduce into her training ahead of the Olympics is working with a coach in the water – she currently only has training in the gym. She says: “A lot of the girls on the qualifying tour will be there with their coaches, and they work with coaches in the water all the time. That’s never something I’ve gone for, and I think I’m going to start looking for.”

The reason Campbell hasn’t had this sort of coaching is that up until recently it’s not been financially possible, she explains she would have had to compete at fewer events to fund professional coaching. 

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Campbell’s current training regime includes two or three sessions a week in the gym and one or two sessions in the water every day. Things are different in the run-up to competitions, however: “We’ll only have 20-minute heats, so I work on shortening my surf and getting used to surfing in that short period of time, working on my wave selection and completing all of my manoeuvres. When I haven’t got competitions coming up, I’ll be happy to try and push things a little harder.”

She also has to factor in training abroad. Campbell explains: “Coming from England, we’re not blessed with consistent waves all year round, unfortunately. And you’re coming up in heats against people from Hawaii and Australia who have consistent waves all year round and can train every day, so I do have to get away to train. It does get expensive.” Thankfully for Campbell, she has sponsors who are helping her achieve her dreams and compete.

Training abroad also helps adapt to different wave and weather conditions. The British Surfing Championships next year are set to be held in north Scotland, a far cry from Tokyo’s warmer climes. Campbell says: “Going from surfing in a thick wet suit with everything covered but your face to surfing in a bikini is quite a difference.” 

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There aren’t any rules about what you can wear when surfing; instead, it’s determined by the temperature of the water. Although Campbell explains, women are now advised to wear shorts rather than bikini bottoms: “I’m not sure if that’s a rule or just they’d rather you did.”
Campbell has noticed an increase in interest in surfing since the Olympic announcement: “There’s definitely been more people interested and a lot more sort of news and sports stories. I think it’s a fascinating time for surfing.”|

While she says it’s always been a popular sport for people to try out, Campbell thinks the Olympics might change participation too: “With the inland wave pools that are popping up all over the place now there’ll definitely be a lot more people getting involved, and I really hope that people want to give it a try after seeing it in the Olympics.”

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