Rising Kiwi sports sensation Paige Hareb is trying to pull herself down from "cloud nine" as she comes to grips with creating New Zealand surfing history while readying herself to take on the world's best women surfers in Hawaii's giant waves.
The 18-year-old from Oakura Beach yesterday became the first New Zealand woman to qualify for the elite World Championship Tour, a $US1m annual circuit known as "The Dream Tour" and limited to the best 18 surfers in the world.
For the fitness-driven Hareb, it meant giving herself a rare 24 hours off training to soak in her amazing achievement of qualifying for the Dream Tour only one year into a three-year plan to achieve the goal.
"We had a barbecue last night to celebrate, and I got a few calls from New Zealand from friends and family which was really cool," said Hareb from Sunset Beach in Hawaii where results in the World Cup WCT event yesterday confirmed her Dream Tour elevation.
"I had a couple of champagnes and it was really good to just sit back for a moment or two and reflect on the year which has been really hectic but is now really rewarding. But I can't sit back too much.
"I've been given a wildcard entry into the last Dream Tour event of the year, the Billabong Pro on Maui starting next week, and I really want to take advantage of that, so I can't afford to relax.
"It's a chance to test myself against the world champion Stephanie Gilmore of Australia and the other top women professionals ahead of the 2009 Dream Tour. They're the competitors I will have to face regularly next year so the sooner I front up to them the better, as far as I'm concerned."
It is that fighting attitude from Hareb that has propelled her to the elite of her sport.
A stunning 2008 campaign on the World Qualifying Series circuit, the tier below the Dream Tour, paved the way for Hareb's breakthrough with a win in the five-star Drug Aware Pro at Margaret River in Australia mid-year proving a critical triumph.
"I finished the year seventh on the WQS rankings and the top six qualify for the Dream Tour," explained Hareb. "But because the bottom ranked girls on the Dream Tour drop out and are replaced by the top six from the WQS, a lot of the girls do both tours.
"If you double qualify (finish in the top six of the WQS), it doesn't matter if you finish low on the Dream Tour. You still qualify again. So I had to rely on one of the girls ahead of me on the WQS rankings finishing in the top 10 of the Dream Tour this year.
"That happened when Silvana Lima from Brazil finished second to Steph at Sunset. Silvana had finished ahead of me on the WQS but because she was also top 10 on the Dream Tour, she double qualified which meant I got promoted from 7th to 6th.
"I guess I owe Silvana a drink next time I see her!"
Hareb admitted to being slightly "overwhelmed" by her achievement.
"I wasn't expecting to make the Dream Tour in my first year," she said. "I was actually going to concentrate on junior events in Australia and just compete in the odd WQS event for experience this year.
"I thought 2010 was a realistic year to target making the Dream Tour. But this year just took off for me, I gained confidence very contest and things have developed from there - I'm stoked in how it's gone."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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