Lakey Peterson of the United States surfs during Round 1 Heats at the Oi Rio Pro on May 12, 2015 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Lakey Peterson: Women's world no. 1 surfer
03:49 - Source: CNN

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At 23 years old, Lakey Peterson is the World No. 1 female surfer

She says now that surfing will be an Olympic sport, surfers "will finally be recognized as athletes"

CNN  — 

Surfer Lakey Peterson has a natural instinct for competitiveness – something which she is hoping to display at the Olympics in 2020.

Now that surfing is an Olympic sport, the No. 1 female surfer’s goals are even bigger this year and she says the announcement fired her up with new-found motivation.

“I want to go to the Olympics so bad. I think it’s game changing for surfing,” she says. “It definitely did light a little bit of a fire in me when I heard it was game on.”

The 23-year-old remembers vividly the moment she found out surfing would be included at Tokyo 2020.

READ: Best surfing spots in Sydney

“I was sitting on the couch and I got an email through on my phone saying we were going to be in the Olympics,” she remembers.”I just yelled out to my mom … it was a really special moment. It just sort of triggered something in my mind of like, ‘I gotta go surf, I gotta go to the gym, I gotta go work hard.’”

Peterson says surfing’s participation in the Olympic is going to transform the world’s perspective of the sport and show people that surfing is more than just a lifestyle.

“I think a lot of people who I tell ‘I am a professional surfer,’ the response half the time is ‘oh that’s cool, so what are you studying in school?’ They think it’s more of a hobby.”

At 23 years old, Lakey Peterson is the No. 1 female surfer.

She says the Olympics will prove that the sport is “legit” to the world outside of the surfing community and fans.

“I think it will be game changing,” she says. “I think as an athlete it is going to be really special and we will finally be recognized as athletes – which is what we are – and put us on that same level as everyone else that is in the Olympics.”

‘I used to get so mad when I would lose’

For Peterson, there’s nothing worse than walking out of the surf with anything but first place.

“I almost hate losing more than I absolutely love winning. When I was younger I used to get so mad when I would lose at anything, no matter what it was – I just could not shake it.”

The 23-year-old with the unusual name wasn’t always called Lakey – in fact, her real name is Laura. It wasn’t until her family visited Canada’s Lake Louise that she acquired her new name.

“My middle name is Louise … So everybody was calling me Lake Louise and my brother just randomly – he was really young as well at the time – said “Lakey” and I just loved it.”

She was such a tomboy, she says, that she found the name Laura “too girly.”

“Ever since then (Lakey) has stuck and now it’s my name. I’ve had a few people come up to me and say that they named their kids “Lakey” and I haven’t had the heart to tell them that Laura was my true name,” she laughs.

Peterson attends the Dream Foundation's Celebration of Dreams event  in November 2012.

Better than the boys

Peterson grew up in Santa Barbara, California and starting surfing when she was aged five. The ocean was intriguing to her. But it wasn’t until she was 12 years old that she realized that the sport was her true calling.

READ: Mick Fanning: ‘The ocean humbles you,’ says Aussie surfer

“I won a little local surf contest back where I’m from and there was only a boys division for it – there was no girls division – and I won it.

“I beat all the boys and it just felt so good … That was really a game changer for me – that day, just beating all the boys.”

Ever since then, Peterson has become one of the most influential and successful female surfers in the industry, and has helped revolutionize and pave the way for women in a sport that was dominated by men.

Just last week, Peterson claimed victory at the Roxy Pro Gold Coast – marking an incredible start to the season at the 2018 World Surf League Championship Tour.

‘You can’t live or die on each result’

With such great success, though, comes a lot of pressure – something Peterson has been learning how to deal with over the past few years. The secret, she says, is remembering that there’s always going to low moments.

“It’s realizing that in time, you can get to your goal – but you’re going to have to go through a lot of ups and downs to get there. You can’t live or die on each result each week, or else it will just wear you down.”

"You can't live or die on each result each week, or else it will just wear you down," Peterson tells CNN Sport.

Coming into this season, she’s learned that her training needs to focus not just on her physical ability, but mentally as well.

“It’s an incredible tool to use and it’s funny because you know we train our bodies and we train in the surf, but we never really think we need to train our brain.

“I think just being mentally stable and having a good perspective (and realizing) you don’t always win and you don’t always lose – so just recognizing how to go through all those emotions and to have that perspective through it all is hugely important.”

Peterson will next compete at the Rip Curl Women’s Pro Bells Beach competition in Australia which starts on March 28.