Sarah Baum’s Incredible Journey To The Olympics

by | Jul 5, 2024 | Profile

As the top-ranked female surfer in South Africa and athlete on the WSL Challenger Series, surfer Sarah Baum has qualified for the 2024 Olympic Games. It comes after many years competing and a hiatus from the sport. Now, she’s ready to compete against the best. Here’s what keeps her stoked.

Growing up as a grom in Durban’s South Coast, Sarah Baum started surfing competitively at the international level in a bid to qualify on the coveted WSL Championship Tour, the pinnacle of competitive surfing. At the age of 17, she narrowly missed the opportunity and a few years later, took a hiatus from the sport. “After competing full-time for so many years and having lost my financial sponsors, I felt like I needed to take a step back from professional surfing to remind myself why I fell in love with the sport in the first place,” reflects Sarah. “I decided to come back to professional surfing with a new drive to perform and to show other people that they should not be ashamed of who they are.” 

Comeback Kid   

And show them she did. At the 2023 Oakberry Tweed Coast Pro in Australia, she threw down and won the event, securing her position on the WSL Challenger Series. At the same time, Sarah had her eyes on Olympic qualification. Her chance to claim her spot came at the ISA World Games in El Salvador. “During my heat, I landed awkwardly on my foot,” recalls Sarah. “I knew straight away something was wrong.” But the event wasn’t over and she had another heat to win. “It turns out I had broken my foot. I have never been faced with any major injury like that before, let alone right when I had to compete in one of the most important 20 minutes of my life,” she says.

In that moment, the pressure of advancing to the Olympics left and something more immediate took hold. “I just needed to focus on one simple task: catch two waves in 20 minutes,” she says. “And that is exactly what I did. My mind was so clear and focused on what I needed to do that everything else fell by the wayside.” Against the odds, Sarah emerged on the shore with a qualification to the Olympic Games in the bag. “I got to the shore with the whole South African crew there to congratulate me and I broke down in tears and couldn’t believe the roller coaster ride I had been on,” she muses.    

“I decided to come back to professional surfing with a new drive to perform and to show other people that they should not be ashamed of who they are.” 

Sarah Baum

Embracing Growth 

To Sarah, her wins are a testament to the years of training she put into it. It’s something she appreciates more as she matures in the sport. As a youngster, she spent her youth travelling up and down the South African coast, competing at events. “I feel like that has made me the surfer I am today,” she says. “In surfing, we are constantly having to deal with quick reactions and in-the-moment thinking. I feel like if I can calm the mind to think more clearly in those situations then that will take me a step closer to my goals.” It’s these moments of pressure that shaped her will to beat out other surfers and take home every trophy and medal.   

Sarah Baum surfing
Sarah Baum; image by Beatriz Ryder

Shaping The Future 

Sarah’s qualification for the Olympic Games comes after SA surfer Bianca Buitendag took home the silver medal for surfing at the 2020 Olympics. The moment inspired the country and highlighted what South Africans can do in the water. For Sarah, there is a need for more investment in the sport. “When I look at the calendar for junior surfers in South Africa currently, it saddens me to see how few events there are,” she says. “These events prime athletes to be their best for when it is time to compete on an international level. I would love to see more companies backing the younger generation in South Africa because there is talent there, they just need some help.”

Sarah Baum At The Olympics

Most recently, Sarah won the first-ever J-Bay Classic Presented by Corona Specialty in Jeffreys Bay, Eastern Cape. She beat out Sally Fitzgibbons to earn her trophy.

Now, it’s all systems go to the biggest sporting stage in the world. For Sarah, it’s a dream come true. “My earliest memories as a kid was watching the athletes at the Sydney Olympic Games. I always had a dream of one day competing at that level,” she reflects. “It still feels surreal that I have qualified for the Games. I can’t wait to be on that stage competing in front of the world and be representing myself, country, family and friends.”

Michelle October

Michelle is the features editor at WH. She’s immensely curious about the world, passionate about health and wellness and enjoys a good surf when the waves are good. Find her on Instagram here.

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