Surfer Laura Enever tells how she won her battle with anxiety and learned to love her sport again. By Richard Cooke.


Better breaks: Laura Enever, 23, surfer

The ASP women’s world junior champion in 2009, Laura Enever made her debut as a pro surfer in 2011. After suffering from anxiety in competition, Enever became one of four Australian women in the top-10 rankings. She is currently ranked 10th.  

Richard Cooke In the recent four-part documentary web series you put out, it seemed like you were looking for meaning in life as an athlete. 

Laura Enever In the past few years, more than ever, athletes have been more open about how it is behind the limelight – the really hard times that come with competition. When I made my series “I’m Laura”, it was when I was going through a phase in my life where I wasn’t as happy as I knew I should be. I was 19 at the time, and I’d already started getting anxiety in heats and stuff, and I was like, “This isn’t why I started surfing.” I knew straight away I had to just fix that and really find a way that would make me the happiest in my career. I would rather just live an incredibly happy life, and figure out who I am as a person as well. 

RC When you do start a sport so young, does competition start to define your identity?

LE I’ve never really thought about it until it hit. I never knew anything was wrong until I just paddled out in a heat one day and then had anxiety and couldn’t breathe. The pressure that I’d never had before hit all at once, and it was the worst feeling. It just changed my whole perspective on competitive surfing and then it just took a good year for me to figure out where I wanted to fit in. To find out what I loved and who I was. I think I’m now finally at the point where I can say next year, I know what I’m going to do. I’ve had so much fun I feel like I’ve grown into the person I was always meant to be. I’ve given myself that time and I’m so proud of myself in a way for actually taking that plunge and doing that. 

RC Some people retire not knowing who they are.

LE We’re not all just competitors. And even just seeing people who have been amazing athletes in the past, their careers are over, and they’re just left going, “Who am I? What am I?” That’s what I wanted to figure out now. I would absolutely love to work my butt off at the start of next year and try to break into that top five. That’s a huge goal of mine, and I can actually do that now, because I’ve really given myself the opportunity to do everything else I wanted to, and know myself better than ever. 

RC Have a lot of people with anxiety contacted you?

LE Well, a lot of my following and my fans are younger people who probably haven’t experienced anything like that as of yet. And so I try to help prevent it or, if anything happens, to let them know it’s okay. The amount of people who have experienced something like that – and even if it’s just stress overload, like a job – means it’s so normal. I’ve met a lot of people and helped out with a lot of charities and organisations that have helped with mental health. I only had it happen a few times but I knew straight away that it was something I never ever wanted to be a part of my life again. 

RC Some of that is captured in the documentary. 

LE The crazy thing about my documentary was… I mean, I’ve always been this fun-loving, happy-go-lucky creative person and when I met the producer and director, Stefan Hunt, he wanted to go secretly deeper with everything when he started filming. And so, what I thought was going to be really quirky and funny and happy and take my mind off surfing just ended up the most honest raw, real documentary.

RC How would you describe the person you are now?

LE The most important thing I’ve done is just distinguish between what my surfing is and what my competitive surfing is. Really, the life changer for me was to look at surfing and say “riding waves is what I absolutely love to do”. It is the passion that I’ve had since I was 10 years old – to be in the ocean, to go under the waves and to stand up and ride a wave. That is my absolute passion in life. I look at competitive surfing as a job now, and it’s changed my life looking at it like that, because that’s my on switch. I turn on and I do that and then I’m so grateful for the fact that I get to do what I love as well. It all makes so much sense to me now to look at it like that.


This week’s highlights…

• ODI cricket: Australia v South Africa

Sunday, 2.20pm, SCG

• WNBL basketball: Dandenong vs UC Capitals

Saturday, 6.30pm, Dandenong Stadium, Vic

• International Rules: Australia v Ireland 

Saturday, 5.45pm (AWST), Patersons Stadium, Perth

Buy tickets now for…

• V8 Supercars Sydney 500

December 5-7, Sydney Olympic Park Precinct

• Zatopek:10 Athletics

December 11, Lakeside Stadium, Albert Park, Melbourne

• Tennis: International Sydney

January 11-17, Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 22, 2014 as "Better breaks".

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Richard Cooke is a contributing editor to The Monthly, and the 2018 Mumbrella Publish Award Columnist of the Year.

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