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Grace Clair of Durango surfs to second North American title

Clair, 14, enters world championships as No. 1-ranked amateur
Grace Clair, 14, recently won her second North American championship and is competing at the world championships. (Courtesy Sarah Clair)

Grace Clair of Durango recently won her second North American Wake Surfing Championship, which earned her a spot at the Competitive Wake Surf Association’s world championships on Friday.

Clair also scored an amateur North American title last year and went on to finish third in the world.

With those performances, Clair qualified to compete in the semipro division. Since she’s only 14 years old, however, she also had the option to compete in the amateur division one more year.

“She opted to stay one more year in amateurs and set a goal to win worlds,” said her mother, Sarah Clair. “She doesn’t want third, she wants first.”

Wake surfing is similar to wake boarding, but with key differences. Wake surfing boards don’t have bindings holding the rider on, so they rely on wax for grip, like a traditional surfboard. And once the rider catches a wave behind a boat, they let go of the rope and surf the wake.

Clair only started wake surfing a few years ago, when she was 11. Sarah said her husband, Joe Clair, grew up water-skiing in Michigan and on a whim bought a surf boat.

“(Grace) immediately took to it and was way better than any of us,” Sarah said. “Put her on a surfboard, and she can dance.”

Her friend talked her into doing her first competition when she was 11, in Arizona, before she had received coaching. She met her coach at the competition and has steadily moved up, going from juniors, where boys and girls compete against each other, to amateurs last year, in which Clair competes with adults.

To prepare, Clair mainly trains at Navajo Lake. Her mom said they live there all summer and “pretty much surf every day.”

During the school year, they also drive down and surf at Navajo after class. In the winter, Clair trains in Arizona at Lake Phoenix, which is where her coach is located.

She’ll also ride at Lake Nighthorse with friends.

The 14-year-old rides her board regular, with her left foot forward, and can carve into waves both toe-side or heel-side. She can also switch it up and ride goofy, with her right foot forward, for added difficulty.

She also can spin on her board, do body variables (her board stays the same direction and she spins), as well as catching air and grabbing her board.

“It’s like she has grasshopper legs,” her mother said. “It’s pretty mind-boggling to watch. She makes it look a lot easier than it is.”

Her wave riding abilities have even attracted sponsors; Clair is currently a team rider for Soulcraft boards, which is rooted in Oceanside, California. She rides on a Soulcraft SuperFly board.

Grace Clair throws a trick while wake surfing. The 14-year-old hopes to win a world title this year. (Courtesy Sarah Clair)

Because of the pandemic and restrictions on international travel, this year’s world championships will have a different format. Instead of all competing together in Texas, where the event traditionally has been held, the athletes have their choice from 18 modules in nine countries. Only the pros will compete together, Oct. 7-9, in Texas’ Lake Conroe.

In the U.S., the amateur and semipro athletes had four modules to choose from. Clair, and her Soulcraft teammates, were going to compete in Minnesota, from Sept. 16-19.

The event will still have more than 185 athletes from 19 countries competing, and it will still be live, sort of. A judge will be at each module on the boat, but the judging, which usually has three judges, won’t conclude until early October. Sarah said she’ll know the results Oct. 6.

To make the competition fair, competitors will surf behind the same model of the same boat from Centurion, which will have the same setup and travel at the same speed – 11.2 mph.

Runs are judged on difficulty, intensity, variety, execution and style, or DIVES. The governing body is the Competitive Wake Surf Association.

“To win it she’s going to have her work cut out,” Sarah said. “The Thailand girl (Dawnee Kanjanapas) has pretty similar tricks. It will come down to the day of who can execute their tricks the best.”

At the North American championships, which includes riders from the U.S and Canada, Clair had the highest degree of difficulty, intensity, variety and execution scores to win by more than 11 points with a 72.4.

Clair, who is the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, will have two 45-second runs to show off her skills at the world championships.

Sarah said her daughter typically rides toe-side for her first pass, and then switches it up on her second run and rides the first 20 to 30 seconds heel-side. Riders also are allowed one fall per run, which can be used strategically to mix up the waves from regular to goofy, or goofy to regular.

Sarah said Clair will start with a run in mind but leave it up to what she’s feeling on the wave.

Clair was scheduled to compete Friday, but won’t find out the results until Oct. 6.

After this year, she’ll also bump and compete in the semipro division.

Grace Clair catches some air on her wake surf board. The 14-year old is the No. 1 ranked amateur in the world. (Courtesy Sarah Clair)