When Lindsay Steinriede was standing atop the winner's podium in Biarritz, France, it wasn't so much surprising because she'd upset a two-time world longboard champion--it was surprising because months prior, it had seemed competitive surfing was behind her.
"To be honest, I had a lot of stuff going on this last year and [contests] weren't that high on my list of priorities anymore," Steinriede admitted days after returning home. "Even though [surfing] was still something I had a passion for, there was just a lot of other stuff above it."
She'd recently completed a stressful year teaching classes at local community colleges. She was teaching yoga on the side. And in October 2010, Steinriede's father passed away. Suddenly contest strategies and chasing qualification points wasn't all the important to the Dana Point resident.
Surfing became a recreational pursuit, just something she would do with friends and her husband, Ryan Engle, at San Onofre.
The summer prior to her father's passing she had won a contest in Waikiki and with it the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) North American Longboarding Regional Title, which automatically qualified her to compete for a world title.
Steinriede was smooth and stylish throughout the contest, despite lackluster conditions.
When it came time for the Roxy Pro in Biarritz, the first of two world tour events, she decided she'd attend, mainly for the traveling and the experience.
"You never want to travel that far and have a bad trip, a bad contest," Steinriede said. "Once the contest started, my mind was all in."
Most of the contest was run in stormy, small waves. But Steinriede was advancing through heats, and doing so with some of the highest two-wave heat scores of the contest.
"I had a really hard path to the final, I was up against strong competitors, but it was different for me this time," she said. "I had a different perspective...I guess on my life in general. I wasn't very nervious even though I was up against tough girls. People would say I had a hard heat, but I would think all I'm doing is surfing for 20 minutes. Compared to what I've been through recently, it wasn't hard. I think that mentality helped through the contest. It kept me calm, thinking the worst that can happen is I would lose."
By the finals, which was run on Steinriede's birthday, the conditions had diminished further, and it was no secret that she was entering the heat as the underdog. She was up against Jennifer Smith, a two-time world champion.
Every competitive surfer hopes for the champagne shower.
But as she had done all contest, Steinriede was able to identify and catch waves which presented ample scoring opportunity. Smith wasn't so fortunate. By the final horn, driven by a 7.5 out of 10 midway through the heat, Steinriede had a score of 12.4 to Smith's 5.6.
"It is one of my greatest accomplishments so far," Steinriede said. "To have won on my birthday, it was a double celebration, and definitely one birthday I won't forget."
Steinriede celebrated with her best friend, who had come for support, along with fellow competitors. They attended a concert that night, danced and were merry, and somehow ended up at a wedding--and then were kicked out of the wedding following a "death-stare" from one of the bridesmaids.
In October, the second and final contest to determine the world champion will run at Hainan Island in China. Steinriede knows little about the wave and the scene, but she'll be attending. She's the points-leader heading into the event and has the chance to win a world title.
When she won her North American title, she dedicated it to her father. He was the one who taught her to surf and encouraged her to compete, even when she was scared. A world title would seem like a fitting thank you.