Chances are, at the ripe old age of 18, Lakey Peterson can surf better than you. Anyone who has watched the Montecito native come of age in recent years knows full well what a world-class and gender-barrier-breaking talent she is. The manner in which she has leapfrogged her way through the unavoidably steep learning curve of high-performance wave riding to go from an area surf-contest neophyte at age 12 to one of the Top 10–ranked female surfers on the planet is more than impressive — it’s virtually unparalleled. But what you might not know is how, despite the seemingly dramatic rise of this young surfing sensation, there is a story of import that goes well beyond catching rollers in a big blue sea and ripping them to pieces.
It is this tale — one of talent crashing headlong into a strong work ethic right about the same time a young person starts to take those all important, albeit awkward, first steps toward adulthood — that is the backbone of the film Zero to 100: The Lakey Peterson Story. Premiering this week at the Lobero Theatre, the movie is a surf action–heavy biopic (a genre that all too often can trend toward mediocre cinematic celebrations of premature self-grandeur) that is perhaps best considered as a saltwater-flavored documentary of sorts. It is in this field of view that Zero shines as a unique, honest, and occasionally inspirational glimpse into the life of a top-tier professional athlete at the exact moment she begins to realize her dreams. Taking a break last week from finishing the final sound mixes for the movie, filmmaker Aaron Lieber summed up the perfect timing that underpins much of the raw storytelling ingredients of the aptly named Zero to 100. “You really couldn’t have scripted this any better even if you wanted to,” explained Lieber. “I mean, we started out just trying to document [Lakey’s] first year on tour, but now, looking at the film we’ve created, I realize what it turned into you never could have planned. It’s just insane really.”
First, and most obviously, there is Peterson’s surfing. The viewer gets a fast-forward account of the young regular foot’s athletic childhood and family life, followed by her well-chronicled teenage domination of the amateur surfing ranks. And while the obvious rapid-fire progression displayed on-screen is certainly not without intrigue, the real meat and potatoes of the movie start when Peterson begins her professional career and sets out to compete on the 2012 edition of the Women’s World Tour. At 17 years young, Peterson, traveling with her parents, hits the road to places like Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and France to do battle against the best of the best in women’s surfing. The cameras roll as Peterson struggles to adjust to the rigors of a life spent almost entirely in transit, the realities of getting poor results for really the first time in her career, and the unavoidable turbulence of being a teenager constantly surrounded by mom and dad. But the cameras also capture Peterson as she gains the personal growth–inducing glories of world travel, as she begins to use her free time and growing popularity to help various environmental causes, and when she experiences the mega-stoke-making moments of winning the tour’s final event of the year last summer in Huntington Beach. “It was such an emotional roller coaster,” Peterson recently reflected when asked what surprised her most about her rookie campaign on the tour. “That was really the biggest thing for me. Every event I was learning something new. You’re on the road, I wasn’t doing as well as I liked, there would be stupid drama, and then something incredible would happen, and I would just be so amazed by everything …. I have learned so much in the past year, not just about surfing, but about myself and the world and how to treat other people.”
Ultimately, it is in the traversing of these personal peaks and valleys that Zero to 100 blossoms into so much more than a surf flick. Instead, it’s more of a coming-of-age story about a young woman who just happens to be setting the surfing world on fire. The end result is an hour of viewing pleasure that, as Lieber puts it, “is going to make you laugh, cry, and want to go do some push-ups.”
Zero to 100: The Lakey Peterson Story premieres this Sunday, February 10, at the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.) at 7 p.m. Call (805) 963-0761 or visit lobero.com for tickets and info.