Ex-pro surfer Laura Crane on how exercise saved her mental health
Laura Crane has been in front of the camera for most of her life.
The athlete-turned-model first started having her photo taken professionally when awarded a professional surfing contract, aged 12.
“They started moving me around the world, and I was competing full-time. It was literally a dream come true,” she said.
But behind the lens, the pressure to constantly look Instagram-ready soon started to take its toll and she developed an eating disorder.
Olympic Channel sat down with Laura to talk about her journey, how fitness was her saviour, and the work she is now doing to raise awareness around mental health.
"My sport has always been my superpower"
Growing up, Crane suffered from dyslexia and struggled in the classroom.
In surfing, she found her salvation.
“I was about nine when I first got on a surfboard and just fell in love with it straightaway. As I wasn’t super academic at school, my sport has always been my superpower, I suppose,” she revealed.
She started winning local competitions and it wasn’t long before brands were looking to sign her up.
“At the age of 12, I got sponsored which was literally a dream come true. And they kind of started moving me around the world.
“By the age of 14, I became British champion. I surfed at the European juniors and then from there, quite soon after, I started doing the qualifying series which is the kind of next step towards getting into the World Surf League.”
“It was my passion and it was something that I felt I was put on this planet to do.”
The Instagram effect
Crane was a self-confessed tomboy growing up.
She would wear baggy clothes, and surfed purely for pleasure.
“When I first started, the girls on tour tried to be like the boys, to be strong and masculine and try and embody that kind of surfing and style,” she said.
But as with many elite athletes, her relationship with the sport changed as she transitioned from passionate participant to money-earning professional.
“When Instagram started filtering in, the surf girls all of a sudden became very marketable for their sponsors." - Laura Crane to Olympic Channel.
“All of a sudden the girls were making more money than the boys.”
As soon as the beach photo shoots were finished, she would ditch the bikini for board shorts and head out to surf.
“As a competitive athlete it was quite hard because you felt like you were being a little bit sexualised."
The life of a professional athlete is often an unstable one.
Constantly moving around the world to compete, combined with the constant need to look good for sponsors meant that by the age of 17, led Crane to develop bulimia.
“Trying to balance being a model and an athlete was probably where my eating disorder kind of stemmed from.
“Sometimes I would be stressed from competing, and my eating disorder was a form of control.
“It was quite a contradicting situation I kind of found myself in.”
After surfing professionally for 10 years, Crane retired aged 21.
For the next few years she worked on her disorder. She was then invited to appear on British reality TV show, Love Island.
Considering the programme’s reputation for promoting external beauty and its wide-reaching viewership, the former surfer was in two minds whether to put herself back in the spotlight.
However, it also presented Crane with a chance to promote a different, more athletic type of lifestyle, and she seized it.
“I was at a stage in my recovery where I was very proud of who Laura was,” she said of her decision to enter.
“I was absolutely petrified. I knew that I was going in there a little bit different. I don't really wear much makeup and I rarely do my hair. I might be a bit more muscular than your average girl.
“So I think I was just doing it for 15-year-old Laura, just making sure she had someone to look up to. And doing sports is cool, and it doesn't make you a boy.”
Addressing the issue through fitness
When the coronavirus pandemic struck, it caused everyone to rethink their lives to some degree.
For Crane, that moment of reflection allowed her to take the next step in her recovery from bulimia.
“Spending a lot more time at home during the lockdown made me really have to sit face to face with it and give myself that time and to be able to just focus on nothing else apart from my health.
In addition to speaking to a therapist, she found that sport and exercise would once again become her superpower.
“As workouts could only be really basic at home, I really enjoyed stripping it back a little bit. I used to train as a professional athlete three to four times a day, but re-discovering the things that you really get enjoyment out of has been so great.
“I absolutely love nothing more than waking up and doing a sunrise walk, which helps me mentally and physically. It’s small but it just makes my day go so much more smoothly and I have a lot more control over my thought patterns.
However, the inner elite competitor still likes to make an appearance every now and then.
“I also love going on my bike and cycling like 100 miles, and yoga. So I think there's balance and it's really important not to overtrain because you feel you should.
These days, Crane spends a lot of time raising funds for charity, and uses her social media profile to promote the benefits of exercise and a healthy lifestyle.
She still models, but the content on her Instagram feed is centred around working out, being outdoors, and not taking life too seriously.
“I think it’s really important, especially kind of having a profile like I do if you're all about yourself. I just think that that's super selfish. And I like to be able to share that with other people and share other people is kind of like accomplishments.”
Surfing, and smiles, also feature prominently on the Bristolian’s feed again, having rediscovered her love for the sport in its simplest form.
“Surfing allows your mind to relax, and escape everyday worries that actually aren't so important.
“That was a massive saver throughout my whole life. And even even now as I've retired, I've gone full circle and fallen back in love with surfing.”