Oh the joy of waveriding! Photo: Sarah Maher
A Surf Gal Stab Adores: Maddie Peterson
Surfing's other model mom.
Madeline Grace Barnett, formerly Maddie Peterson, is a 20-year-old professional surfer/model from the great Garden State.
At 19, Maddie became pregnant by her then-boyfriend, now-husband, Blake Barnett, a quarterback for the University of South Florida Bulls. Maddie, Blake, and their 3-month-old Brooks now live in Tampa, Florida so that Blake can keep up with his daily studies and football training.
But before all the baby business, Maddie was a relatively successful competitive surfer and ambassador/model for Lululemon, one of surfing’s recent inclusions from the fashionable athletics world.
Three months after the baby, we caught up with Maddie to see what’s changed in her life and what she hopes to see for herself, her surfing, and her family moving forward.
Stab: So after nine months of pregnancy and three months of raising Brooks, you’ve been dealing with a baby, to some extent, for the past year. Did you get to surf at all during your pregnancy? And have you after?
Maddie Peterson: I was able to surf on and off during the beginning of pregnancy. We were living in Arizona for most of my term, so Blake and I took weekend trips to California whenever he got some time off. Then the first time I surfed after having Brooks was four weeks postpartum.
Where are you living now?
We live in Tampa, Florida, so New Smyrna is about two hours away. That’s way better than the six hours we had before, so we try to get over there as much as possible.
A young mother runs purely off caffeine and cuddles.
How is surfing after having a baby?
My first session back I rode this little 5’8 fish, and I literally felt like I was sinking it. After having a baby your body feels so different, and obviously four weeks postpartum you’re still on the heavier side. I gained a lot of weight during my pregnancy. I was like 135-140 before I got pregnant, and then I got up to 190. I’m getting back down now, I’m like 155, but that first time surfing I felt like a whale on a tiny little stick. I thought it was going to take me a really long time to get back on my feet, but the muscle memory is still there so I’m actually surfing better than I thought I would.
You’re one of the women whose job is part surfing, part modeling. Based on your Instagram, it seems that your sponsors have really embraced your becoming a mother and even used that transformation to continually market their products.
In today’s generation, especially for women, body image is such an important topic and something I feel very passionate about. So together with brands like Lululemon and Sakura Bloom, I’ve been able to use my platform as a younger mom to show the transition that occurs in that period, both to your body and your mindset as someone bringing life into the world. You know, the plan you have in mind isn’t always what happens in life, so you need to be able to adapt and go with the flow. In my case, a baby was put in front of me, so it’s been cool to be able to show how I’ve handled that transition.
Nothing like a post-surf shower.
I can’t help but see parallels between you and another famous surfer/model, one who went through this motherly transition at the very same time as you. Are you by any chance friends with Alana Blanchard?
Yes, Alana and I are good friends! I remember this time last year when we were in Cabo, she actually told me she was pregnant. Then a couple weeks later, I found out I was pregnant. So throughout our pregnancies we talked a lot, she told me what she was going through, I kinda shared what I was going through, and it’s been cool to see Banks [Alana and Jack’s son] and Brooks [Maddie and Blake’s son] grow up and kinda compare them to one another. Alana’s been really helpful to me throughout this whole experience.
You’re 20 now, meaning that your career as a surfer/model has really just begun. What are your aspirations for the future?
I’ve been trying to just enjoy these last few months with Brooks and really soak up that mommy-son time, but recently I’ve been starting to get that fire back and feel like I need to go do something. I honestly don’t know what that looks like though, because the competitive surfing thing [with all the travel etc.] is pretty crazy as it is, but adding a newborn into that picture would be pretty insane, especially since Blake’s practice schedule is so intense. The thing that Alana has going for her is that Jack [Freestone] is also a professional surfer, so he’s going to a lot of the same places as her already, meaning they can share the baby duties. I’m trying to be there for Blake and of course Brooks, while at the same time following my own career and ambitions. It's definitely about finding that sacred balance. So I’m kinda thinking that the lifestyle model/surfer thing with short stints of travel would be ideal. But then sometimes I really miss the fire that competition brought out of me. There’s nothing like it.
With turns like this, it should come as no surprise that Maddie got 4th at the 2015 ISA Games in Ecuador, earning herself a copper medal.
One thing I’ve noticed across all professional sports, but surfing especially, is the difference between male and female athletes in regards to having a baby. For instance in surfing, many of the Men’s CT surfers have children. Sometimes mom and the little ones join them for events, but for the most part the men go to the contests alone, leaving their family behind while they compete. Yet on the Women’s CT, not a single one of the current competitors has a child, nor can I recall a woman in the past 10 years who has surfed full-time on the CT after having a baby. What do you think about that?
That’s a really good point, and I think there are a few reasons behind it. First of all, in those early stages, the baby really relies on you. You do nine months with a baby in your belly, through most of which you definitely wouldn't want to be training or competing, and then after you give birth, most mothers do several months of breastfeeding, which means that they have to be around the baby almost 24/7, making surfing and training very difficult. On top of that are all the bodily changes that take place, most of which can be reversed, but it definitely takes time. So you’re probably looking at two years off Tour before you could realistically return to competition, and then of course you still have a baby to take care of.
As the person who physically created that child, it's probably much more difficult for a woman to leave their husband and child at home while they're off working and competing*. And there's nothing wrong with that, but there is a bit of a difference between men and women in that regard. So for those reasons, it makes sense that most female surfers wait until they're done competing to have kids.
But that's not the hand I was dealt, so now I'm on a slightly different path. And I don't think that's a bad thing at all. Blake has been a great husband and parter, I absolutely love being Brook's mother, and I'm already looking forward to our late thirties and early forties like, "Awesome, Brooks will be going into college and Blake and I will still be young enough to do whatever we want" [laughs]. It's pretty cool.
*Tennis star Serena Williams had a child last year. While training for her first tournament back, Wimbledon 2018, Williams missed her child's first steps and explained how devastated she was via Twitter. Fellow working women responded with solidarity.
What's summer without a little sun?
Were there any surprises about having a kid that you didn't expect?
I feel like up until we had Brooks, we were told that this was gonna be such a life-changing experience, to the extent that we would lose all our independence and freedom, but we actually haven’t experienced that. Luckily Brooks has been a very easy baby. But the hardest changes have been the changes to my body, and just having to accept that. As a professional athlete you know your body so well, so when it’s taken over by another life it definitely goes through the ringer a little bit – I had a C-section, so my recovery was a little bit longer than some women. But I'm getting better each day and am excited to get back to where I was before.
The son of a surfer and football player, Brooks will eventually be forced to choose between the ocean and the gridiron. We expect Maddie will lead him in the right direction.