KILAUEA — Local surfer Gabriela Bryan, a 15-year-old from Kilauea, recently returned home after a month-long trip competing in Mexico and California.
“It’s definitely, like, you have to work hard to do well,” Bryan said Wednesday. “I started off doing Junior Pro events … three years ago. It was definitely so different from amateur contests. You definitely have to step up your game.”
Bryan competed last month at the USA Surfing Championships, which was hosted by national governing body Surfing America at Lower Trestles in San Clemente, Calif.
“I’ve always surfed up a division. When I was in U14 or U12, I’ve always surfed up,” she said. “But this was my first national title there, and this was the first year that my age actual division was U16. This was my (true division).”
She came away with her first title from the national competition, winning the Girls U16 division. Bryan beat out competitors Samantha Sibley of California, Caroline Marks of Florida and fellow Kauaian Keala Tomoda Bannert.
“All the girls were good. Everybody was capable of it in the final. I just had to get the right waves, surf really good and not fall,” Bryan said. “When I heard that I won — because at the end everyone had gotten waves, so they were like, ‘We got to put everyone’s score in the computer and see what it comes out to’ — we didn’t really know. When they announced that I won, I was so happy.”
Bryan also was second in the Girls U18 division. Hawaii’s Summer Macedo won the division.
Bryan has been surfing since she was about 4 or 5 years old, and started competing when she was about 10.
“I used to go down to the beach, pretty much, every day after school when I was younger,” she said. “And then my first contest was the Irons Brothers (Pine Trees Classic), and I won that. And then from there on out, I started becoming competitive. It just led on to me doing more and more contests.”
Aside from her recent trip to Mexico and California and several previous trips to Oahu, Bryan has also competed in Japan, Tahiti and Australia.
“When I’m competing, it’s definitely not like a vacation where you can go and just relax by the pool,” she said. “You can hang out and adventure when the contest is not on. But when you’re going there for a contest, you have to be mentally prepared, physically prepared and in the right mind frame to surf.”
To qualify for nationals, Bryan first had to be a top-six finisher following a Hawaii Surfing Association-Kauai season consisting of five events held on-island to advance to a state competition.
Bryan finished second in both the Kauai Girls (14-15 years old) and the Kauai Girls Shortboard (16-17 years old) division, finishing both behind Bannert.
At the HSA state championship at Ala Moana Bowls on Oahu in April, the top two advance in each division to nationals.
Bryan finished second in the Girls 14-15 Shortboard final, and again she was second behind Bannert. But Bryan got her victory at the USA Surfing Championship.
“I think this was my best year at Surfing America, for sure,” Bryan said. “Last year at NSSA (National Scholastic Surfing Association), which was at Huntington Beach, I got a national title (first place in the Explorer Womens division). But, I definitely feel like this was something I’ve been working towards. One of my goals this year was to win that contest.”
She added: “I was obviously super, super happy. It was something I accomplished that I feel I’ve been working really hard for. Now, I’m ready to take it farther and start getting more in the QS (World Surf League Qualifying Series) events and try to gain more points for the WSL.”
Bryan has had some time to enjoy her victory, but she will be back on the road soon. She intends to enter the Supergirl Pro, a WSL QS event set for July 28 in Oceanside, Calif.
Bryan hopes to one day join the ranks of fellow Kauai wahine pro surfers Tatiana Weston-Webb, Malia Manuel and Bethany Hamilton in the WSL Championship Tour.
While she would feel accomplished if she did make the top tour, Bryan knows that would just be the tip of the iceberg.
“It’s definitely not like, ‘Oh my God. I’ve reached my ultimate goal.’ It’s just one of the stepping stones to that ultimate goal of that world title,” she said.
Surfing America and Hawaii Surfing Association contributed to this story.