By Pam Kragen
The San Diego Union-Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Surfer Alyssa Spencer has traveled all over the world to compete, including France, Japan and Australia. This weekend she will be in Oceanside Ca. as she participates in the “Paul Mitchell Supergirl Pro contest”, the largest female surf competition in the world.
The San Diego Union-Tribune
For most of her life, 15-year-old Carlsbad surfer Alyssa Spencer has idolized the world’s top women surfers.
This weekend, she’s competing in the same tournament with them at the Paul Mitchell Supergirl Pro contest in Oceanside.
Back for its 12th year at Oceanside pier, the contest and surrounding festival that run through Sunday is the largest female surf competition in the world. More than 100 surfers are registered, including 23 of the world’s top 25 women surfers and dozens of up-and-coming junior surfers like Spencer.
The Carlsbad native started surfing at the age of 6 with her parents, Paul and Mary Spencer. For many years, the sport was a hobby and she took part in local grommet (youth) surfing tournaments just for fun.
But, inspired by professional women surfers like Tyler Wright of Australia and Lakey Peterson of Santa Barbara, Spencer started competing more seriously about three years ago. Now her dream is to one day follow her idols and qualify for the World Surf League’s Women’s World Championship Tour.
“I love being in the water and I love the freedom of surfing, that there are no rules when I’m out on the waves and I can do anything I want,” she said.
Over the past couple of years, the home-schooled Spencer has traveled all over the world to compete, including France, Japan and Australia.
Spencer was one of the youngest contestants at Supergirl Pro when she started competing there three years ago.
She’s excited about how the event has grown and attracted an increasingly larger number of pro surfers and spectators.
“The sport of surfing is dominated by men and women have always been in the shadows,” Spencer said. “It’s cool to have an event that’s all about empowering women because we don’t get enough attention.”
When Supergirl Pro was launched 12 years ago, some critics wondered if it could draw a significant audience. The first year there were just 300 spectators. This weekend’s nationally televised event will draw as many as 100,000 people, said Rick Bratman, CEO of ASA Entertainment, the event’s management company.
Bratman said women’s action sports have benefited from the recent upswing in women’s empowerment.
“It’s always been important to support women’s issues, but given the current political climate, it resonates even more,” Bratman said. “Our goal is to make this both inspirational and aspirational. These young girls are wide-eyed getting to surf with their heroes and talk to them. It’s one of the things that makes this event so unique.”
During qualifying heats Friday morning, several hundred spectators watched the action from towels and beach chairs on the sand, browsed through the seaside 40-vendor fair and sipped drinks in the beer garden on the pier.
Among those shopping among the sweatshirt, flip-flop and food booths Friday was Encinitas resident Chelsea Thomas, who came with her daughters, ages 2 and 4. She likes watching surfing but she loves how the event celebrates women athletes.
“I want my girls to see that they can be heroes and the star of the show, too,” she said.
Nearby, festival volunteer Christine A. Smith of Oceanside said she isn’t surprised how successful the event has become.
“There’s a lot of hoopla here because people really dig it,” Smith said. “I admire the people who created it and believed in it. It’s like what they say in the movie, ‘if you build it, they will come.'”
Bratman said Supergirl Pro has become the most world’s popular draw for top women surfers because it’s the only qualifying event in the U.S. for women competing in the World Surf League.
Among those participating this weekend are six-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore, three-time world champ Carissa Moore, No.1-ranked Lakey Peterson, No. 3-ranked Tatiana Weston-Webb, No. 5-ranked Johanne Defay and defending Supergirl champion Courtney Conlogue, as well as Malia Manuel, Caroline Marks, Coco Ho, Alana Blanchard and Sage Erickson.
“All the women are so excited about it,” said Erickson, an Ojai native and two-time Supergirl champion. “It’s so awesome to have a contest like this in the U.S. that focuses entirely on women’s surfing … it’s my favorite event of the year.”
This year’s Supergirl event features more surround events than ever before, Bratman said.
Back for the second year is the Gamer Pro competition, featuring more than 200 female video game competitors, including the nation’s top women’s e-game team, CLG Red.
In the initial e-game tournament last summer, 40 women faced off playing two games. This year, contestants will play five games, including the ultra-popular Fortnite. The competition takes place in a beachside tent today and Sunday.
At the Junior Seau Amphitheatre, a 20-concert series continues, with performances from 11:15 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. today and noon to 5:15 p.m. Sunday. Weekend performers include Drake Bell, Cody Simpson, Megan Nicole, Loote, Jordyn Jones, Josie Dunn and Elle Winter.
There’s also an all-female DJ contest featuring Radio Disney’s DJ Lela B; a Curb Queens women’s skateboarding competition; Reebok fitness and Zumba classes; a female empowerment panel discussion featuring 4-time U.S. Olympic snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis; and a hairstyling booth hosted by Paul Mitchell.
One of this year’s event sponsors is the U.S. Air Force which has a large display at the festival, including a fighter jet. Onsite all day Sunday will be U.S. Air Force Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, who became the service’s first female fighter pilot in 1993.
Recruiting women is a priority for the U.S. Marine Corps, which has the fewest women of all the service branches. At the Marines’ booth on Friday, passers-by were challenged to do pull-ups in exchange for Corps swag like T-shirts and water bottles.
Marine recruitment officer Sgt. William Hester said this is the third year the Corps has had a booth at Supergirl.
“We like to be out there at events that align with our core values,” he said, “and here you’ve got the biggest competitive surfing competition and an event that promotes a healthy lifestyle. What’s not to like?”
Paul Mitchell Supergirl Pro Competition & Festival
When: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and Sunday
Where: Oceanside Pier beach, The Strand, Oceanside