In the past decade, as more locals have had success surfing professionally, the world has become more aware of the Garden State's growing scene.

But there are still very few waveriders, especially women, competing outside the state.

One leading the way is Maddie Peterson, 16, of Wildwood Crest, who was recently named to Surfing America's traveling U.S. team to compete at the Vissla World Junior Surfing Championships, which starts Saturday and runs through April 14 in Ecuador.

Peterson has been on the Pac Sun U.S. Team for the past two years, but her results in recent Surfing America Prime events cemented her spot on the team to compete in the Girls Under-16 division at the world juniors, which is sanctioned by the International Surfing Association, which governs amateur surfing around the world.

"I didn't grow up surfing anywhere else but right outside my house in Wildwood Crest. Some people ask if New Jersey even has waves," she laughed during a recent interview from Florida where she was chasing a recent swell and training. "I've looked up to surfers like Sam Hammer (Lavalette), Dean Randazzo (Somers Point), and Rob Kelly (Ocean City) all my life, and they all came out of New Jersey."

"Being my first year on the travel team, it's such an honor to be able to represent USA with my team. It has been a long term goal of mine," she said.

Last June, Peterson burst onto the scene when she won the National Scholastic Surfing Association's varsity women's division at the National High School Championships at Salt Creek, Calif. Peterson, who has been home-schooled since 12, is allowed to compete for St. Augustine Prep, despite the fact that the Buena Vista Township school is all-boys.

Last September, she won her division at the Fosters Belmar Pro, the largest event in New Jersey. She followed that up in January with a second place Under-16 division finish at the Surfing America Prime event in Santa Cruz, Calif. In giant waves, she posted the highest wave score of the event (8.93).

Then, on March 9, she got a wave at the buzzer to beat her good friend Caroline Marks and win her division at the Prime event at New Smyrna Inlet, Fla.

"The competition at the Prime event in Florida was a lot of young, up and coming girls. It was really cool to see the next generation rising up and progressing in their surfing," Peterson said. "Caroline is like my little sister and to see her surfing the way she is now, is mind blowing. Caroline is only 12, but she's the toughest competition in my age bracket. She surfed that final well, but being my last year in Under-16 at that contest, I couldn't let her take that."

Peterson is a goofyfoot (surfs with her left foot on the back of the board) surfer with fantastic fundamentals and style. She's been on the South Jersey surf scene since she was 10. This year has been a whirlwind with competitions in Florida, the West Coast, Central America and the Caribbean.

"I've been traveling a lot, and haven't been home for the swells that are worth suiting up head to toe in, surfing in the snow. As much as I love home, I try to stay away from winters in New Jersey," she admitted.

Peterson had the opportunity to train with Jim Hogan in Costa Rica earlier this year. Hogan, originally from California, surfed on the Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour and has become a legendary coach for U.S. teams on the international stage.

"Jim gave me a new perspective on surfing. He taught me that, 'What's the point of doing it if your not having fun?' We did a lot of video analyzing and seeing what we could change in our surfing. I went with my good friend Chelsea Tuach from Barbados and we just had the best time together," Peterson added, "So many laughs, and such good waves!"

This year she also joined the 7th Street Surf Shop Team in Ocean City, which has traditionally had some of the best talent of all shops in New Jersey.

"Maddie is one of the few Jersey surfers, male or female, making a push outside the state and doing a great job at it. She's well traveled for her age and it shows in her surfing and understanding of the industry. She's the full package, very marketable and a great athlete," said Rob Kelly, who has surfed for 7th Street since his early teens.

Kelly, 23, won the Juniors and Mens divisions at the Eastern Surfing Association's Eastern Championships in 2007, but understands how hard it is to maintain a professional career. He is among a handful of local surfers who still competes outside New Jersey, often scoring good results but splitting his time doing marketing for surfwear company Billabong.

"If she stays on course she should be able to create a successful career as a woman's professional surfer and represent New Jersey on an international level," Kelly said.

And Peterson will have to eventually square up with Cassidy McClain, another outstanding surfer from Ventnor, who has dominated local womens divisions for years. McClain, a recent graduate of Atlantic City High School and a rider for Heritage Surf Shop, beat the guys to win the Open division at the ESA Regionals last May.

Following a win at the SA Prime in New Smyrna, Peterson competed at the Ron Jon Quiksilver Junior Pro in Cocoa Beach, Fla., where she made the quarterfinals. Surfing the ASP's Junior Pro series and making the ASP Junior World Championships will become a main focus after Peterson turns 18.

"I didn't do as well as last year (at the Ron Jon event), where I made it to the semifinals, but I'm learning a lot. I'm planning on doing other junior contests throughout the year and hopefully get enough points to get into some ASP Qualifying Series events."

The ASP's WQS is the final step in a long, hard road to qualifying for the very elite Womens ASP World Tour.

"I just turned 16, so I'm trying to take everything step by step, and do everything wisely," Peterson explained. "I think one of the keys is to not keeping surfing the top priority at times - making other things important like God, family, friends things like that. But my love for surfing will never go away."