Wildwood Crest native Maddie Peterson made a distinct impression last weekend on the international surfing community.

The 16-year-old finished fourth in her division at the World Junior Surfing Championship in Salinas, Ecuador, on Sunday.

“To have made the final, let alone be a medalist for the USA, is something I wouldn't have really pictured happening, being my first time at this contest,” Peterson said Monday night, while traveling from Ecuador back home. “Words can't describe my joy.”

Peterson was on her way to the airport after competing in the International Surfing Association event as part of Surfing America’s USA Surf Team.

Thanks to a second place at the Surfing America Prime event in Santa Cruz, Calif., earlier this year and a first place in the prime event in New Smyrna, Fla., Peterson was selected to represent the United States on the world stage.

But the road to Sunday’s final wasn’t easy. Peterson lost a third-round qualifying heat by 0.3 points to Dax McGill of Hawaii. That forced her to the repercharge rounds where she had to advance through five additional rounds to qualify for one of four spots in the final.

She regained her form in her third repercharge heat, nailing down an 8.7 on her forehand — a score that turned out to be the highest in the entire event. She also got back at McGill and eliminated her from the competition.

“That wave is definitely something I'll never forget. I took it all the way to the inside. It was such a good wave. I felt so accomplished when I heard my team going crazy on the beach,” she said.

Peterson said it was a long road to the final, but definitely worth the experience.

“It felt endless, really, because I was surfing two heats a day. Being on the beach for 10 hours each day drains you, but the waves were so much fun. It was nice to surf a left-hand point break with three, or maybe two girls out,” she said.

Her efforts landed her in the Under-16 division final with Costa Rica’s Leilani McGonagle, Mahina Maeda of Hawaii, and Laura Poncini of Australia.

It was a fairly low scoring final, but Maeda took the win with 10.90 points and Peterson settled for the copper medal or fourth place with 5.50 points.

She was back in the United States on Tuesday, where she’s getting focused on training.

“I have Surfing America Nationals in San Clemente to get ready for in June and the NSSA Nationals in July in Huntington Beach,” Peterson said. “Coming back from Ecuador, I have this fire in my stomach where I want to push my limits.”

Started at The Press in 1993 as an Ocean County reporter. Moved to the copy desk in 1994 until taking over as editor of At The Shore in 1995. Became deputy sports editor in 2004 and was promoted to sports editor in 2007.