School got out last week and thousands of high school students flocked to New Jersey's beaches.
But Maddie Peterson, 15, of Wildwood Crest, wasn't with them. She spent all winter at the beach and was at one again last week, but in Dana Point, Calif.
Home-schooled since the age of 12, Peterson is pursuing a surfing career. And on June 17, she won the National Scholastic Surfing Association's Varsity Women's division at the National High School Championships at Salt Creek, Calif., while representing St. Augustine Prep in Buena Vista Township.
"It's really cool to be out here," she said last week from San Clemente, Calif. "I've known most of these people for a while. It's so good to come out and surf world-class waves, compete against the best in the country and have people pushing me."
Peterson does not attend the all-boys St. Augustine Prep, she was asked to be a member of its surf team. Each team has to have females on the squad to be eligible for the nationals. It is common for NSSA teams to have home-schooled students competing for them.
Peterson, a goofyfoot (she surfs with her right foot forward) freshman , surfed through two rounds to get to the six-girl final. She scored her best results in the June 16 semifinal, when the waves were biggest, putting up an 8 and a 6.5 (of possible 10s) after getting off two critical frontside turns on each wave.
"That's what the judges were looking for. Before the heat, my Dad (Jamie Peterson) told me to get vertical. I got a few waves that let me do that and surfed pretty fluid," she recalled.
Peterson had to beat out Danielle Wyman of Dana Hills High School in California, Malia Osterkamp of San Clemente, and Cayla Moore of Kamehameha High in Hawaii.
"Maddie has been competing in the NSSA for a few seasons now and I've seen her growing potential over the years. Each season her skills have rapidly improved, but it was really apparent this year," NSSA executive director Janice Aragon said. "I was really impressed with her surfing at the NSSA East Coast Regional Championships (New Smyrna Beach, Fla., in April.) She was one of the top performers, sweeping double titles in the Open Girls and Explorer Girls.
"She also stepped up and made finals in both the Open Women's and Explorer Women's (all age females). After her outstanding showing, it didn't surprise me that she took her first national championship title."
The High School Championships is part of the larger Interscholastic Championships presented by Hurley, which also include the Middle School and College Championships. San Clemente High School took the overall team event. Ocean City High School, with longtime coach Mark Miedama, finished ninth and St. Augustine Prep, coached by Kevin Morris, longtime manager of Heritage Surf and Sport in Margate, finished 10th.
"We don't have a lot of surfers from Jersey that have claimed national titles so it's great thing for that area of the nation. And hopefully her victory can serve as motivation for the surfers from this region. If she continues to work hard and stay focused, she definitely has the potential to contend for more," Aragon said.
Peterson also has earned a spot on the prestigous junior surfer Pac Sun USA Team for the second straight year. The team will represent the United States at the International Surfing Association's World Junior Championships.
The next threshold
She and her father stayed in California after her win for the Surfing America USA Championships at Lower Trestles in San Clemente, which she qualified for in April. This event is more competitive with the best surfers from all the amateur surfing organizations in the country - girls who are home schooled and more devoted to full-time competition. The top finishers often go on to be the next crop of U.S. pro surfers.
Last year, Peterson got through two rounds of the Under-16 Girls division of the NSSA Nationals before she was eliminated in the quarterfinals by the 2012 International Surfing Association junior girls world champ, Dax McGill of Hawaii, and California's Tia Blanco.
"That's the next threshold she has to cross - surfing against the Hawaiians," Jamie Peterson said of his daughter. "They're very competitive. She had an interference penalty in one of her heats when she and Hawaii's Mahina Maeda took off on the same wave, going at each other. Her coaches came up to her afterwards and said they would rather see her in the mix, trying to get waves and get an interference than surfing hesitant."
While this is likely Peterson's breakout result, she already had taken four NSSA East Coast titles, (two this year.) In 2012, she made the finals of the NSSA High School Nationals, won the Girls division at the East Coast Surfing Championships and Steel Pier Classic Women's Pro, while finishing second at the Belmar Hannah Pro. Last winter, she took fifth place among 40 surfers at the Roxy Pro Junior in Florida.
Peterson's getting her education through Monarch, an online home school curriculum for grades 3-12. With her competition and photo shoot travel schedule, she wouldn't meet traditional school attendance requirements.
"A lot of kids who compete in the NSSA get their education online" she said. "I can be working anywhere that I have a computer. My Mom (Sharlyce Peterson) manages it. It frees me up when I travel, but when I'm home it's just a lot of school work."
Peterson is still an amateur but has the support of Under Armor sportswear, Spy Optics, On A Mission surf accessories, Sharp Eye Surfboards, and Cape May Fitness. This summer, she is on the alternate list for the US Open presented by Vans in Huntington Beach and hopes to surf the Supergirl Pro in Oceanside, Calif.