Quizon making a name on world stage
|Photo gallery: Young surfer|
|Video: See 13-year-old surfer Alessa Quizon in action|
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dayton Morinaga
Hawai'i's "secret weapon" of surfing is out.
Alessa Quizon already surprised the surfing world with a fifth-place finish at the World Junior Championships two weeks ago at Portugal, but that was just a start.
Alessa is 13 — a seventh-grader at Wai'anae Intermediate School — and a relative newcomer to competitive surfing. She started surfing "five to six years" ago, but did not start entering all of the local youth circuits until a year ago.
"I guess I wasn't ready when I was younger," she said.
She came of age this month in Portugal, upsetting several older competitors from around the world. Her division was for girls age 18 and younger, so Alessa was one of the youngest in the field.
"She was a wonderful surprise for our team," Hawai'i coach Rainos Hayes said. "The boys on the team nicknamed her 'secret weapon' because she kept knocking off all the older girls, and scoring points for us."
Hawai'i — which was allowed to enter as its own nation — placed third in the team standings, behind Australia and Brazil. Alessa and Tonino Benson of the Big Island scored the most individual points for Hawai'i.
"I thought I was able to do good because of all the practice I've been going through," Alessa said.
Age was not the only obstacle for Alessa to overcome at the World Junior Championships.
For starters, she made the Hawai'i team as an alternate after other girls declined the trip.
"We could only take four girls, and to be honest, Alessa was our No. 4 seed," Hayes said. "But that just goes to show how great of an accomplishment it was for her to do as well as she did. When you look at her age, and the way she made the team, it's phenomenal that she got fifth place."
What's more, the cold ocean in Portugal forced Alessa to surf in a wetsuit. "The first week, it was uncomfortable, but then I got used to it."
There was also the issue of being in a foreign country for the first time in her life.
"We didn't find any McDonald's and we had no rice cooker — I didn't eat rice on that trip," she said. "But the experience was good in Portugal. I got to surf different places, and see different things and meet different people."
Making it more impressive, Alessa almost turned down the trip because of financial reasons. According to her father, Scott, the trip to Portugal had a price tag of around $3,000 per surfer.
"I had to go into her savings, and work a lot of overtime, and I went into my savings," said Scott, who is a truck driver.
Fortunately for the Quizons, sponsors helped cover some of the costs. Most notable, Billabong became Alessa's main sponsor just before the trip to Portugal.
"If the sponsors didn't help out, she wouldn't have gone," Scott said.
Based on her performance in Portugal, Alessa can expect to receive even more support from sponsors in the coming years. And she'll need it.
This weekend, she will compete in the O'Neill/Local Motion Surf Into Summer contest at Ala Moana Bowls. Next month, she will compete in the Hawai'i Amateur Surfing Association State Championships.
In July, she will travel to San Clemente, Calif., to compete in the National Scholastic Surfing Association National Championships for the first time.
"She has the raw talent and the ability, and she has the heart and the drive," Hayes said. "Now, it's a matter of coming together with the technique and knowledge of the game."
Alessa's determination is reflected in her practice schedule. The Quizon family lives in Makaha, but they drive to Kewalo Basin at least three times a week so that Alessa and her two younger brothers can practice.
"Her friends all surf in town (at Kewalo Basin), so we make the drive every other day," said Scott, who practices surfing with Alessa. "I told her as long as she keeps her grades up, I'll take her where ever she wants."
Alessa is an A-student at Wai'anae Intermediate.
It probably helps that surfing success runs in the family. Alessa's older sister, Kristen, is a former amateur national champion. A cousin, Dustin Cuizon, is one of Hawai'i's top young professional surfers.
"The only thing that some of the other surfers have on Alessa right now is experience," Hayes said. "But she's catching up fast."
Reach Dayton Morinaga at email@example.com.