- May 13, 2021
Alyssa Gilreath is a pint-sized surfer with big dreams and even bigger goals.
The 10-year-old Ormond Beach Elementary student is no stranger to competitions. The young pro surfer has won over 120 trophies since she began entering competitions at 5 years old. And in early March, she will compete in the ECO Pro Surf Series Championship in Puerto Rico in the 10 and under division.
Alyssa is excited. She's looking forward to seeing her friends compete alongside her and hopefully, taking the trophy home to Ormond Beach.
"Ever since we got the news ... we kept on watching these Puerto Rico videos and the place that I'm going to be surfing at, and it's just so pretty and beautiful and exciting," Alyssa said.
She is the three-time consecutive season champion for her division within the Eco Pro Surf series. Her father, Willey Gilreath, said she's surfed really hard to achieve her goals.
"The conditions aren't always perfect," he said. "She's had some challenging conditions, and not only did she qualify and win the championship, but she got the number one seed to the contest in Puerto Rico."
Alyssa began surfing when she was 2 years old. Both of her parents surf, and her father is a self-described semi-retired professional surfer.
"I'm coach and dad," Gilreath said. "And I make her surfboards."
Alyssa said she fell in love with surfing the first time she rode a wave. It's being out on the water, she said, and standing up and all of the sudden, you're riding the wave.
She can pinpoint the first time she realized she wanted to take surfing seriously. She estimates she was about four or five years old, and her dad had taken her out on a longboard.
"So I was just standing up on the front of the board," Alyssa recalled. "We caught the wave, and I was like 'Oh my gosh, this is so fun.'"
American pro surfer Bethany Hamilton also played a role. Alyssa and her father were watching a surfing contest where she was competing, and she asked him to sign her up.
And he did. He signed her up for a competition by local pro Shea Lopez in May 2018, and Alyssa competed against girls in the 14 and under division. At 5 years old, she placed third.
Alyssa now holds multiple state tiles and is part of several surfing associations. She's sponsored by Rip Curl, GoJuice and Jimmy Hulas, and has won several championships in the Gnarly Charley Surf Series.
"We're a tight-knit community," Gilreath said. "We're almost like a family and we travel all over the world."
You've got to be tenacious," he said. "If you don't have tenacity, surfing is not going to be your sport." — Willey Gilreath
In June of 2022, Alyssa traveled to El Salvador to surf.
"She charged some really big waves," Gilreath said.
Big waves are terrifying, Alyssa said.
"But once you get on the wave, you're like, 'Oh my gosh, I made the drop,' which is probably the most important part," she said.
Any surfer no matter what age will reply with a similar answer to Alyssa's, said Gilreath. Plus, it's part of the appeal of the sport.
"You've got to be tenacious," he said. "If you don't have tenacity, surfing is not going to be your sport."
Is Alyssa tenacious? Her dad chuckled and said, "And them some."
After surfing some 6-foot waves in El Salvador, facing the local waves didn't seem as daunting as they once did to Alyssa.
"They're tiny after that," she said.
One of her teachers at Ormond Beach Elementary taught Alyssa a phrase that has stuck with her since: Practice doesn't make perfect. Practice makes permanent.
"So you practice and every time you practice, you get ... better, I'd say, and you have to try to make that permanent so that you cannot forget," Alyssa said. "So that's why you keep practicing to get it."
Somehow, between school, where she was named Scholar of the Year last year, and her other extracurricular activities — soccer, dance, skateboarding and she's interested in starting to play basketball — Alyssa finds time to catch waves.
So you practice and every time you practice, you get ... better, I'd say, and you have to try to make that permanent so that you cannot forget. So that's why you keep practicing to get it." — Alyssa Gilreath
Bethany Hamilton, as well as pro surfers Alyssa Spencer and Carissa Moore, are some of the women Alyssa looks up to. If she ever met Hamilton in person, she said she'd tell her that she was her hero, and if she could, she'd love to have the chance to surf with her. Alyssa has actually already surfed with Moore.
She's had a lot of cool experiences at her age, Gilreath said. He mentioned two local professional world champions: Frieda Zamba, from Flagler Beach, and Lisa Andersen, from Ormond Beach.
"And the word on the street is that this one is the next Frieda Zamba or Lisa Andersen," Gilreath said. "She doesn't quite understand the impact of that, but I couldn't be prouder. We're going to hopefully start traveling the world, and [Puerto Rico] will be her first international event."