There’s no other feeling like catching a wave. That’s what 11-year-old Whitney Gwisc discovered about the sport she’s come to love.
“Nighty-nine percent of surfing is just paddling around, catching waves, sitting, trying to figure stuff out,” Gwisc said. “Only like one or two percent of it is actually riding a wave, but that’s my favorite part. Getting on a wave, shooting down the line … That feeling, you can’t replicate it.”
Gwisc, who lives in Mount Pleasant, began surfing three years ago on Folly Beach with Coach Kai Dilling from Sol Surfers Surf Camp. On June 21, Gwisc will be catching waves on the West Coast at the 2021 Toyota National USA Surfing Championship.
The competition will be at Lower Trestles in California, known as one of the best surfing spots in the world. Gwisc said she needs to get in the water with a strategy or else she won’t stand up against the competition. She’s arriving a couple of days early to test the waters.
Gwisc surfs goofy foot, which means her right foot is forward and she likes to turn left on a wave so she’s surfing frontside and facing the wave.
When she’s in the water, she looks for waves that are big and steep which provide more power and speed. “That’s the three essential things you need for surfing: speed, power and flow,” Gwisc said.
She also looks for waves with a nice left point break because she performs better on those compared to right point breaks.
In addition to surfing in a new spot, Gwisc is also looking forward to meeting other surfers her age from across the country. Since she typically competes regionally, she hasn’t met surfers from California or Hawaii before. At the championship, Gwisc will be representing Parrot Surf and Skate, a surf shop in Mount Pleasant.
Gwisc began competing only a year or so after she started surfing. She had to get acclimated to contest surfing where she only has 15 minutes in the water. With free surfing, she can be pickier about the waves she chooses to surf.
In May, Gwisc showed off her surfing skills at the Eastern Surfing Association’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Surfing Championship in Nags Head, North Carolina. She won first place in girls under 12 and girls under 14 categories.
Gwisc said the waves weren’t very good that day. She started with a smaller surfboard, but that wasn’t working so she switched to a bigger board and was able to catch a bunch of waves.
“You have to like think in a certain way in a contest,” Gwisc said. “You have to think smart.”
During the under 14 heat, Gwisc was in second place and needed to score at least 2.3 to take first place. “I looked around and I just caught the first wave I saw,” she said. Gwisc’s score was 2.5.
During the school year, Gwisc, who attends Cario Middle School, typically surfs once each weekend, but the summer allows for more time in the water. She practices three to four days a week during summer break.
Gwisc wants surfing to always be a part of her life, but not be her whole life. Right now, she surfs for the fun, friendships and community – and the occasional national championship.