Izzi Gomez has seawater in her veins. Hailing from the beach town of Jupiter, Florida, the 15-year-old reigning stand-up paddlesurfing women’s world champion was catching waves practically before she could walk. No surprise: Her mom was a surfer and her grandparents own one of the oldest surf shops in South Florida. “I was kind of born into it,” Gomez says. She surfs a normal short board like a boss but says SUP lets her better see the swells coming in and navigate the current. “SUP came onto the scene when I was five or six. We were some of the first people in Florida to have a board. People would be like, ‘What is that thing?”
Her first board was big and bulky by today’s SUP standards, but it didn’t take Gomez long to figure out how to rip on “that thing” with a paddle in hand—especially after watching her 18-year-old bro (something of a SUP star himself), whom she credits as her biggest supporter and mentor. “He was killing it,” she says. “I thought, if he can do it, I can do it.” Gomez entered her first World Tour event in Huntington Beach, California at the age of 13, just for “something to keep [her] occupied.” She won the whole thing.
Since then, Gomez has crisscrossed the oceans as a young force shaping an emerging sport that’s only even had a world tour for six years. In the process, she’s making a case for SUP as a high-adrenaline competition, and for the young female athletes who are really pushing the envelope. “People haven’t fully accepted SUP yet, so it’s even harder to accept girls,” she says. “But more girls are doing it than guys. Girls are just progressing so fast; they’re crushing it.”
Gomez herself was the youngest person to be named female Paddler of the Year at the 2014 SUP Awards, and the only female SUP surfer named to the 2014 International Surfing Association’s Team USA. (She handily nabbed the team one of two gold medals that helped USA win this year’s World SUP and Paddleboard Championship in Sayulita, Mexico.) “She’s a great spirit and a powerful athlete,” says ISA president Fernando Aguerre, who pegs her as a role model for the next generation of paddlers. “She’s a ball of energy that loves the ocean. And that combination of athletic ability and spiritual connection comes across in everything she does. I get to meet thousands of athletes. A few stick out. She’s one of those.”
Gomez credits well-rounded interests for much of her success—her traditional surfing background, to be sure, but also the things outside of competition that keep her grounded. She plays the guitar, sings (she auditioned for The Voice and made it into the top 100), and loves boxing. But Gomez is committed to a serious athlete’s schedule, having been homeschooled since sixth grade. It’s the only way to be as good as she is—and travel as much as she does. Last year’s circuit brought her to France, Brazil, Abu Dhabi, Hawaii, and Huntington Beach. This year she’s added Morocco to the itinerary for the last stop of the Stand Up World Tour. “Nobody puts pressure on me,” she says. “My sponsors don’t, my family doesn’t. It’s all myself, because I know what I’m capable of. I used to always be stressed out, but I’m focusing on living in the moment more.”
It’s a good moment for both the teenage SUP phenom and the sport. Gomez currently sits third in the World Tour standings and will defend her title at the U.S. Open at Huntington on September 26. No matter what happens with the next set of waves, she’s stoked to see SUP becoming more mainstream—and especially to see the ladies leading the way. After all, that same fact is what gets Gomez out of bed in the morning: “Knowing I can be doing more to push myself, and that the other girls are probably out there training to win, too,” she says. “I’m super competitive, although I try not to show it. But there’s a whole other me when I’m out on the water.”
6 Things the Queen of SUP Won’t Travel Without:
- Bikinis. “Because you never know where you’re going to go. You always have to have one.”
- Kind Bars. “I don’t want to starve if there’s no food I like to eat.”
- Sunglasses. “I need my favorite Ray-Bans.”
- Polaroid camera.
- GoPro camera [Gomez joined GoPro’s athlete roster earlier this year]. “I have three.”