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Ron Mizutani

Vanina Walsh Is Climbing To The Top

Vanina Walsh at the 2014 Turtle Bay Women's Pro  |  Stephan Kleinlein/oceanbluesky.com photo

Vanina Walsh at the 2014 Turtle Bay Women’s Pro | Stephan Kleinlein/oceanbluesky.com photo

She is diminutive in size, but don’t let her tiny frame fool you.

At barely 5 feet tall, 16-year-old Vanina Walsh has no problem dropping into waves three times her size. In fact, she gets a rush out of it.

“I love surfing big waves,” she says with a huge smile. “It’s an adrenaline rush!”

Walsh is one of the rising stars in the world of stand-up paddle surfing and stand-up paddle racing. After finishing second on the world tour last year, the North Shore resident is aiming for No. 1 in 2014.

“I was so excited last year; it was just an awesome experience,” says Walsh, who grew up in Arizona. “Hopefully, this year I’ll finish in first.”

As 2013 marked the inaugural year for the Women’s World Championship Tour, the young teenager made a huge splash with solid performances at every stop on the circuit.

“It was really exciting last year because it was the first events for the women,” says Walsh. “We went to California, Brazil, France and Hawaii, and this year we’re adding Abu Dhabi to the world tour, so that’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Walsh was introduced to surfing eight years ago when the family was on vacation in Hawaii. She says her obsession developed into a passion. She was so hungry for “water time” she would even paddle a surfboard in her swimming pool. Several years ago, she convinced her family to take a leap of faith and move to Hawaii.

“They agreed and here we are,” she laughs. “Stand-up surfing is a lot of fun, and I love it because you can stand-up paddle anywhere. You can paddle on a lake, a river, flat water or on big waves, and that’s why I think it’s the fastest-growing sport in the world.”

The leap has paid off. Walsh has enjoyed much success since beginning competition. Her biggest accomplishments include:

* SUP Jr. Pro 2013, first place
* Stand Up Paddle World Tour Hawaii 2012, second place in the Women’s Division
* Battle of the Paddle California 2011, first place in the Girls Division
* Battle of the Paddle Hawaii 2011, first place in the Girls Division
* Hawaii Nose Riding Championship 2010, first place

The 2014 world tour recently launched on the North Shore of Oahu, and Walsh performed at an extremely high level, advancing to the semi-finals of the Turtle Bay Women’s Pro before being eliminated.

“It’s a very spectator-friendly surf spot,” says Walsh. “Turtle Bay is a lot of fun because you can see all the action and the surfers are really close to the beach. It’s a lot of fun for the competitors and those who come down to watch us.”

Although conditions at Turtle Bay were big compared to other stops on the tour, Walsh was hoping for larger surf. She believes local girls have an advantage in bigger waves.

“I definitely think we do,” says Walsh. “Some girls from Florida and California, they don’t have a lot of experience on big waves, so when they come to Hawaii it’s kind of a challenge for them.”

Walsh is currently home-schooled, which allows her to pursue her professional career. Besides touring the world, she spends her time modeling bikinis for Roxy.

The next stop on the 2014 Women’s Stand Up World Tour is the Brazil Pro Grand Slam, starting March 29.

rkmizutani@gmail.com

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