Hang Ten with These Five Surf Prodigies

A new generation of local surfers is riding the wave—all the way to the top.

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Sarah Abbott, who loves to surf the Juno Beach Pier, may have an Olympics in her future. Photo by Greg Panas.

As anyone who has spent some time at the Juno Beach Pier or Jupiter Inlet breaks knows, they are hot spots for local surfers. Veteran riders flock to the area for its versatility in wave size and shape. And those who have been surfing here for decades often bring their children (and grandchildren) along, teaching them to surf from an early age, as other parents teach their kids to ride a bike. “The one thing about this spot that really makes it great is that there are families that grew up here and are all still surfing together,” says Juno Beach resident and lifelong surfer William Kimball, who owns Blue Water School of Surfing in Jupiter. “Even going back to the ’60s and ’70s, there was a pretty strong contingency of surfers up here, and it’s been passed on from generation to generation.”

Today, Jupiter’s youngest surfers are fiercely entering the contest circuit and firmly planting northern Palm Beach County on the surfing map. With sponsorships and support from surf shop teams like Ocean Magic and Locals, a handful of surfers—all under 20 years old—are crushing the competition, thanks to the lessons passed down from their older counterparts. “When I first started my camp [in 1996], there was nothing like it in the county,” says Kimball, who helped establish some of the local surf shop teams as well as the Eco Pro Surf Series, a professional competition that takes place from Jupiter to Melbourne annually. “I just felt like I wanted to pass on something that gave me such freedom. People can call surfing a sport, but I look at it more like a lifestyle and an art form. When your feet leave the sand and you hit the water, everything on land goes quiet.”

Here, meet five young standout surfers who are keeping the sport—and art form—alive on our waters.

Photo by Ian Jacob

Sarah Abbott, 16

Sarah Abbott was 10 when she attended her first surf camp at Blue Water School of Surfing. “I loved it so much that all I wanted to do was go surfing every day,” she recalls. Since then, the high school junior has spent most of her time perfecting her craft and moving up in the ranks of some of the nation’s biggest surf competitions. She took first place in the 2018 Eastern Surfing Aassociation’s (ESA) Southeast Regional Championships in the girls U16 (under-16) division, leading her to the ESA Easterns in Nags Head, North Carolina, where she placed first in the girls U14 division for the second year in a row. In 2019, the ESA All-Star took second place in the Southeast Regional Championships U16 and U18 divisions and earned a spot on the women’s leaderboard at the Eco Pro Surf Series in Jupiter.

“Competing has opened up so many great opportunities for me,” says Abbott, who rides for Locals Surf Shop and is sponsored by SisstrEvolution, Cobian Footwear, and RYD Brand. “My goal is to improve my ranking nationally and participate in more events.” To that end, she entered the World Surf League’s (WSL) Women’s Qualifying Series in 2019 and, most recently, was one of nine girls selected for USA Surfing’s Junior U16 team, managed by the International Surfing Association (ISA) and the U.S. Olympic Committee.

“I was scouted for the developmental team two years ago, and last year I moved up from developmental to the junior team,” Abbott says of her current standing, which could progress to a place on the ISA World Junior Championship team and, when she’s old enough, a coveted spot on the U.S. Olympic women’s surfing team. “It was the best feeling. I feel like I accomplished a huge goal.”

One of the most prominent young women in the sport today, Abbott has been to many popular surf locations around the world and credits Barbados and Lower Trestles in California as her top places away from home to practice her passion. One of her favorite aspects of the sport is the camaraderie that exists among surfers she meets from all over. “I love being able to go out and surf with my friends,” she says. “They live all over the country, and I really love traveling and surfing around the world with them.”

At home, she says she’s still as hooked on surfing as she was on her first day of surf camp and revels in the laid-back lifestyle her town offers. “Locally, my favorite spot [to surf] is the Juno Pier,” says Abbott , who rides a 5-foot-7-inch Holy Toledo 2 Sharp Eye board. “There’s so much to do in Jupiter. I love to just walk down to the beach, paddleboard, or go out on a boat. Basically, I love doing anything by the water.”
Instagram: @sarah.abbott

Chase Modelski, 19

Although Chase Modelski credits his parents for teaching him to surf when he was 5, his love for the sport didn’t swell until he was a teenager. “My mom and dad surfed, so they got me into it, but I didn’t really like it at first,” Modelski recalls. “We moved closer to the ocean, and a lot of my friends surfed, so I got into it then when I was 13. I got my first real shortboard, signed up for my first contest, and just kept going from there.”

Photo by Chad Oakley

Aside from the Juno Beach Pier, Modelski’s favorite breaks include Off the Wall on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii and Soup Bowl in Barbados. The latter hosts the WSL Live Like Zander Junior Pro, an event created to honor late Barbados resident and pro surfer Zander Venezia, who died in a surfing accident at age 16. The two met while surfing and were in several contests together before Venezia’s death in 2017. “The contest was created in memory of one of my good friends, and getting second place was probably one of the most memorable contests of my life,” Modelski says of his 2017 ranking in the competition. At 19, Modelski has aged out of WSL Junior Pro events and is now hitting the WSL Qualifying Series hard.

When he’s not surfing, the teen works as an Ocean Rescue lifeguard in Lake Worth and is preparing for paramedic and fire rescue school, which he plans to begin in August. “I look up to firefighters,” he says. But it doesn’t seem his pro surfing career will be slowing down anytime soon. “I think he’s one of the top five surfers on the whole East Coast,” says Kimball, who has been watching Modelski’s career unfold since they started surfing together more than a decade ago.

Modelski’s 2019 season included the Florida Pro and the Ron Jon Quiksilver Pro. He also had a first-place finish in the Eco Pro Surf Series. “I just like being in the ocean,” says the rider, who is currently teamed up with Locals Surf Shop and Rumaner Surfboards. “That’s pretty much what it’s all about.”
Instagram: @chasemodelski

Aiden Craig, 17

For Jupiter High School student Aiden Craig, surfing has always been a family affair. “My dad was my inspiration to learn how to surf,” he says of his father, Bryan, who is an administrator for the ESA’s South Florida district and took Aiden out for his first lessons when he was 10. “I wanted to keep getting better so I could beat him in contests.”

Fueled by that friendly competition, Craig started entering contests in 2011 with a lot of momentum—and a lot of talent. In 2019, he took first place in several ESA South Florida events, and he began 2020 strong with a couple of top-10 finishes in February. “Competing has been one of the most fun things I’ve done so far in my life, next to free surfing,” says Craig, who is sponsored by Ground Swell Surf Shop and My Religion Surfboards (he favors his 5-foot-2-inch My Religion board by builder Tim Tycocki). “On a typical contest day, we wake up at 6 a.m., check the waves, say what’s up to all the locals, and head out for the guinea pig session, which is when I’m the first one out so everyone else can see how the surf is. Then all my friends show up, and we just surf all day and have fun on the beach.”

For Craig, surfing is also an outlet for reflection. He says he finds solace in the ocean, whether competing with his friends or surfing alone. “It helps me get my mind off everything and just think about how beautiful the world is,” he says of visiting his favorite surf spots, which include Jupiter and Sebastian Inlets and Jupiter Beach Public Access 43. “Another thing I love about surfing is that you can be out there by yourself having the best time of your life or you can be with all of your best friends having a great time too.”

Craig’s future surfing goals include competing against his dad in an ESA contest and attending the ESA Southeast Regional Championships, but he also has another professional aspiration: to work for fire rescue. To that end, he is currently enrolled in the Fire Explorer program in Palm Beach Gardens. “Firefighting has been my dream for as long as I can remember,” he says. “But I will always surf as much as I can for the rest of my life—just like my dad.” Instagram: @aiden_surf

Photo by Ian Jacob

Vance Weyandt, 12

Ten years of surfing experience is impressive in itself, but even more so when that surfer is still only 12 years old. “I started surfing when I was 2, but I really got into it when I was about 5,” says Jupiter Middle School student Vance Weyandt, who began riding with his dad as a toddler. “I didn’t surf competitively until I was 7, and I got better as I practiced.”

Weyandt likes to take his 4-foot-6-inch Rumaner board out to Coral Cove Park and Jupiter Inlet to practice at home. But he also likes to travel when he can and surf areas like Pavones, Costa Rica. “When I have school, I don’t travel a lot, but when I’m out of school we’ll go to Costa Rica and Puerto Rico,” he says of his family surf trips. “I went to California once for a surfing contest, and that’s the farthest I’ve ever gone [to compete].”

That contest—the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) National Championships—earned the young rider some major accolades, while placements in the ESA Southeast

Regional Championships and the ESA Easterns in 2019 thrust him into a pro surf career. This year, he already took first place in shortboard events for U14, U16, and U18 at the ESA South Florida contest in February.

“I like competing because you can improve more when you’re surfing against other kids who are really good,” says Weyandt, who rides for Ocean Magic’s team and is sponsored by Hurley. “And it’s by age group, so I get to hang out with a lot of kids my own age.”

Weyandt’s current goal is to qualify for WSL Junior Pro events, but in the meantime he’s just enjoying being a kid and surfing with his friends and his dad. “When you’re in the water, everything goes away,” he says. “Everybody in Jupiter is really close, and all the surfers are really cool. Everybody’s just awesome.”
Instagram: @vanceweyandt

Ellie Barimo, 17 

Like many students going into their senior year of high school, Ellie Barimo already has some of her future plans in place. At the top of her post-grad list, however, is surfing—a sport she started with her dad at age 5 and began to master by 11. “My goals for the future are to, most likely, move out to California next year, start surfing in WSL [Qualifying Series] events, and see how far I can go,” she says matter of factly.

Barimo currently ranks number 21 in the WSL Ron Jon Roxy Junior Pro,
up from number 25 in 2019. She has taken first place at several local contests, including the Eco Pro Surf Series in 2019 and the ESA Southeast
Regional Championships for the girls’ U18 division in 2018. She’s competitive, for sure, and it’s that trait that keeps her at the top of her game. “Competition surfing takes a lot of time and effort to master,” she says. “There are so many different aspects to it, but once you win, it is the best thing ever.”

Photo by Greg Panas

A surfer for the Ocean Magic team, Barimo credits her sponsor, shaper Eric Rumaner, for creating the perfect board for her to show off her talents. “He made me a surfboard for a California trip two summers ago, and I’ve been riding it ever since,” she says. “I love it—but I actually just broke the nose off of it, so I have to get a new one.”

As one of Ocean Magic’s original team members, handpicked by Kimball, Barimo was a force on Jupiter’s breaks long before she started California dreaming. “She has an artistic, almost throwback quality, and she just really loves surfing,” Kimball says.

When she’s not surfing, Barimo is typically skateboarding, playing guitar, or spending time with her friends. She also plans to weave camp counseling at Blue Water School of Surfing into her schedule this summer—just another opportunity for her to get out on the water. “What I love about surfing is that I get to go in the ocean every day, work on new things, and surf with my friends,” she says. “My favorite surf spot is my home break—anywhere from the Juno Pier to the Jupiter Inlet.”
Instagram: @_elliebarimo  

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