The Art of Balance: Alyssa Spencer's Year in Review
Updated: Dec 20, 2022
Alyssa Spencer has had a rollercoaster of a year. After the highs of winning 3 WSL Qualifying Series events and a Challenger Series event — her backside snap sending spray and competitors to the beach — the 19-year-old entered the Haleiwa Challenger in December with qualification for the 2023 World Surf League Championship Tour on the line.
Nursing a sprained MCL, she made heat after heat before falling in the quarterfinals. So, when we chatted with her a week later, she had every reason to be downcast, disappointed, or not even answer our call. But she was the complete opposite — excited, bubbly, and a snow-white smile from ear to ear. She talked about the wins. She talked about the losses. But what was most obvious was that in 2022, she found balance between it all.
In 2023, she'll be aiming for Championship Tour qualification again, and with her balanced attitude and that wicked backside snap, it's only a matter of time before we see her representing the red, white and blue on the Championship Tour. — Cash Lambert
Emotional wins, heart-breaking losses — Alyssa has found balance amongst the rollercoaster that is competitive surfing. Photo: WSL / Heff
ASM: Right out of the gate, you won the SLO Cal Open QS in Pismo Beach in January. That had to be momentum builder going to the year.
Alyssa Spencer: Starting the year off like that gave me a confidence boost going into the rest of the year. That event was super fun! I did the trip up there with my mom, which made it not just a surf contest trip. Matt Myers and our whole crew were there for all of our heats to support each other, which makes a huge difference. I ended up winning the women's, and John Mel ended up winning the men's, which made it more fun fun since we both coach with Matt Myers and Myers Surf Mentorship.
In August, you won the Vans Pro in Virginia Beach and hoisted a shoe... Is that the most interesting trophy you’ve ever received?
That trophy was definitely one of a kind ... I've never had anything like that before! It was pretty rad.
Alyssa hoisted gold — in the form of a shoe — in Virginia Beach. Photo: Nichols / WSL
That event was definitely interesting as far as waves go. I’d never been to Virginia Beach before. I knew talking with friends who had gone there for events in the past that the waves were probably going to be small. We ended up getting waves that were at least surfable. It was definitely tricky, though. You had to pick the right waves and be selective because there weren't many waves that came in during heats. Overall, it was such a fun event run and I loved it on the East Coast.
Back to back wins on the East Coast. Photo: WSL / Nichols
Your first ever WSL QS win was at the Outer Banks in 2021, and in 2022, you repeated at the WRV Outer Banks Pro even though the waves were challenging — and by challenging, I mean small.
That event is super special to me. I love it in the Outer Banks, its so beautiful out there. The whole vibe around the place is so fun.
"To come back and win it again was amazing."
The waves weren't the best there either, but I was happy that I was able to put together a couple heats, select good waves and made it happen. My strategy was to find any wave I thought I could do a turn on. We woke up a couple mornings and thought they weren't going to run the comp, but they called it on. I remember thinking it was crazy, because the waves were breaking on the shore, but I did the best with what we had.
That had to boost your confidence, being able to excel in such small waves on the East Coast in two back-to-back events.
I feel like every event that I get to surf in — every heat — there's something new you’re learning whether the waves are good or bad. There’s always something you can be working on. When conditions are bad and waves are tough, it’s a good time to test your mental strength and how much you can handle by trying to stay positive and working with what you have in front of you.
"If you’re wishing for better waves or being negative, it’s going to show in your performance. It’s a good time to work on staying strong mentally and using it to your advantage."
In November, you shared the podium with Gabriel Medina at the Corona Saquarema Pro. How did it feel to get the win in Brazil?
Before that event, I had never made it past the quarterfinals in a Challenger Series event. That had been my main goal in 2022, to make it past that round. I did it in Brazil and ended up winning the event, so it was pretty cool!
Making personal and career dreams happen in Brazil. Photo: WSL / Daniel Smorigo
Saquarema is notoriously a tricky wave — what was your winning strategy?
That event was all new for both Matt and I because we’ve both never been to Saquarema. We went into it with an open mind. We got there early and tried to learn the wave as much as we could because it's so tricky. You wake up each morning and it looks completely different, so you have to be able to adapt when the tides change. It's fun when you get in the rhythm with the ocean, too. It awesome having Matt and the whole crew there.
The definition of power surfing. Photo: WSL / Thiago Diz
A video of you getting insanely barreled in Southern California went viral in November as well — tell us about the wave.
I remember seeing that swell coming a week out and thinking that I needed to find the right spot that day. We ended up going to Camp Pendleton base and surfing DMJs with some of my friends. We absolutely scored that day! It was amazing — beautiful weather, perfect conditions.
"I found myself in the right spot at the right time, and it was unreal — the best barrel I’ve ever gotten in my life."
Let's talk about going into the Haleiwa with World Tour qualification on the line. Were you nervous, excited, or both?
Going into Haleiwa, there was a lot going on for sure. I’ve been in this position the last couple years being so close to qualification, so I knew what it was like. But this year, I felt like there were so many more eyes on it, like. so many more people were watching it this year. I was a little nervous, but more so excited to have a chance to be there, because before Brazil, I wasn't near qualification. I needed that win in Brazil to put myself in a spot to be near qualification. I was stoked to be there and hoped to make a couple of heats, but it didn't turn out the way I wanted it to. But it's all good, I'm trusting the process of it all.
I noticed you had athletic tape on your knee — how significant was that injury?
A few days before the event, I was surfing at Haleiwa. I did a backside turn and something popped in my knee. I thought 'oh no, this is so bad.' Luckily I just strained my MCL, so I basically rested until my heat. It felt fine once I was in the water — all the adrenaline helped — so I didn't even think about it. But it was hard to deal with injury going into such a big event.
Talk to us more about your mindset with so much on the line. How do you deal with that kind of pressure?
It’s tricky trying to find a good balance between paying attention to what people are saying, all the different scenarios, and trying to block it out. Some people like to block it out and don’t want anyone to tell them the scenarios … personally, I liked knowing what I had to do.
"I had to take one heat at a time, one wave at a time and not get too far ahead of myself."
I felt like I did a good job of that in this event. I never felt too nervous or too in my head thinking about all the scenarios. I was in the same spot last 2 years, and I feel like I've grown a lot and learned a lot from being in that position. I was really happy with how I handled it this year.
What were the biggest lessons you learned in 2022?
It was really challenging having a lot of highs and then a bunch of lows in this year. I felt like I learned how to recover and balance from those. When you're at the high, you can’t stay there too long. You enjoy it in the moment, and when it's time for the next event, you reset and come down from that. I had a lot of moments where I was able to learn that this year.
Finding balance in and out of the contest jersey. Photo: WSL / Thiago Diz
The other thing I learned was balance between working really hard and also having fun ... keeping it lighthearted, like longboarding, riding fun boards and changing it up, and making sure I balanced my time and not put it all into training every day and surfing. I have such big goals and always want to work towards them, but it does get exhausting training every day. You have to take time to rest, and step back and balance it all, which I feel like is going to be a lifelong journey of trying to figure that out. I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job this year and I want to carry it into next year.
Now that we've talked about 2022, let's look forward: what are your goals for 2023?
"My main goal next year is to qualify for the World Tour."
I think it’s going to take me continuing to work hard, continuing to learn and at the same time enjoying it every step of the way. Whatever happens next year, it’s all going to be a part of the plan. I’m excited to have another shot at it. I love our whole year. We have such amazing stops, and being able to travel to those amazing places is so cool.
"It’s pretty awesome I get to do this as my job."
Alyssa setting up for a big wave and a big win. Photo: WSL / Heff
Other than that, I want to take some freesurf trips this year and hopefully make a cool edit and cool surf video. I’ve never done that before.
How big of a role has Matt Myers and Myers Surf Mentorship crew played in your competitive surfing path?
They’re my family away from home. We spend pretty much the whole year together traveling to amazing places, and we’ve all become so close together. They’re there through ups and downs ... there to cheer you on when you’re at your high and a shoulder to cry on when you're at your low. It’s awesome to have people like that who have your back and who support each other for our heats.
"I feel like it brings such good energy and camaraderie that helps you bring out the best in yourself, too. "
We told you her backside snap was wicked. Photo: WSL / Daniel Smorigo
It’s always nice to have a second person to bounce ideas off on the beach before you go out. I've known Matt for a long time, and it's cool to have someone who knows you so well who can pick up on little things, when they see you’re nervous and know how to calm you down, little tricks like that. It's awesome to have him supporting me and helping me.
What advice from Matt has stuck with you?
In the first event we ever worked together — two years ago — I got 3rd place in a WSL QS 1000 and I remember being so frustrated. I still hadn't won a QS event yet. He sat with me on the beach and was saying 'we’re not gonna let this happen again. Keep working hard, put your head down, you’re never going to let this happen again.' Sure enough, later that year, I won my first event. Him giving me that little push, telling me to work hard and that I had the talent, gave me a confidence boost. I still vividly remember that moment and think it was a turning point for me.
How big of a role has Rip Curl played in your surfing development and career?
I've been with them for almost 9 years, since I was 11 years old.
"They’ve been such a big part of my career, I wouldn't be where I am today without them."
Rip Curl is such an awesome surf brand and the women's team is amazing. We all travel together when we get the chance to, and they’ve become some of my closest friends. Rip Curl's support is incredible, because they are always there to cheer us on in every event and want to see us do well. Plus, they give us tools to help with training, make us better and take us on awesome trips. It's amazing to be a part of Rip Curl.
What's your advice to the younger generation of women surfers?
The reason I started surfing was because I had so much fun doing it — I loved it, and I still do to this day. If that's why you’re doing it, you’re doing it for the right reasons. But if you're only doing it because you want to win a contest and you’re not really enjoying it, you’re going to get burnt out. It's important to make sure you're still having fun and still being a kid when you're little, doing fun stuff other than surfing, like spending all day at the beach just because you love it.
For the love of surfing. Photo: Thiago Diz
"The best advice I can give is to make sure you love what you do and have fun doing it."
When you're about to paddle out at the Vans Pro in Virginia Beach, or at the Saquarema Pro, or at Haleiwa, what are you listening to? What jams get you pumped up for your heats?
My favorite surf movie is Leave A Message, an all women's surf movie that came out when I was 9 or 10. I have all the songs from the movie on a playlist, and that's what I’ll normally listen to before heats because it reminds me of amazing surfing and it gets me pumped up. One of the songs I can remember on the playlist is Misery Business by Paramore.
Alyssa surfs like a Paramore song: loud, fast and unapologetic. Photo: WSL / Brent Bielmann
Where is the progression of women's surfing heading next in your eyes?
It’s crazy how fast women’s surfing has progressed even in the last 2 or 3 years! The whole younger generation, girls a couple years younger than me are so insanely talented. They're pushing the level and pushing us to want to keep pushing the level too. In the next couple years, women’s surfing is going to keep getting better and better. Girls are already paddling out at pipe when it's 8 foot and starting to do huge airs.
"It’s cool to be in women’s surfing right now. I think it’s such an amazing opportunity and time to be a part of the next push and the next generation. "