She turned 17 years old just last week, but Costa Rican surf star Leilani McGonagle has already won a lifetime’s worth of medals. The Pavones native celebrated her birthday with a win at a World Surf League (WSL) tournament in Barbados, where she clinched her hold on this season’s North American regional title for the junior age category.
The WSL made the title win official today with an announcement. McGonagle topped U.S. natives Maddie Peterson and Bethany Zelasko in a close race for the 2016 regional crown.
“I’m still processing the fact that I’m the regional champion – I’m so excited,” McGonagle told the WSL. “Ending the year with a win like that gives me a huge confidence boost. I’d never won a Pro Junior before, so doing it when it was so vital was great. Surfing is one of those sports where the stars really have to align in order for things to go your way and I’m so happy they did.”
McGonagle becomes the first Costa Rican to win a WSL season title. In addition to her win at the Soup Bowl Pro Junior in Barbados, McGonagle also had strong showings with a semifinal finish at the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing Women’s Junior and a run to second place at the Ron Jon Vans Pro Junior to kick off the year.
She credited her upbringing in Costa Rica, where she trained on the famous wave break of Pavones, to helping her get so far so early in her career.
“I think growing up in Costa Rica has definitely made me the surfer I am,” McGonagle told the WSL. “I’ve surfed a point break that has waves all year-round my whole life, so I really do prefer bigger and more powerful waves. But I’ve made a point to try to surf in all conditions and over time I’ve become more prepared to surf all different waves.”
Her regional title now makes her eligible for her first appearance at the league’s World Junior Championships, which will be held in Australia beginning the first week of January.
Nolan Rapoza of the United States won the men’s North American Junior title.