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Emerging star Samantha Sibley rides the waves of success into junior final at U.S. Open of Surfing

San Clemente resident Samantha Sibley was 9 when her father Jeff was deployed to Iraq.

At the time, Samantha “had her fingers in a lot of pies,” including soccer and gymnastics, her mother Maureen said.

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But Jeff Sibley loved to surf.

So when Samantha received a grant from Our Military Kids, a charity providing grants to children of deployed National Guard and Military Reserve to take part in extracurricular activities, she knew what she wanted to do.

“I remember she came back from soccer and she said, ‘I want to do surfing. Every time I’m on the soccer field, I just want to be on the water,’ ” Maureen said.

By the time Jeff returned from another deployment, this time in Afghanistan, his daughter had become highly skilled on the waves.

Jeff couldn’t attend Wednesday as Samantha qualified for the junior final of the U.S. Open of Surfing because he was attending her brother’s lacrosse game, but Samantha said she could never have achieved her success without the grant she had received.

“They gave me a grant and I chose a surf camp, pretty soon I fell in love with it,” Sibley said. “I started to do it every day and then I started competing and now I’m in love with competing. I owe so much to the foundation for giving me that first grant.

“I remember my first event, I was 11 years old, I caught some really big waves, I got a goody bag for competing. From then I knew it was something I wanted more of.”

Getting to this level has taken plenty of work, but Maureen said Samantha has had that self-motivating attitude all along.

“We go to the beach probably every day, maybe six days a week at least,” Maureen said. “I’m lucky because she does most of it on her own. I just follow with snacks. But it’s been a lot of hard work and a lot of patience and there’s still a lot of hard work to go.”

On a day of small waves at Huntington Beach, Sibley, 16, beat out some of the top young competition in the sport. She scored a 5.67 on her first wave and a 6.07 on her final outing in the semifinals to secure one of three spots in Friday’s final alongside Hawaiians Summer Macedo and Zoe McDougall.

This week’s event has been far from Sibley’s only success in the sport. She has been one of the top young competitors since the age of 12, when she picked up four trophies at the National Scholastic Surf Assn. USA Explorer Championship, also at Huntington Beach. But few events compare in scale to those at the U.S. Open of Surfing, which typically draws crowds of about 500,000 over the course of the week’s events.

“This event is crazy,” Sibley said. “It’s probably the most prestigious event in America right now, There’s so many people here, which itself says a lot about the pressure of the event. Out on the waves it was a bit small, which was challenging, but it was still so much fun. When it’s small out there you have to stay positive and I think I was able to do that.”

With most of her career ahead of her, Sibley has goals of being on the U.S. team for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, the first to feature the sport, as well as the World Surf League Women’s Championship Tour.

“I hope I qualify for the Championship Tour one day,” Sibley said. “My career’s only just started but I know that it’s possible and I’m just so excited to try to make it work.”

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While Sibley’s future might soon take her across the world, she said her local beach will always remain her favorite.

“Surfing at home in San Clemente is still my favorite thing to do,” Sibley said. “All my friends are there, I can have so much fun there. It’s just a blast.”

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