Razor-sharp coral reef. Man-eating sharks. Cutthroat competition. The life of a pro surfer is hardly a day at the beach, but for sixteen-year-old Spencer Bridges the water is just right. Fresh from placing third at a national long-boarding competition in California, Bridges was back on the shores of Cisco teaching at Nantucket Surf School this summer, the same school that taught him to catch his first wave just nine years ago. With seven spon- sors now in his corner and with the distinction of a National Surf Scholar, this rising local talent is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the sink or swim world of competitive surfing.
A New Jersey native, Bridges has been summering on Nantucket for the past thirteen years. He caught his first wave at the age of seven with the help of Ted Cahill of the Nantucket Surf School. By eleven, he was traveling the country competing in national competitions. Time and again, Bridges has found himself on the winners’ podium. Last year on Nantucket, he dominated the Young Men’s Division of the Ozone Surf Classic, handily winning every heat he entered. “He was one of those kids who picked it up quickly and had a lot of natural ability and support from his family,” says Gary Kohner of the Nantucket Surf School. “It’s tough for East Coasters to compete at the elite level. You’re competing against surfers from places with amazing surf. Being from the East Coast without consistent surf makes it more difficult.” Now in his second year teaching for Kohner at the Nantucket Surf School, Bridges is sharing his surfing stoke with the next generation. “Teaching kids that have never surfed before is awesome,” the surf star says, breaking into a wide grin. “They always smile.”
Balancing his life as a professional surfer and a high school student doesn’t always go so swimmingly. “Most of the kids I compete against in California are all home-schooled,” Bridges says. “They travel nine months out of the year to all of these unbelievable places. They’re able to make their surfing progress a lot.” Still even with the rigors of his surfing schedule, Bridges maintains a 4.0 GPA, earning him the distinction of a National Surf Scholar. “Kids that compete in surf- ing from California and Hawaii don’t go to high school. They’re not in a college-prep program getting ready to go off to college,” Bridges’s mother, Victoria says. “That’s the competition he’s up against.”
eyond his fellow competitors, Bridges faces off against fierce forces of nature in the ocean. “There have been lots of scary and dangerous experiences,” he says. When surfing in V-Land, Hawaii, for instance, the young surfer was slammed on the reef by a massive wave, ripping his entire left leg to ribbons. “The worst part was that the leash got wrapped around a coral head. So I was under the water and had to figure out how to unravel myself from the coral.”
And then there are the shark incidents, of which Bridges has had several. One was at the East Coast Surfing Championships in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, widely considered the shark-attack capital of the world with around three hundred attacks per year. “In the heat before mine, a kid was paddling for a wave and a shark bit him on the leg,” he says. “I had to go in right after. When you surf in a place like that, you see sharks swimming around you and you just have to be sensible.”
Time will tell if Spencer Bridges has what it takes to continue to make it in the world of surfing, but whether it’s the looming possibility of shark attacks or the cutthroat competition nipping at his heels, nothing seems strong enough to stop this young talent from chasing his dream wave.