Izzi Gomez | Beating Injury with the Two-Time Teenage World Champ

IZZI GOMEZ

She may not be in able to standup, but she can still paddle. Izzi Gomez, training for a triumphant return in 2016. Photo: Greg Panas

Pro Activity | Izzi Gomez

How the Two-Time Teenage World Champ Is Bouncing Back From a Broken Foot

If you're a basketball player, you know that horrible, squishy feeling that comes when you roll an ankle on the court. Not a pleasant sensation. Now imagine doing the same thing in pumping surf. Instead of resting on the ground and waiting for aid from the onsite sports medic, you're stuck in the impact zone under a towering set of relentlessly antagonizing and unsympathetic closeout waves. It's a zone to be feared and avoided by even perfectly healthy paddlers, and it can wreak havoc on an injured paddler.

That's exactly the misadventure that ended Izzi Gomez's SUP season early this year while bodysurfing at Salt Creek near her home in San Clemente, California, only days before SUP Awards and the inaugural Pacific Paddle Games last October.

"I was wearing fins while bodysurfing and got thrown over the falls," Gomez told SUP. "When I hit the bottom my foot got jammed at an awkward angle. At first I hoped it was just a sprain, but when it swelled up to baseball size I knew it was more serious."

The ensuing x-rays and MRI scan confirmed Gomez's fears: she'd partially torn a ligament and broken a bone in her foot. The 16-year-old two-time world champion had no choice but to withdraw from the year’s remaining competitions, and displeasing as that might have been for a natural-born competitor, the week that followed wasn’t without some consolation. Mere days after leaving the hospital, Gomez hobbled to the SUP Awards stage to collect the hardware for Female Paddler of the Year from presenter Dave Boehne, finishing ahead of fellow world champions Annabel Anderson and Candice Appleby.

"It's a great honor to be mentioned in the same sentence as Candice and Annabel and I'm blown away that so many people voted for me," Gomez said.

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Izzi and buddy Matt Arensman make the best of a bummer at the Pacific Paddle Games. Even with the injury, Izzi said she had a great time cheering her brother on whiled he raced. Photo: Greg Panas

But after the high of that evening, the 16-year-old phenom faced the harsh fact that while her peers would soon be showcasing their talents at Doheny State Beach, she'd be forced to sit out the inaugural Pacific Paddle Games.

"Anytime there's surf like that I feel like I have a pretty good shot," Gomez said. "PPG was a fun event to watch and there were some amazing performances, but not being out there was really tough."

In the weeks since, Gomez refused to let herself obsess over what might have been. Instead, she poured all her energy into a rigorous rehab program to recover her balance and proprioception as her foot and ankle heal. The cast just came off and she's eager to get out of the gym and back into the water.

A Day In Izzi’s Life When Injury Isn’t a Factor

When fully healthy, Gomez's day begins early. She typically gets up at 5 am, checks the wave forecast and then heads to Foundation Fitness for training. After a post-workout mobility session, she talks over the week's schedule with her trainer, Ryan, and also works with him on mental exercises.

"What goes on in your mind is just as important as what you're doing with your body, and having Ryan be my mental coach as well as working on my strength and conditioning is huge," she said.

Once she's done at the gym, Gomez heads home for breakfast. She reveals that instead of eating big meals, she snacks throughout the day. "I'm not super strict about nutrition, but I try to stick to what my mom calls the "caveman diet" – natural, whole foods and lots of fruit, vegetables and nuts," Gomez said.

If the surf is up, Gomez heads out for a few hours on either her SUP surfboard or shortboard. Though she still heads back to Florida regularly, Gomez and her family moved to San Clemente last year so she can fully immerse herself in the So Cal surfing community. This gives her the opportunity to train with legendary waterman Chuck Patterson, who was acknowledged at this year’s SUP Awards with the the highly-regarded honor of a Lifetime Achievement Award. Says Gomez, "has an incredible amount of knowledge about the ocean and is even crazier than I am out there." Gomez also credits her success to her brother Giorgio, which in 2015 included winning her second straight World Champion title at the Standup World Tour stop in Huntington Beach, and claiming gold for Team USA at the ISA World Paddleboard Championships. Gio surfs and flatwater paddles with Izzi most days, and accompanies her as she competes around the world.

"I think training with my brother, Chuck and the rest of the guys gives me a huge advantage because they're trying stuff that many people don't think is even possible on a SUP board," Gomez said. "This pushes me to raise my game."

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Gomez’s mentor, 2015 SUP Awards Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Chuck Patterson, makes his legendary mark on her cast and her career. Photo: Greg Panas

In addition to preparing like a pro athlete, Gomez also has the same responsibilities as any other high school student. She does homework for her distance learning classes, fitting assignments between morning surfing and afternoon downwinders or flatwater paddles. When it's time for dinner, Gomez often grabs one of the pasta bowls with "loads of veggies, and some kind of protein" that her mom regularly fixes for Giorgio. Or, if she's not worn out from training and her studies, Gomez might cook sushi or salmon.

While other high schoolers are getting up to who knows what with their friends, Gomez is chilling with her family and winding down her long day. "I'm usually in bed by 9:30 pm because sleep is so huge for me," she said. "I don't think there's any such thing as too much rest."

With her foot and ankle on the mend, Gomez is already looking ahead to 2016. "I was really encouraged by finishing third at Payette and it has inspired me to race more often," she said. "And I can't wait to take a crack at the Pacific Paddle Games. Whenever there are waves, I'll be ready."

Watch Izzi Gomez except her SUP Award for Female Paddler of the Year, crutches and all.

Find out what other paddler’s made history at the 2015 SUP Awards.

Learn more about the Pacific Paddle Games—October’s epic event Izzi was forced to sit out (but certainly won’t miss next year).

There’s more to Izzi Gomez than multiple world champion SUP titles and a broken foot. Get to know the girl behind the glamor in our full-length feature from the magazine.